Lives of the fellows

James Yonge

b.11 May 1646 d.25 July 1721
Ex LRCP(1702) FRS(1702)

James Yonge was the son of Mr. John Yonge, a surgeon at Plymouth, and was born in that town 11th May, 1646. He was educated at the Plymouth Grammar school under Mr. Horsemann, where he remained only two years, being, in the early part of 1657, ere he had attained his eleventh year, apprenticed to Mr. Richmond, surgeon of the " Constant Warwick" a ship of 31 guns and 130 men. In May, 1661, he was appointed surgeon’s assistant to the " Montague," 64 guns, and 250 men, one of the fleet then lying at the Downs under lord Sandwich. He was present at the bombardment of Algiers, and in his diary (still preserved in MS. At the Plymouth institution) has left a painfully detailed account of the menial duties he had to perform, and of his sufferings, more especially after a battle. He went down, he informs us, to dress the wounded men, who were placed on heaps of clothes to make it soft for them. Here he had not only to dress wounds, but to perform all those duties which now devolve on nurses and surgery attendants. To boil gruel, to make barley-water for the sufferers, to prepare fomentations and poultices, to wash and dry bandages and rollers, to administer glysters, make the hammocks, to shave and trim any one requiring it, were the duties, besides the ordinary business of the surgery, which it fell to his lot to perform when surgeon’s assistant to the " Montague."

The fleet returned to England in May, 1662, when Mr. Yonge was discharged for a time from the service of the navy. He then came to London with the view of improving himself in the knowledge and practice of surgery, and spent four months with Mr. Clark, a surgeon apothecary of Wapping, where he confesses he learned a great deal. Mr. Yonge returned to Plymouth in September,1662, and bound himself to his father for seven years. The apprenticeship, however, lasted for a short time only. In February, 1663, he was engaged to go as surgeon of the "Reformation" to Newfoundland. He returned in September; and in March, 1664, sailed in the " Bonaventure " for the West African coast, then went up the Mediterranean, and, returning to England, again received a temporary discharge from the service. In December, 1665, he again sailed in the same ship, but ere long the "Bonaventure" was captured by two Dutch vessels. Mr. Yonge, with the other prisoners, was conveyed to Amsterdam, and remained a close prisoner of war until September, when he got out on parole. Shortly afterwards he was exchanged for a relative of the secretary of the Dutch admiralty, then in prison at Harwich; and, returning to England, proceeded through London to Plymouth. There he remained, partly occupied in practice, by which, to use his own words, he made a little money to maintain himself; and partly in study, until February, 1668, when he sailed once more for Newfoundland. He finally returned to Plymouth in September, 1670, and then, after fourteen years’ naval service, took leave of the sea with the resolution of settling in his native town, and attempting by the exercise of his profession, to maintain himself at home. Mr. Yonge was in his 25th year when he settled at Plymouth; and he obtained, for a beginner, a considerable amount of business. In the following year he married Miss Jane Crampphorne, of Buckland Monachorum, a lady of respectable family and connections, whose mother had a near relative married to Sir Thomas Clifford of Chudleigh, the high treasurer of England. In consequence of the war which had broken out with the French and Dutch, a naval hospital was established at Plymouth, and to it Mr. Yonge, through the interest of the treasurer, was appointed surgeon. This proved a steady source of professional income. The surgeon-general of the navy, Mr. James Pearse, appointed Mr. Yonge his deputy at Plymouth in 1674, an office which brought him no inconsiderable accession of emolument. In 1678 Mr. Yonge visited London in company with Mr. Sparke, then M.P. for Plymouth, and whilst there was introduced to some of the more distinguished fellows of the Royal Society. In consequence of a conversation with some eminent literary characters during this visit to London, Mr. Yonge was led to write his most important work, the "Currus Triumphalis de Terebintho." This small treatise is full of originality, contains many most important practical suggestions, and notwithstanding the quaintness of its phraseology, and the vast improvement which surgery has since undergone, may still be read with amusement and instruction. He gives a full account of turpentine as a means of arresting hæmorrhage, distinctly describes the flap operation in amputation, and shows that he was familiar with a contrivance analogous to the tourniquet, for the arrest of hæmorrhage during operations.

Mr. Yonge now became a person of much importance in his native town, and was called upon to fill in succession the highest parochial and civic offices. He was elected a member of the common council for the borough of Plymouth in 1679, churchwarden of St. Andrew’s in 1682, and in 1694 alderman and mayor of Plymouth. He was appointed surgeon to lord Bath’s regiment of militia in 1685, an office which was relinquished in 1689, the duties proving incompatible with his rapidly increasing professional engagements at Plymouth. A more suitable office however, awaited him. In 1692 he was appointed surgeon to the new dock at Hamoaze, and in consequence of this appointment had to visit London. During his stay he attended Dr. Tyson’s anatomical lectures at Surgeon’s hall, dined at the public dinner given by the Company, was made free, and without examination admitted a member, an honour which, he states, had never before been thus conferred on any one.

In what year he began to practise as a physician is uncertain. We know that he possessed a licence from the bishop of the diocese to act in that capacity. In 1702, being then in London, he was induced to present himself before the College of Physicians for examination as an Extra-Licentiate. Of the examination he underwent (23rd May,1702) he has left a detailed account. For a copy of this interesting and probably unique document, as well as for much other valuable information, I am indebted to the courtesy and kindness of a learned Fellow of our college, the late Dr. James Yonge, of Plymouth, a direct descendant of the distinguished practitioner whose career I am now attempting to sketch. Our physician, for so henceforward we must consider him, was, it would seem, urged by his friend Dr. Charleton to apply for letters testimonial Of the president, Sir Thomas Millington, and of Dr. Charleton and Dr. Torlesse, two other of his examiners, he speaks in terms of the highest respect and kindness. His estimate of Dr. Samuel Collins, the author of a well-known work on anatomy, is not so favourable. All, however, complimented him on the appearance he had made, and treated him, he says, quite as their equal. His answers prove him to have been a man of much originality, of deep thought, and well versed in the practice of his art. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society 3rd November, 1702, and his contributions to the Philosophical Transactions are numerous and important.

In 1703, being then in the fifty-seventh year of his age, and having attained a good estate and more professional employment than he desired, feeling anxious too for relaxation and ease, he declined public business and employment. Thenceforward he lived somewhat retired, though not without usefulness. In 1707 he embalmed the body of admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, who had lost his life in the wreck of the "Association" off the Scilly Isles, and whose body had been brought to the citadel at Plymouth, nine days after. This would seem to have been the last professional duty which he performed. Our physician survived for many years, and dying the 25th July, 1721, was buried in St. Andrew’s church, Plymouth. On the monument to his memory is the following inscription :—
Here underneath,
lyeth buried the body
of James Yonge, Physitian,
Fellow of the Royal Society.
He was once Mayor of this his
native town, and dyed the 25th
day of July, 1721, in the 76th year
of his age.

He was the author of—
Some Considerations touching the Debates, &c., concerning the Newfoundland Trade. 4to. 1670.
Currus Triumphalis de Terebintho. 8vo. 1679.
Wound of the Brain proved curable. 12mo. 1685.
Medicator Medicatus. 8vo. 1685. Sidrophel Yapulans. 4to. 1699.
Several Evidences which have not yet appeared in the Controversy on Eikon Basalic.(1)

William Munk

[(1) Edinb. Med. And Surg. Journal for April, 1849]

(Volume II, page 2)

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