Lives of the fellows

William (Sir) Burnett

b.1779 d.16 February 1861
Kt KCH KCB MD Aberd LRCP(1825) FRCP(1836)

Sir William Burnett, M.D., was born at Montrose in 1779, and educated at the grammar school of that town. He served an apprenticeship to a surgeon at Montrose, and studied for a short time at Edinburgh, but was soon appointed surgeon’s mate to the "Edgar," then with the North Sea squadron in Leith-roads, after which he served as assistant-surgeon in the "Goliah," and was present at the action of St. Vincent and at the siege of Cadiz. He was present at the battles of the Nile and Trafalgar, and for his services was created K.C.B., and had four war medals. He then had charge for five years of the hospitals for prisoners of war at Portsmouth and Forton, and in 1810 was appointed physician and inspector of hospitals to the Mediterranean fleet. In 1814 he undertook the medical charge of the Russian fleet in the Medway, and on the termination of this duty, settled at Chichester as a physician. But from this he was recalled in 1822, by the offer from lord Melville of a seat at the Victualling Board as the colleague of Dr. Weir, who was then in charge of the medical department of the navy.

Subsequently he became physician general to the navy, and as such exerted himself to the utmost in improving the service over which he presided. He it was who first required from the medical officers periodical returns, nosologically arranged, to show the diseases in each hospital or ship on every station, and the number of deaths from each disease. And it was mainly at his suggestion that Melville hospital was built, and to him is due the introduction of a milder and more merciful management of the naval lunatics at Haslar. Lastly, it is believed that much of the success which attended the prolonged struggle of the assistant surgeons of the navy for their proper position was owing to the continued support of their claims by Sir William Burnett.

In the year 1841 a committee of naval medical officers met for the purpose of offering Sir William Burnett a testimonial of the sense they had of the benefits he had rendered, not only to their own department, but to the service generally. It took the form of a full-length portrait of himself, painted by Sir Martin Shee, accompanied with a handsome service of plate. Sir William Burnett, on his retirement from active life, returned to Chichester, where he died on the 16th February, 1861.

He was a doctor of medicine of Aberdeen, was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 28th March, 1825, and a Fellow 9th July, 1836. He was Consiliarius in 1845, 1846, 1847. He was knighted 25th May, 1831, and on the 13th April, 1835, was appointed physician in ordinary to the king, and soon after received from the king the knight commandership of the Hanoverian Guelphic order, and the queen created him a knight commander of the military division of the order of the Bath.

Sir William Burnett was the author of—
An Account of the Bilious Remittent in the Mediterranean fleet in 1810—1813. 8vo. Lond. 1814.
Official Report on the Fever in H.M.S. "Bann" on the coast of Africa, and among the Royal Marines in the island of Ascension. 8vo. Lond. 1824.

William Munk

(Volume III, page 307)

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