Lives of the fellows

Thomas Wharton

b.1614 d.14 November 1673
MD Oxon(1647) FRCP(1650)

Thomas Wharton, M.D., was the only son of John Wharton, of Winston, Co. Durham, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Roger Hodshon. He was born at Winston, in 1614, baptised in August of that year, and educated at Pembroke hall, Cambridge. Thence he removed to Trinity college, Oxford, being then tutor to John Scrope, the natural and only son of Emanuel earl of Sunderland.

When the Civil War commenced Mr Wharton removed to London, and studied physic under Dr. John Bathurst, a Fellow of the College and physician to Oliver Cromwell. In 1646, when Oxford had surrendered to the Parliamentary forces, Wharton returned to his college, and, on the 7th May, 1647, was actually created doctor of medicine, in virtue of letters from the Parliamentary general, Sir Thomas Fairfax, which stated that he had for some time been a student in the university, and had afterwards improved his time in London, in the study of all parts of physic.

Having obtained his degree, Dr. Wharton returned to London, was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 25th January, 1647-8, and a Fellow 23rd December, 1650. He was incorporated at Cambridge, on his doctor's degree in 1652. He was Censor in 1658, 1661, 1666, 1667, 1673.

Of Dr Wharton's merits as an anatomist it would be difficult to speak too highly. Boerhaave held him in the highest estimation, and thus describes him: "Eminentissimus anatomicus, gravissimæ auctoritatis in anatomia, et bonæ fidei laudisque optimæ, non magnus ractiocinator sed unicè fidens cultro anatomico" (1).

To Dr Wharton's honour be it recorded, that he was one of the very few physicians who remained in London, and in the exercise of his profession, during the whole of the plague of 1666. On the first appearance of that disease, he determined, after mature consideration, to remain at his post and attend to his own patients, as well as to the poor of St Thomas's hospital, of which he was physician.

When the disease was reaching its height, and the mortality had become excessive; when a panic had seized on most of the profession, and the great majority were hurrying with their families for safety into the country, Dr. Wharton's resolution for a moment wavered; but he was induced to persevere in the line of duty by a promise from Government, that would he persist in attending the Guards, who, as fast as they fell ill, were sent to St. Thomas's hospital, he should received the first vacant appointment of physician in ordinary to the King.

Soon after the plague had ceased, a vacancy in the promised office happened, and Dr. Wharton proceeded to court to solicit the fufilment of the engagement. He was answered that his Majesty was under the necessity of appointment another person his physician; but, to show his sense of Dr. Wharton's services, he would order the heralds to grant him an honourable augmentation to his paternal arms.

From Dr. Wharton's notes in a diary preserved in the family, it appears that he had to pay Sir William Dugdale a fee of 10l. For this augmentation (a canton or, in the dexter quarter), the sole reward which Dr. Wharton received for his services. Dr. Wharton had married Jane, daughter of William Ashbridge, of London; and dying at his house in Aldersgate-street, 14th November, 1673, in the sixieth year of his age, was buried in St. Michael's Bassishaw (2), where a tablet bears the following inscription to his memory : -
Siste pedem viator, quisquis es, ac venerare
Thomæ Wharton, M.D., C.R.M.L.S.
quod fuit mortale heic juxta situm est;
qui Winstoniæ apud Dunelmenses natus
Cantabrigiæ apud Pembrochianos educatus,
non ipsius natalis soli, non academiæ
sed in commune humani generis commodum,
natum se educatumq: factis comprobavit.
Vir justus, probus, pius, omnimodâ eruditione cæteris hominibus hàc solummodo conditione impar quò omnes sui sæculi medicos facilè antecelluerit. Grassante infami illâ Londiniis Peste, hoste infensissimâ, anno MDCLXVI. rebus ad Triarios jam planè perductis, receptusq: aliis canentibus, fixis aquilis adhæsit immotus, saluti publicaæ velle asserens prospicere, alienæ appetentem, suæ profusum. Natus An. MDCXIV. Obiit MDCLXXIII.

Dr. Wharton was the author of -
Adenographia, seu Descriptio Glandularum totius coporis. 8vo. Lond. 1656 -
reprinted at Amsterdam in 1659 - a work of great merit, and giving a far more accurate description of the glands and their diseases than had then appeared.

Dr Wharton's son and heir, Thomas Wharton, M.D., of Old Park, Durham (an estate purchased by his father in 1670), was born in 1669, and died in December, 1714. The portrait of Dr. Wharton, by Vandyck, now in the Censors' room, was presented 30th September, 1729, by the doctor's grandson, George Wharton, M.D., the Treasurer of the College.

William Munk

(1) Methodus Studii Medici edidit Haller, 4to. Amst., 1751. Vol.i, p.418
(2) "14 Nov. 1673. Circa meridiem noctis obiit Tho: Wharton, Med: Doct: apud ædes suas in Aldersgate street, fama optima: sepultus in ruinis ecclesiæ Scti Michael: Bassishaw ubi quondam inhabitavit, die Jovis, Nov: xx. - De religione hujus medici fama diversa." Smith's Obituary, p.100.

(Volume I, page 255)

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