Lives of the fellows

William Cockburn

b.1669 d.November 1739
MD LRCP(1694)

William Cockburn, MD - A native of Scotland, a master of arts of Edinburgh, and a doctor of medicine (I believe of Leyden, for he was inscribed on the books of that university as a student of physic 29th May, 1691, being then twenty-three years of age), was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 2nd April, 1694. He was physician to the fleet under Sir Charles Wager. Dr Cockburn was appointed physician to Greenwich hospital in November, 1731.

He died in November, 1739, aged 70, and was buried on the 24th of that month in the middle aisle of Westminster abbey.

Dr Cockburn was twice married - first in 1698 to Mary de Banddissin, of St James’s, Westminster, widow, who died 5th July, 1728, aged 64; - and secondly, on the 15th April, 1729, to Lady Mary Feilding, eldest daughter of Basil, fourth earl of Denbigh. The journals of the day described Dr Cockburn as “an eminent physician, immensely rich;” “but he appears,” says colonel Chester,(1) “to have been estimated differently in social life.”

In the Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs Delany edited by Lady Llanover (1st series, i, 209), he is bluntly called “an old, very rich quack,” and his second wife unkindly stigmatised as “very ugly.” Mrs Delany gives the following account of his second courtship. “He went one morning to make a visit, and found Lady Mary weeping. He asked her what was the matter. She said her circumstances were so bad she could no longer live in town, but must retire into the country: she was not anxious about leaving London, but regretted some friends she must leave behind. He said ‘Madam, may I hope I am one of those?’ ‘Certainly,’ says she, ‘doctor, for you have always shown us great friendship.’ ‘Then, madam,’ says he, ‘if an old man and 50,000l can be acceptable to you, you may put off your journey whenever you please.’ She did not long demur, and after ten days’ courtship they were married. Nobody blames the lady, the man is called ‘an old fool.’”

Dr Cockburn’s will as of St Georges, Hanover-square, dated 4th December, 1738, was proved 12th December, 1739, by his friends, Richard Shelley, esq, and James Cockburn, esq, secretary to the duke of Argyle. He was at the head of the medical department of the navy, was in large practice in London, and was physician to dean Swift.(2)

Dr Cockburn was a voluminous writer, and most of his works ran to several editions. Those of which I have been able to collect an account are as follow:-
Æconomia Corporis Animalis 8vo. Lond. 1695.
The Nature and Cure of Distempers of Seafaring People: with Observations on the Diet of Seamen in HM Navy 12mo. Lond. 1696.
An Account of the Nature, Causes, Symptoms, and Cure of the Lues Venerea 8vo. Lond. 1710.
The Symptoms, Nature, Cause, and Treatment of a Gonorrhæa. 8vo. Lond.
The Nature and Cure of Fluxes 8vo. Lond. 1701.
Sea Diseases; or, a Treatise of their Nature and Causes. Also, an Essay on Bleeding in Fevers 8vo. Lond. 1696.
An Answer to Dr Freind on Mistakes imputed to Dr Le Clerc 8vo. Lond. 1728.
Danger of improving Physick 8vo. Lond. 1730.

William Munk

[(1) Westminster Abbey Registers, p. 353.
(2) Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal for August, 1876, p. 150.]

(Volume I, page 507)

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