Sir Hans Sloane

Sir Hans Sloane


Vol I

Pg 460

b.16 April 1660 d.11 January 1753

MD Orange FRS FRCP(1687) MD Oxon(1701)

Sir Hans Sloane, Bart, MD, was born at Killeagh, in the north of Ireland, on the 16th April, 1660. [He was the youngest son of Alexander Sloane by his wife Sarah, daughter of the Revd Dr Hicks of Whichester(?)] Though a native of the sister island, he was of Scotch extraction; his father, Alexander Sloane [name deleted in Munk’s notes], having been the head of a colony of Scots settled in Ulster by James I. From a very early age he evinced an inclination for the study of natural history and medicine, which was strengthened by a suitable education. When about sixteen years of age he was attacked by a spitting of blood, which threatened to be attended with considerable danger, and interrupted the regular course of his application for three years. He had already learned enough of medicine to know that a malady of this nature was not to be suddenly removed, and he prudently abstained from wine and other stimulating liquors. By strictly observing this regimen, which he in some measure continued ever afterwards, he was enabled to prolong his life beyond the ordinary limits, presenting an example of the truth of his favourite maxim - that sobriety, temperance, and moderation, are the best and most powerful preservatives that nature has granted to mankind (1).

To improve himself in his profession, he proceeded to France, where he attended the lectures of Tournefort on botany, and those of Duverney on anatomy; and on leaving Paris went to Montpelier, where he studied more particularly the several branches of natural history. Having taken the degree of doctor of medicine in the university of Orange, he, in 1684, returned to London, and was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society.

Being introduced to Sydenham, that great physician took him into his house, gave him instruction and encouragement, and recommended him in the strongest manner to practice. Dr Sloane was created a Fellow of the College of Physicians by the charter of James II, and was admitted 12th April, 1687. His love of natural history induced him the same year (1687) to accept the appointment of physician to the duke of Albemarle, then going out as governor of Jamaica [for which office he had been recommended by Dr Peter Barwick.]. The duke's death, shortly after reaching the island, limited Dr Sloane's stay there to fifteen months; but so indefatigable was he in the pursuit of the objects he had in view, that had he not, in the language of his French eulogist, converted, as it were, his minutes into hours, he could not have made those numerous acquisitions which contributed so largely to extend the knowledge of nature; while they laid the foundation of his future fame and fortune.

Several circumstances concurred to render this voyage of Dr Sloane to Jamaica peculiarly successful to natural history. He was the first man of learning whom the love of science alone had led from England to that part of the globe, and, consequently, the field was wholly open to him. He was already well acquainted with the discoveries of the age. He had an enthusiasm for his object, and was at an age when both activity of body and vivacity of mind concur to vanquish difficulties. Under this happy coincidence of circumstances, it is not strange that Dr Sloane returned home with a rich harvest.

In fact, besides a proportional number of subjects from the animal kingdom, he brought from Jamaica and the other islands they touched at, not fewer than eight hundred different species of plants - a number far beyond what had ever been brought by any individual into England before (2). He returned from his voyage on the 29th May,1689, and settling in London soon became eminent.

In 1693, Dr Sloane was elected secretary of the Royal Society, and in that capacity revived the printing of the Transactions, which had for a short time been suspended. He continued to superintend their publication till 1712.In 1696 he published his Catalogus Plantarum quæ in Insulâ Jamaica sponte proveniunt aut vulgo coluntur; cum earundem synonymis et locis natalibus; adjectis aliis quibusdam quæ in insulis Maderæ, Barbados, Nieves et Sancti Christopheri nascuntur 8vo. pp.232.

"In this volume, however small in bulk, yet vast in labour, there is a circumstance much to the credit of the author. It is the care which he has taken to consult every possible resource in order to discriminate his plants and avoid an unnecessary multiplication of species by describing that as new, which was before known. So numerous a set of synonyms had never been inserted in any local catalogue, and Sloane greatly enhanced its value by a most commendable addition, having, with incredible labour, referred to every traveller of note 'for all the vegetables renowned for utility in medicine, arts, or œconomy'" (3).

The arrangement followed in this catalogue is nearly that of Ray, with whom and Robert Boyle he had been on habits of friendly intimacy from his first coming to London. To Ray he had already communicated his MSS for the use of that author's third volume of the History of Plants. On the 19th July, 1701, having been then a considerable benefactor to the Bodleian library, he was created doctor of medicine at Oxford.

The first volume of his great work, that on which his reputation as a natural historian was founded, appeared in 1707 [P. December], with the title A Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbadoes, Nieves, St Christopher's, and Jamaica; with the Natural History of the Herbs and Trees, four-footed Beasts, Fishes, Birds, Insects, Reptiles, &c. To which is prefixed, An Account of the Inhabitants, Air, Water, Diseases, Trade, &c, of that place, with some relations concerning the neighbouring continent and islands of America Folio. The second volume was not published till 1725.

The reputation he acquired by the first volume was manifested by his election, in 1708, to a vacant seat among the few foreign members of the French Academy of Sciences. In 1712 he was elected vice-president of the Royal Society.

In the meantime he had been steadily rising in professional reputation. [In 1706 he was living in Great Russell St Bloomsbury and there continued until he withdrew to Chelsea.] Queen Anne frequently consulted him, and on the accession of king George I, he was appointed physician-general to the army, and in 1716 created a baronet. Sir Hans Sloane, who had served the office of Censor in 1705, 1709, 1715, was on the 1st June, 1716, named an Elect of the College, in place of Dr Dawes, resigned; and on the 1st October, 1719, was elected President, an office to which he was annually re-elected till 1735, when he was succeeded by Dr Pellet.

In 1727, Sir Hans was elected to succeed the immortal Newton in the presidential chair of the Royal Society, and in the same year was appointed first physician to king George II. In 1740 he resigned the chair of the Royal Society, and retired to Chelsea, where he had purchased an estate. There he enjoyed in peaceful repose the remains of a well-spent life, still continuing to receive, as he had done in London, the visits of scientific men, of learned foreigners, and of the royal family; and, what is still more to his praise, he never refused admittance nor advice to rich or poor, who came to consult him, concerning their health.

Sir Hans Sloane died at Chelsea, on the 11th January, 1753, in the 92nd year of his age. [For an account of the death of Sir Hans Sloane see Edwards (Geo) ‘Gleanings of Natural History’ Pt II, 1760. Preface pp.iii-iv.]

The monument to his memory in Chelsea churchyard bears the following inscription:- "In memory of Sir HANS SLOANE, Bart. President of the Royal Society and of the College of Physicians, who, in the year of our Lord 1753, the 92nd year of his age, without the least pain of body; and with a conscious serenity of mind, ended a virtuous and beneficent life. This monument was erected by his two daughters, Elizabeth Cadogan and Sarah Stanley.

Sir Hans Sloane was for many years physician to Christ's Hospital, to which he was elected in 1694. He continued to discharge the duties incident to his office until 1730, when age and infirmities compelled him to resign it. During the whole of this period he never retained his salary, but always devoted it to charitable purposes. He was one of the warmest supporters of the Foundling hospital, the plan for the management of the children in which was drawn up by him. He communicated several papers on medicine and natural history to the Philosophical Transactions, and published a small pamphlet, which for many years was in great estimation, "On Sore Eyes."

Sir Hans Sloane is said to have been tall and well made in his person; easy, polite, and engaging in his manners; sprightly in his conversation, and obliging to all. To foreigners he was extremely courteous, and ready to show and explain his curiosities to all who gave him timely notice of their visit. He kept an open table once a week for his learned friends, particularly those of the Royal Society. He was a governor of almost every hospital in London; and to each after having given an hundred pounds in his lifetime, he left a more considerable legacy at his death.

In the exercise of his function as a physician he is said to have been remarkable for the certainty of his prognostics, and the hand of the anatomist verified in a signal manner the truth of his predictions relating to the seat of diseases. By his practice he not only confirmed the efficacy of the Peruvian bark in intermittents, but extended its use to fevers of other denominations, to nervous disorders, and to gangrene and hæmorrhages.The sanction he gave to inoculation, by performing that operation on some of the royal family, encouraged and much accelerated its progress throughout the kingdom (4).

Sir Hans Sloane's claim to the gratitude of this country for founding our national museum, is too well known to require more than a passing notice in this place. By his will, bearing date 20th July, 1749, he expressed a desire that his collection in all its branches might be kept and preserved together after his decease, and he bequeathed it to the public on condition that twenty thousand pounds should be paid to his family - a sum which is said to have scarcely exceeded the intrinsic value of the gold and silver medals and the ores and precious stones in his collection, for in the will he declared that the first cost of the whole amounted at least to fifty thousand pounds. His library, consisting of 4,100 manuscripts and upwards of 50,000 volumes (but this number is thought to be much exaggerated) (5), was included in this bequest. Application was directed to be made to Parliament by his executors, in furtherance of the object he had had so much at heart.

Happily for the cause of literature and the honour of the country, Parliament accepted the trust on the required conditions, and the whole of Sir Hans Sloane's fine collection of books, manuscripts, prints, medals and coins, seals, cameos, drawings, and pictures became the property of the nation, and formed the nucleus of the British Museum (6). To the site of the British Museum, then known as Montague-place, the collections were removed from Chelsea during the years 1756-7, and it was towards the close of the latter year that the public were first admitted to their inspection and use. Sir Hans Sloane's gift, under certain conditions, of the Botanical garden at Chelsea to the Apothecaries' company, and wise rules he laid down for its management, was at same time a proof of his munificence, and of his continued love of a science which had engaged his attention from his earliest years. The intentions of the donor have been faithfully and liberally fulfilled by the Company, who expend a large sum annually with no other view than the promotion of botanical knowledge, more especially in the cultivation of curious and rare plants. In 1748 they erected in front of the greenhouse a statue of Sir Hans Sloane, by Rysbrach, at a cost 280l, with this inscription:-

"Hansio Sloane Baronetto, Archiatro Insignissimo Botanices Fautori Hoc, Honoris Causâ, Monumentum Inque Perpetuum Ejus Memoriam Sacrum voluit Societas Pharmacopœiorum Londinensis."

Sir Hans had married in 1695, Elizabeth, the daughter of alderman Langley of London. [P. E.L – d. and coheir of ? and relict of Falk (?) Rose (?) Jamaica.] [Relict of Falk Rose (?) of Jamaica his d. and coheir] She died in 1724. By her he left two daughters, who married into the noble families of Stanley and Cadogan. A portrait of this distinguished physician painted by Thomas Murray is in the College (7). [Sir Hans Sloane only son Hans juni was buried at Kensington Jan 3 1700.]

William Munk


[Sloane. ‘The Tryal of Spencer Cowper, esq.’ See note under this heading in entry for Garth.]
[P. Had a brother William of Portsmouth whose d. Sarah m. 1st Sir Richard Fowler. Bt. 2nd, Francis Annesley of Inner Temple.]
[B. Museum Print. French Drawings Vol.21 or 22 Portrait of Sir Hans Sloane]

[(1) Weld's History of the Royal Society, vol. i, p.450; a work to which I am indebted for many of the particulars in the above sketch
(2) Pulteney's Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Progress of Botany in England. 2 vols. 8vo., Lond., 1790; vol. ii, p.681.
(3) Pulteney ut supra, p.72.
(4) Pulteney ut supra.
(5) Handbook to the Library of the British Museum, by Richard Sims, of the Department of Manuscripts. 12mo. Lond. 1854, p.4.
(6) Sir Hans Sloane died, as we have seen, 11th January, 1753, and in the month of June of the same year an Act was passed "For the purchase of the Museum or Collection of Sir Hans Sloane, and of the Harleian Collection of Manuscripts; and for providing one general repository for the better reception and more convenient use of the said collections; and of the Cottonian Library and of the additions thereto." By the same Act a board, consisting of forty-two trustees, was appointed for putting the same into execution. At a general meeting of this body, held at the Cockpit, at Whitehall, on the 3rd April, 1754, it was resolved to accept of a proposal which had been made to them of the "capital Mansion House, called Montague House, and the freehold ground thereto belonging, for the general repository of the British Museum, on the terms of ten thousand pounds." Sim's Handbook to the Library of the British Museum. Post 8vo. Lond. 1854, p.2.


(7) "ad alterum Præsidem dignissimum qui tum nostræ tum Regiæ societati multos annos præfuit, nunc transeamus; ad clarissimum Sloanium, quem jam postremum celebraturi sumus: medicum, quem, etsi floruit apud sæculum prius, nuperrime tamen e Collegio ereptum flemus: medicum, tanta æquanimitate insignem (qua nihil in medicina facienda magis necessarium, nihil ad longam medici vitam magis confert) quanta infirmiorem, per assiduos medendi labores ad longissimam senectutem sustentavit valetudinem. Et senectutis profecto tranquillitatem eo magis optandam riddiderant et longus labor et studium, quæ eam a multis retro annis præcesserant, quod Bibliothecam et Repositorium (non dicam Regia, sed Regiis omnibus præstantiora) quibuscum senex quotidie delectaretur, ei comparassent. Neque minorem in Thesauris hisce testamento legandis erga patriam quam erga familiam suam manifestavit caritatem. Cum enim pretiosiores essent quam qui sine injuria privata dari, et sine publica, pretio suo, emi possent, eos quidem Patriæ suæ, conditionibus neque Familiæ neque Nationi suæ injuriosis, legavit: æquum, ut opinior, ratus, doctam illam gentem, quæ facultates ad eos congerendos ei ministraverat, famam ac utilitatem ab iis expectandas, in omne ævum possidere. O senem omnino beatum! Qui senectutem otiosam atque placidam; vitam longam et felicem; mortem denique, subitam nec improvisam nactus es." Oratio Harveiana festo Divi Lucæ habita AD MDCCLV. a Roberto Taylor MD p.39-40.   

(8) accessed February 2021 

(9) accessed February 2021]

Post publication addition

Sloane was personal physician to the Governor of Jamaica. His wife Elizabeth was the widow of Fulke Rose who owned estates and enslaved people in Jamaica. Elizabeth inherited a slave derived fortune (8). Sloane also invested in the Royal African and South Seas companies which traded in enslaved people (9).