Lives of the fellows

William Gibbons

b.? d.25 March 1728
AB Oxon(1672) AM(1675) MB(1679) MD(1683) FRCP(1692)

William Gibbons, MD, was born at Wolverhampton, and was the son of John Gibbons, esq, who died in 1693, and is buried in the church of St Mary, Warwick, by his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Roland Frith of Thorns, gent. He was educated at Merchant Taylors’ school, and at St John’s college, Oxford, as a member of which he proceeded AB 2nd May, 1672; AM 18 March, 1675; MB 10th July, 1679; and MD 9th May, 1683. He was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 30th September, 1691; and a Fellow 30th September, 1692. He was Censor in 1716, and was one of the few Fellows of the College who opposed the establishment of the Dispensary, and was in consequence severely handled by Garth, under the sobriquet of Mirmillo.

The passage, though long, may be here inserted, as it affords some insight into Dr Gibbons’ history:-
‘Tis with concern, my friends, I meet you here;
No grievance you can know, but I must share.
‘Tis plain my interest you’ve advanced so long;
Each fee, tho’ I were mute, would find a tongue.
And in return, tho’ I have strove to rend,
Those statutes, which on oath I should defend,
Such arts are trifles to a generous mind,-
Great services as great returns should find.
And you’ll perceive this hand, when glory calls,
Can brandish arms as well as urinals.
Oxford and all her passing bells can tell
By this right arm what mighty numbers fell;
While others meanly ask’d whole months to slay,
I oft dispatch’d the patient in a day.
With pen in hand, I pushed to that degree,
I scarce had left a wretch to give a fee:
Some fell by laudanum, and some by steel,
And death in ambush lay in every pill;
For, save or slay, this privilege we claim,-
Tho’ credit suffers, the reward’s the same.
And tho’ the art of healing we pretend,
He that designs it least, is most a friend:
Into the right we err, and must confess
To oversight we often owe success.

Poetic licence has here been urged to its extremest limits; and it is but fair to Dr Gibbons’ memory to adduce the sober, and doubtless more correct, estimate of his character, as drawn in the Harveian Oration of 1729: “Ecquis enim majori eruditionis aut honestatis cujuslibet laude, societatem hanc unquam exornavit, quàm Gulielmus Gibbons? Præsignis ille senex; in artis professione candidus et apertus; in studiis indefessus; literarum et literatorum et suorum Oxoniensium amantissimus; in praxi pietatis et medicinæ simul exercitatissimus; erga pauperes maxime beneficus, in toto vitæ cursu verè Christianus; moribus antiquis, hoc est optimis, et quo vix superiorem, inter eos quibuscum inclaruit, repertum iri confido, paucissimos certè pares.” - P. 13.

Dr Gibbons is said to have been the first to recommend the mineral water of Hampstead, once in considerable request, and we are told by Mr Wadd, “Mems, Maxims, and Memoirs,”p. 148 - but I do not know on what authority - that he was the person who first introduced mahogany. “The doctor’s brother, a West India captain, brought over some of this wood as ballast, when the doctor was building a house, thinking it might be of use, but the carpenters found it too hard for their tools. Soon after, Mrs Gibbons wanting a candle-box, the doctor called on a cabinet-maker, and ordered it to be made of the mahogany, for which strong tools were expressly made. The candle-box was finished and approved; a bureau was then made, of which the colour and polish were so pleasing, that he invited his friends to come and see it. Among these was the duchess of Buckingham, who ordered a similar piece of furniture, and the wood shortly after came into general use.” This, however, does not bring us nearer the origin of the name, which Johnson confessed his inability to discover, notwithstanding that the wood, as he admits, was then but of recent introduction.

Dr Gibbons died 25th March, 1728. To his native town he was a liberal benefactor. On a tablet in the front of the organ-loft of Wolverhampton church is the following inscription:-
That eminent physician
late of London, a native of this town,
among other generous benefactions,
by his last will left to the Charity School
(which he amply contributed to in his lifetime)
the sum of five hundred pounds,
Anno Domini 1728.

His portrait, in his doctor’s robes, is in St John’s college, Oxford. It was presented by his widow, Elizabeth Gibbons, in 1729. To St John’s college he left one thousand pounds.

William Munk

(Volume I, page 490)

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