Lives of the fellows

John Walker

b.31 July 1759 d.23 June 1830
MD Leyden(1799) LRCP(1812)

John Walker, M.D., was born 31st July, 1759, at Cockermouth, and educated at the Grammar school of that town. His father added to his other avocations that of smith, and Dr. Walker when a young man worked for some time at the forge. Circumstances then led him to drawing and engraving, and he went to Dublin and became a pupil of Esdale, the finest artist in that city, as an etcher and engraver of figure and landscape. But he soon laid aside the portcrayon and burin and commenced teacher of the classics and mathematics. Whilst thus occupied, he set himself to the preparation and publication of the two works by which he was best known, "The Elements of Geography" and "The Universal Gazetteer," which were completed in 1788. About this time he assumed the dress and other outward marks of the Quaker, but to his great mortification was never admitted or recognised as such by the Society of Friends. He made many efforts at subsequent periods to be admitted among them, but he was not considered sound in his faith, and never succeeded.

In 1793 he prepared for the publication of a second edition of his Geography, making extensive tours through different provinces of Ireland and through England and Wales. From the heavy duty in the meantime laid on books imported from Ireland, he found it necessary to publish in London, and his school was transferred to the Rev. John Foster, author of the Moral Essays. He now thought it advisable to apply himself to the study of medicine, and the lady to whom he was under an engagement of marriage, supplied the pecuniary means which were necessary to the pursuit of his studies in London and Leyden. While thus engaged he visited Paris, and there formed an intimacy with many of the leading political characters of the revolution, as well French as English. He also acted as secretary and interpreter to the Society calling themselves Theophilanthropists, of which the notorious Paine was said to be the founder. The Manual of Belief of this sect was translated by Dr. Walker and sent to London for publication. He graduated doctor of medicine at Leyden 30th July, 1799, and then returned to England.

In 1800 a circumstance occurred which determined the whole of his future life. He was associated with his friend Dr. Marshall as the bearer of vaccine lymph at the request of the Neapolitan government to Naples. On Dr. Walker’s return from Naples to Malta, he accompanied the army under Sir Ralph Abercrombie to Egypt, where besides vaccinating, he gave his medical services to the sick of the British navy and of the Turkish army. Returning to London in 1802, Dr. Walker commenced that course of public vaccination in the Metropolis which only terminated with his life. The Jennerian society was founded in 1803, and Dr. Walker appointed the resident vaccinator at the central station of the society in Salisbury-square, with a handsome salary. But his temper was irritable, his manners uncourteous, not to say rude, and he gave so much offence to many persons with whom he was there associated, that he had to resign his appointment in order to avoid a dismissal. His friends thereupon instituted the London Vaccine institution, with Dr. Walker at its head as "director."

On the decadence of the Jennerian society, which occurred on the establishment of the National Vaccine Board by the government shortly afterwards, Dr. Walker’s society became known as the Royal Jennerian and London Vaccine institution. Dr. Walker continued in the office of director of this society up to his death. He was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 30th September, 1812. He died 23rd June,1830.

Whatever were Dr. Walker's peculiarities and failings, and that they were many is admitted by his eulogist and biographer, Dr. Epps,(1) he deserves the greatest praise for his untiring efforts in behalf of vaccination, of which he was the apostle in this metropolis for more than a quarter of a century. During the whole of that period he vaccinated six days in every week, at six or more stations of the society, and was accustomed to boast towards the end of his life, that he had vaccinated altogether more than one hundred thousand persons. The Vaccine institution in speaking of his death in the Annual Report for 1831, says: "he was a man who day after day, month after month, and year after year, watched with the care of a parent the cause of which he was so experienced an advocate; who was willing to know nothing but the object of his early love, vaccination; who for upwards of a quarter of a century, never omitted one lawful day going his rounds to the numerous stations of the institution; and who it may be almost said ended his life with the lancet in his hand, for he went round to the stations two days before he died."

Dr. Walker was the author of—
The Elements of Geography and of Natural and Civil History. 8vo. Lond. 1796. 2nd edition.
The Universal Gazetteer. 8vo. Lond.
A Dissertation on the Necessity for Contracting Cavities between the Venous Trunks and the Ventricles of the Heart; on the Use of Venous Sinuses in the Head, &c., &c. 8vo. Lond.
Fragments of Letters and other Papers written during a Voyage to the Levant for the Propagation of Vaccination and during the Campaign in Egypt under Sir Ralph Abercrombie and General Hutchinson. 8vo. Lond.
The Rudiments of Science, under the three general heads of an Analysis of Words, Things, and Affairs. 8vo. Lond.

William Munk

[(1) The Life of John Walker, M.D., by John Epps, M.D. 8vo. Lond. 1831.]

(Volume III, page 106)

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