• Sir Hans Sloane


    Hans Sloane was born on April 16, 1660 at Killyleagh in County Down, Ireland. His father was the head of a Scottish colony sent over by James I. His father died when he was six years old. As a youth he collected objects of natural history and other curiosities. This led him to the study of medicine, which he went to London to pursue, directing his attention to botany, materia medica, and pharmacy. 

    His collecting propensities made him useful to John Ray and Robert Boyle. After four years in London he traveled through France, spending some time at Paris and Montpellier, and taking his M.D. degree at the University of Orange in 1683. He returned to London with a considerable collection of plants and other curiosities,and he studied botany at the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1679 with John Ray. of which the former were sent to Ray and utilized by him for his History of Plants. Sloane was quickly elected into the Royal Society in 1684 and at the same time he attracted the notice of Thomas Sydenham, who gave him valuable introductions to practice. In 1687, he became fellow of the College of Physicians, and went to Jamaica as physician in the suite of the Duke of Albemarle. The duke died soon after landing, and Sloane's visit lasted only fifteen months; during that time he noted about 800 new species of plants, the island being virgin ground to the botanist. Of these he published an elaborate catalogue in Latin in 1696; and at a later date (1707-1725) he made the experiences of his visit the subject of two folio volumes.

    Sloane discovered cocoa while he was in Jamaica. The locals drank it mixed with water. Sloane is reported to have found it 'nauseous. However, he devised a means of mixing it with milk to make it more pleasant. When he returned to England he brought his chocolate recipe back with him. Initially it was manufactured and sold by apothecaries as a medicine; though, by the nineteenth century, the Cadbury brothers sold tins of Sloane's drinking chocolate. 

    He became secretary to the Royal Society in 1693, and edited the Philosophical Transactions for twenty years. In 1695 Sloane married and set up medical practice at his house in Bloomsbury Square, London. He was appointed Physician Extraordinary to Queen Anne in 1796, George I in 1716, and Physician in Ordinary to George II in 1727. 

    In 1707 he published the first volume of his A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica, with the Natural History of the Herbs and Trees, Four-footed Beasts, Fishes, Birds, Insects, Reptiles, &c. Of the last of those ISLANDS; referred to in short as the 'Natural History' or 'History'. The second volume was not to appear until 1725. This work contains careful and very readable descriptions of not only the plants and animals he encountered but also how natural resources were used by the islands' inhabitants in 1712.

    Sloane's fame is based on his judicious investments. His purchase of the manor of Chelsea, London in 1712, provided the grounds for the Chelsea Physic Garden as well as perpetuating his memory in the name of a place, a street, and a square. His great stroke as a collector was to acquire (by bequest, conditional on paying of certain debts).

    In 1716, Sloane was created a baronet, the first medical practitioner to receive an hereditary title, and in 1719 he became president of the College of Physicians, holding the office sixteen years. In 1722, he was appointed physician-general to the army, and in 1727 first physician to George II. In 1727 also he succeeded Sir Isaac Newton as president of the Royal Society; he retired from it at the age of eighty. He was a founding governor of London's Foundling Hospital, the nation's first institution to care for abandoned children. 

    When Sloane retired in 1741, his library and cabinet of curiosities, which he took with him from Bloomsbury to his house in Chelsea, had grown to be of unique value. 

    Sloane died at the age of 93, after a long illness. He bequeathed his books, manuscripts, prints, drawings, flora, fauna, medals, coins, seals, cameos and other curiosities to the nation, on condition that parliament should pay to his executors £20,000, which was a good deal less than the value of the collection. The bequest was accepted on those terms by an act passed the same year, and the collection, together with George II's royal library, etc., was opened to the public at Bloomsbury as the British Museum in 1759. A significant proportion of this collection was later to become the foundation for the Natural History Museum.


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