Lives of the fellows

Thomas Dimsdale

b.1711 d.30 December 1800
MD Aberdeen(1761) Ex LRCP(1761) FRS(1769)

Thomas Dimsdale, M.D., was the son of John Dimsdale, by his wife Sarah, daughter of Thomas Bow-yer, of Albury hall, near Hertford, and was born at Theydon Gernon, co. Essex, where his father practised as a surgeon. His family were Quakers, and his grandfather Robert Dimsdale had been the companion of Penn in America. After studying at St. Thomas’s hospital he settled at Hertford, which he quitted in 1745, when he engaged himself as surgeon to the army, and went through the whole of the Scotch campaign. On the taking of Carlisle, he determined to return to Hertford and practise as a physician. He obtained a diploma from King’s college, Aberdeen, dated 3rd July, 1761, creating him doctor of medicine; and on the 28th of August following was admitted an Extra-Licentiate of the College of Physicians of London. He devoted much of his attention to small-pox inoculation, and in 1767 published "The Present Method of Inoculating for the Small-pox, to which are added some experiments instituted with a view to discover the effects of a similar treatment in the Natural Small-pox." 8vo. Lond.; a work which became very popular, and in the course of three years ran through at least seven large editions. The reputation which he attained in this department recommended him to the notice of the empress Catherine of Russia, at whose request he visited St. Petersburgh in 1768. His successful inoculation of the empress herself, and of her son the grand duke, was rewarded with the rank of baron of the empire, counsellor of state, and physician to the empress, besides a pension of 500l. per annum and a present of 12,000l. He had also permission to add to his arms a wing of the Russian eagle, in a gold shield, with the customary helmet, adorned with a baron’s coronet over the shield. His son, who had accompanied him, shared his honours, and was presented by the empress with a gold snuffbox set with diamonds. He returned to England, and for some time continued to practise at Hertford. He was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society 11th May, 1769. In 1776 he published "Thoughts on General and Partial Inoculation; " and, two years after, " Observations on the Introduction to the Plan of the Dispensary for General Inoculation." This involved him in a controversy with Dr. Lettsom, into the particulars of which it is not necessary to enter. Dr. or Baron Dimsdale, as he was now called, some time after this opened a banking house in Cornhill, in partnership with his sons and the Barnards, which still flourishes. In 1780 he was elected member of parliament for the borough of Hertford, and then declined all practice except for the relief of the poor. He went once more, however, to Russia in 1781, when he inoculated the emperor and his brother Constantine, and, as he passed through Brussels, the emperor Joseph received him with great consideration. In 1790 he resigned his seat in parliament, and passed some winters at Bath; but at length returned to Hertford, where he died, 30th December, 1800, (1) aged eighty-nine. He was buried in the Quakers’ burial ground at Bishops Stortford. An engraved portrait of him by Ridley is extant.

William Munk

[(1) Rose’s Biographical Dictionary]

(Volume II, page 232)

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