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About Dr. Sir Hans Sloane

Physician, Botanist, Naturalist, Scientist, Explorer, Inventor and Collector

 

Dr Hans Sloane was reportedly a curious child, fascinated by the flora and fauna around him. In later life, he recalled how he had “from my Youth been very much pleased with the study of Plants and other Parts of Nature”.

Quick Facts

  • Sir Hans Sloane, (16 April, 1660 – 11 January, 1753) was a major figure of 18th Century.  He became a successful physician in London with the Royal Family.

  • Born of Ulster-Scots origins in Killyleagh.

  • He became President of the College of Physicians in 1719 and in 1727 succeeded Sir Isaac Newton as President of the Royal Society.

  • ​He donated his collections to the British nation, which became the beginning of the British Museum.
      

  • He is recognised and honoured as the Founder of both the British Museum and the Natural History Museum in London.
      

  • Physician Dr Sir Hans Sloane is the inventor of chocolate milk.  He brought his chocolate milk recipe back to England from Jamaica, where it was manufactured and sold as medicine in the pharmacies.
      ​

  • Sloane Square and Sloane Street, located in London, was named after him.

Summary

Dr Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) was born in Killyleagh, Ulster, in the North of Ireland, in relatively modest circumstances as the third son of migrants from Ayrshire in Scotland.  Inspired by a childhood interest in natural history, and his Protestant upbringing, he studied medicine and botany in London, Paris and Montpellier, taking his MD from Orange.

 

In 1689, Sloane set up a successful medical practice at his home in No. 3 Bloomsbury Place in London – coincidentally just along the street from the present Museum building.  He had a number of wealthy and aristocratic patients, among them Queen Anne and Kings George I and II.

 

An innovative doctor, Sloane promoted inoculation against smallpox, the use of quinine (a treatment for malaria) and the health-giving properties of drinking chocolate mixed with milk.  He was President of the College of Physicians in 1719 and in 1727 succeeded Sir Isaac Newton as President of the Royal Society, the only person to have held both positions simultaneously.  

 

At the age of 27, Sloane went to Jamaica as personal physician of Christopher Monck, 2nd Duke of Albemarle and newly appointed governor of the island. 

 

While in Jamaica, Sloane collected more than 1,000 plant specimens, live animals, shells and rocks, and wrote notes on local plants, animals and customs. It was also during this time that he collected the famous specimen of cacao.

​ 

Perhaps Sloane's best-known work is his publication “A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers, and Jamaica”.  The first volume, published in 1707, had a strong botanical focus. It was followed in 1725 with another volume, this time examining the fauna of Jamaica and also wider themes such as disease, trade and climate.

 

Over the years Sloane’s collection grew until whole rooms in his house were filled with tens of thousands of plants, animals, gemstones, coins and antiquities.  He also had 50,000 books, prints and manuscripts.  Many of the collections built by other men ultimately ended up with Sloane.  He amassed a large fortune and became one of the most influential people in London. His house also became a major attraction.  Although not open to the public, it was visited by a stream of interested people from Britain and abroad.  One in particular was the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who would later use Sloane's published text and drawings as the basis for descriptions of species in his major work, Species Plantarum. 

 

Sloane died at the age of 93 in 1753. He had been keen for his collections to become available to the nation.  He made provision in his will that his collection may remain together and not be separated and that chiefly in and about the city of London, “where I have acquired most of my estates and where they may by the great confluence of people be most used”.

 

He had organised for his collection to be offered to Parliament for £20,000 - a large amount of money but probably much less than its real worth.  Money raised by a public lottery was used to purchase the collection, and the British Museum at Bloomsbury was founded.  It opened six years after Sloane's death.

 

Later, some of Sloane's collection was moved to the Natural History Museum at South Kensington in the 1880s and to the British Library in 1973.  For the past 300 years, the collections have underpinned the work of a range of researchers and scientists.

References

Sir Hans Sloane – British Museum

https://www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/the_museums_story/general_history/sir_hans_sloane.aspx

 

Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1735): His life and legacy – NBCI

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2938984/

 

Hans Sloane: Physician, collector and botanist | Natural History Museum

https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/hans-sloane-physician-collector-botanist.html

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