History of Munk's Roll

History of Munk's Roll

Munk’s Roll, now known as Inspiring Physicians, is a series of obituaries or biographies of fellows from the Royal College of Physicians. 

First compiled by physician William Munk, the Roll is still updated and maintained to this day. In March 1855, Munk, a London physician specialising in smallpox, presented a large leather-bound volume to the library of the Royal College of Physicians. This was his Roll, a painstakingly-researched collection of biographies of fellows, licentiates, candidates and extra licentiates. These entries spanned from the foundation of the RCP in 1518 to 1600, written by hand on ruled paper, in his own distinctive script. In December of the same year, he presented a second volume, covering the period from 1601 to 1700 and in June 1856, the series was brought up to 1800 with the gift of a third book.

Although he had only been elected a fellow of the RCP in 1854, Munk was appointed as Harveian Librarian in 1857, a post which had been left vacant since the death of Richard Tyson in 1750. There is nothing in the records at the RCP to indicate why he was chosen, but Munk’s proven interest in the history of the RCP probably made him an obvious choice.

Munk researched and complied entries for all fellows (voting members) and licentiates (non-voting members), from the RCP’s foundation in 1518 to 1825. Subsequent Harveian Librarians have continued this work, commonly called Munk’s Roll in honour of its original compiler. Volumes from 1825 onwards only include past fellows due to rising numbers of fellows, licentiates and later, members.

The RCP now has a near-complete collection of obituaries for past fellows, from 1518 to the present (and licentiates from 1518 to 1825), making it an invaluable biographical resource for those interested in medical and social history, and family historians.

Page from Munk's Roll
Handwritten entry from Vol. I, 1877
Title page from The roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London
Title page from the roll of the Royal College of Physicians, 1877
Page from William Munk's roll
Page from William Munk's Roll, 1877