Lives of the fellows

William Stukeley

b.7 November 1687 d.3 March 1765
MB Cantab(1709) MD(1719) FRCP(1720) FRS

William Stukeley, M.D.—This learned and indefatigable antiquary was born 7th November, 1687, at Holbech, in Lincolnshire. After a good preliminary education at the free school of his native town, he was admitted at Corpus Christi college, Cambridge, 7th November, 1703, and chosen a scholar of that house in the April following. He proceeded M.B. in 1720. He commenced practice at Boston, in his native county, but in 1717 removed to London, and having graduated M.D. in 1719, was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 30th September, 1719, and a Fellow 30th September, 1720. He delivered the Gulstonian Lectures in 1722. These were published the following year, in folio, under the title, "Of the Spleen : its Description and History, Uses and Diseases, with Observations on the Dissection of an Elephant against which Haller writes,(1) "Valde paradoxus homo." He was Censor in 1725. Dr. Stukeley, soon after his arrival in London, was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and ere long was placed upon the council. He was one of the committee appointed to examine into the condition of the astronomical instruments at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. He was also a fellow, and for some years secretary, of the Society of Antiquaries, and had been one of the most active of that illustrious band who revived the society in 1717 and 1718.

In 1726 Dr. Stukeley removed to Grantham, in Lincolnshire, where he practised for some years with the highest reputation. The dukes of Ancaster and Rutland, the families of Tyrconnel, Cust, &c., &c., and most of the principal families in the county, were glad to avail themselves of his advice. During his residence there he declined an invitation from the earl of Hertford to settle at Marlborough, and another to succeed Dr. Hunton at Newark. In 1728 he married Frances, daughter of Mr. Robert Williamson, of Allington, near Grantham, a lady of good family and fortune.

Dr. Stukeley had long ere this been a severe sufferer from gout, which generally confined him during the winter months. For the recovery of his health, he was in the habit of travelling during the spring, and in these excursions he indulged his innate love of antiquities by tracing the footsteps of Caesar’s expedition in this island,—his camps, stations, &c. The fruit of his more distant travels was his "Itinerarium Curiosum; or, an Account of the Antiquities and Curiosities in Travels through Great Britain," folio. Overpowered at length with the fatigue of his profession and repeated attacks of gout, he turned his thoughts to the Church; and, being encouraged in that pursuit by archbishop Wake, was ordained at Croydon 20th July, 1729. In the October following he was presented by lord chancellor King to the living of All Saints, Stamford. At the time of entering on his parochial cure (1730), Dr. Rogers of that town had just invented his oleum arthriticum, which Dr. Stukeley, seeing others use with advantage, was induced to try, and, as the result proved, with equal success; for it not only saved his joints, but with the addition of a proper regimen, and leaving off fermented liquors, he recovered his health and the use of his limbs, and thenceforward enjoyed a firm and active state of health to a good old age. This induced him to publish an account of the success of the external application of this oil in a letter to Sir Hans Sloane in 1733; and the year after he published also "A Treatise on the Cause and Cure of the Gout, with a new Rationale," which passed through several editions. His subsequent literary efforts were chiefly antiquarian, and are too numerous to be here specified. In 1737 Dr. Stukeley lost his wife, and in the following year married Elizabeth, the only daughter of Dr. Gale, dean of York. From this time he often spent his winters in London. In 1747 the duke of Montague prevailed on him to vacate his preferment in the country by giving him the rectory of St. George’s, Queen-square.

Dr. Stukeley’s interest in his original profession and in the College of Physicians continued to the last. He not unfrequently attended the Comitia and took part in the business of the College, as appears from the following notes in his own copy of the Pharmacopoeia of 1746.(2)
"After I was in orders, I assisted (September 30th, 1729) at the Michaelmas Comitia of the College, at choice of President, Censors, and other officers.
"Oct. 18.—I was present at the Oratio and Convivium Harveianum. The duke of Montague there.
"25 June, 1739.—I assisted and dined at the College of Physicians at the Quarterly Comitia.
"22 Dec., 1742.—Assisted at the Comitia, was chaplain at dinner.
"15 Sep., 1750.—Received a summons to attend the Croonian Lecture and Sermon, which I preached."

The sermon here mentioned, "The Healing of Diseases as a character of the Messiah, preached before the College of Physicians 20th September, 1750," was published by the doctor, and came to a second edition.

On Wednesday, 27th February, 1765, Dr. Stukeley was seized with palsy, brought on, it was said, by attending a full vestry, on a contested election for a lecturer. He died 3rd March, 1765, in his seventy-eighth year, and was buried on the 9th in the churchyard of East Ham, Essex, at a spot he had fixed upon during a visit he had paid some time before to the vicar of that parish. In compliance with his own special request, no monument was placed over his grave, but it is stated that he was buried in the north of the churchyard. His character was thus drawn by Haller: "Medicus et antiquitatum cultor, vir pius, non satis cautus."(3)

Dr. Stukeley’s attainments as an antiquary were of a high order. His proficiency in Druidical history was so great that his familiar friends used to call him "the Archdruid of this age and over the door of a house he possessed at Kentish Town, to which he frequently retired, was the following inscription :—
Me dulcis saturet quies,
Obscuro positus loco,
Leni perfruar otio,
Chyndonax Druida.

Dr. Stukeley’s portrait by Kneller was engraved by J. Smith. In addition to the works mentioned above, Dr. Stukeley was the author of—
Stonehenge: a Temple restor’d to the British Druids. Folio, Lond. 1740.
Abury: a Temple of the British Druids, with some others described. Folio, Lond. 1743.

William Munk

[(1) Boerhaave’s Methodus Studii Medici, vol. I, p. 364.
(2) Gent.Mag., vol. Iviii, p. 120.
(3) Biblioth. Anatom., vol. ii, p. 124]

(Volume II, page 71)

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