Lives of the fellows

William George Maton

b.31 January 1774 d.30 March 1835
AB Oxon(1794) AM(1797) MB(1798) MD(1801) FRCP(1802)

William George Maton, M.D., was the eldest son of Mr. George Maton, a wine merchant at Salisbury, and was born in that city the 31st January, 1774. His elementary education was obtained at the Free grammar school of Salisbury, and in July, 1790, he was admitted a commoner of Queen’s college, Oxford, as a member of which house he proceeded A.B. 30th April, 1794. He was then intended for the church, but with the concurrence of his father, diverted to physic, proceeded A.M. 20th January, 1797, and in the ensuing spring commenced his medical studies by entering at the Westminster hospital and to several of the lecturers in London.

He graduated M.B. at Oxford 11th July, 1798, M.D. 15th April, 1801, was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 30th September, 1801, and a Fellow 30th September, 1802. He was Censor in 1804, 1813, 1824. Gulstonian lecturer 1803; Treasurer from 4th April, 1814 to 1820; Harveian orator 1815, and Elect 30th May, 1828. He was elected physician to the Westminster hospital in 1800, and retained that office until 1808, when his private engagements had become so numerous that he was compelled to relinquish it.

The first few years of Dr. Maton’s practice were all but unproductive, and he adopted a system, then not unusual with young metropolitan physicians, that of residing at some popular watering place during the season. Weymouth was selected. Dr. Maton was fond of botany, in the knowledge of which he had been early initiated by his friend, Dr. Pulteney, of Blandford. At Weymouth he had ample leisure to pursue his botanical researches, and his rambles in the neighbourhood attracted general notice.

The king and queen were passing the season at Gloucester lodge, and one of the princesses amused herself with botany. A plant not uncommon in that neighbourhood, the arundo epigejos, but unknown to the royal student, was brought to her royal highness, and Dr. Maton, who at the time was strolling with a friend along the esplanade, being mentioned as a person likely to solve the difficulty, was fetched by an equerry and brought by him into the presence of the queen. This introduction to the royal family gave him a name and character at Weymouth highly advantageous to his professional views; and the manner in which George the Third subsequently mentioned his talents secured for him the confidence of many courtly invalids who required medical aid, and led in 1816 to his appointment as physician extraordinary to the queen.

When the duke of Kent was attacked with serious illness at Sidmouth in 1820, Dr. Maton was selected to visit his royal highness; and although his efforts failed in saving the life of the duke, his zeal and attention were duly appreciated, and the duchess of Kent without any solicitation on his part appointed him physician in ordinary to herself and to her royal infant, the princess Victoria. On the death of Dr. Baillie in 1823, he succeeded to much of the practice of that eminent physician, and thenceforward to his own death in 1835 shared with Sir Henry Halford the best business of the town.

The latter fifteen years of Dr. Maton’s life, brought such a pressure of professional labour upon him, that it became necessary he should devote many weeks of each autumn to relaxation, and a total abstraction from business. About a year before his death he had become the owner of Redlynch house, near Downton, in Wiltshire, where he spent some time during the autumn. But his health was even then failing, and he died at his house in Spring gardens on the 30th March, 1835.

He was buried at St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields. A monument with the following inscription was soon afterwards erected to his memory in Salisbury cathedral:—
Sacred to the Memory of
William George Maton,
a native of this City.
One of the most eminent physicians of his time in London,
educated at Queen’s College, Oxford,
he became Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians,
and was honoured with high medical appointments
by his Sovereign and by other branches of the royal family.
Distinguished by extensive knowledge
in philosophy, natural history, and British antiquities,
by his various talents,
his private worth,
his mild and unassuming manners,
he acquired the respect and esteem of every rank in society.
To his kindred he was affectionate and generous;
to his inferiors uniformly kind and considerate;
in his friendship sincere, warm, and constant;
in his charity liberal, without ostentation;
in religion a real as well as a nominal Christian.
He was born 31st January, 1774.
Died 30th March, 1835.
Buried at the church of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, London.

"In private life," writes Dr. Paris, from whose elegant memoir of Dr. Maton(1) I have condensed this notice,"no man in his intercourse with society was more agreeable in his manners or more sincere and steady in his friendships; no one more charitable and benevolent in his disposition; his notion of honour was refined to the extent of chivalry; his affection for his relative and kindred was unbounded, and his generosity towards them was only exceeded by the high sense of integrity which occasionally led him to exercise it. Nor should I do his memory full justice were I to pass unnoticed a noble act of beneficence, alike uncommon in the extent of the sacrifice it demanded and in the circumstances which induced it. On the death of his father in 1816, the latter years of whose life had been embittered by protracted bodily sufferings, which had the effect of throwing all his accounts into confusion and arrear, a large unexplained balance was found due from his estate, after applying all his available assets. Dr. Maton’s resolution was immediately formed. He prevailed upon every creditor to accept his debt by instalments; and in order that he might faithfully redeem the pledge he had given to them, he annually set apart such a portion of his income as he could spare, after defraying the expenses which were essential to his professional station and appearance. At length he achieved his noble object: he liquidated the debts of his father, and he provided for those who were dependent upon him; but it was through long toil, anxiety, and a secret depression that weighed on his sensitive mind that he accomplished it. I am informed that a sum exceeding 20,000l. was for these purposes expended during his life. It would have been strange had not the citizens of his native place justly and gratefully appreciated so noble an act of honourable disinterestedness, and they recorded their sense of his character by a civic memorial. The mayor and corporation presented him with the freedom of the city in a splendid gold box, bearing the following inscription :—
The Mayor
and Commonality of New Sarum
to
William George Maton, M.D.,
F.R.S., F.A.S., F.L.S.,
with the freedom of his native city;
to mark their esteem for his talents and character.
1827."

In concluding his memoir of Dr. Maton, Dr. Paris adds: "No one more anxiously desired to divest his profession of every selfish and sordid consideration. He had early enlisted himself under the banner of truth, and sooner would he have forfeited every chance of promotion than have rested his hopes of success on an unholy alliance with the spirit of delusion. It is true that he treated the prejudices of his patients with indulgence and regard, but his professional advancement was never marked by a mean submission or a servile attention to their wishes, nor by an abject homage to their rank or opulence. He won their confidence by a distinguishing sagacity and a prompt judgment, manifested in a manner at once decisive, but unaffectedly courteous and engaging. He maintained this advantage by the success of his treatment and by the warm and active diligence with which he directed it."

Dr. Maton was an ardent and accomplished botanist, an active fellow and for a long series of years vice-president of the Linnæan Society, and a frequent contributor to its Transactions. By various members of the Linnæan Society and others has the name of Maton been associated with objects of natural history. To antiquarian researches Dr. Maton also devoted some of his time, and contributed largely to the Salisbury Guide and to Hutchins’s excellent History of Dorset. He was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and was repeatedly elected into the council.

He was also a fellow of the Royal Society, and his name appears on the certificate as one of those who proposed Sir Humphrey Davy for that honour. Besides his contributions to the Archæologia, the Philosophical Transactions, and other scientific publications, Dr. Maton was the author of—
Observations relative chiefly to the Natural History, picturesque Scenery and Antiquities of the Western Counties of England. 2 vols. 8vo. Lond. 1797.
Pulteney’s View of the Writings of Linnæus, with the Life of the Author. 4to. Lond. 1805.

Dr. Maton’s portrait is in the college.

William Munk

[(1) A Biographical Sketch of the late W. G. Maton, M.D., Lond. 1838.]

(Volume III, page 6)

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