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Sloane, Sir Hans

1. Dates
Born: Killyleagh, County Down, Ireland, 16 April 1660
Died: London, 11 Jan. 1753
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 93
2. Father
Occupation: Estate Administrator, Government Official
Alexander Sloane was receiver-general of taxes for County Down for the Earl of Clanbrassill; that is, he was an agent for the Earl (to whom he was related) in the administration of the Earl's estate. Note that the name Hans was fairly common in the Hamilton family (the family of the Earl); Hans Sloane was clearly named as a compliment to his father's patron.
In the census of 1659 the father held land on which there were 22 tenants. He died when Hans, the youngest of seven sons, was only six. No one knows anything about the family finances after that, but I do not see how to deny that he grew up in relatively prosperous circumstances.
3. Nationality
Birth: Irish (though of the English, in this case actually. Scottish, ruling class)
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Orange, M.D.
Sloane did not have a university education or a bachelor's degree. He studied medicine in London, 1679-83, and then went to Paris for a year. In Paris he studied at the Jardin du Roi, not at the university. He then took a medical degree at the University of Orange in 1683. Orange, like quite a few others in France (Rheims, Angers, Caens, to name no more) examined but did not instruct. He went on to Montpellier for further study, again not as a formal student. Sloane is, if I remember correctly, only the second for whom I list M.D. without a B.A. or its equivalent. The other one I recall is Nicolas Lemery.
Created M.D. at Oxford, 1701. I am not listing this.
M.D., conferred by Dublin, 1743. Or this.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist, Anglican
The Sloane family went to Ireland early in the 17th century as part of the group led by their relatives, the Hamiltons. It was a Presbyterian group, and Sloane grew up as one of them. He was the classic conformer, and he conformed to the Anglican Church during his long career in London.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural History, Botany, Scientific Organization
Subordinate: Medicine
Sloane became interested in natural history as a boy and never lost the interest. His great collection, in which natural history was quite prominent, became (through his bequest) the nucleus of the British Museum. He pursued natural history in Jamaica, and from that trip came two books: Catalogus plantarum quae in insula Jamaica sponte proveniunt, 1696, and Voyage to Madiera, Barbadoes, and Jamaica, with the Natural History of Jamaica, in two widely spaced volumes, 1707 and 1725. He also published quite a few papers in the Philosophical Transactions, most of them on natural history. Clearly plants were at the center of his natural historical interests.
Sloane's greatest service to science may well have been to its societies in London. As Secretary of the Royal Society, 1693-1712, he was one agent in reviving it after its near collapse. Later he was President for fourteen years, succeeding Newton. He was also President of the Royal College of Physicians for sixteen years, beginning in 1719.
Though a highly successful one, Sloane was not a great physician. He did, within his limited powers, strive to dethrone superstition and to raise the standard of medicine. He published one book, An Account of a Medicine for . . . Distempers of the Eyes, 1745.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, Patronage, Personal Means
Secondary: Government
Set up practice in London, 1684 until not long before his death. He was quickly one of the most successful physicians in the city, especially after his return from Jamaica. He is said to have charged the wealthy one guinea per hour.
Physician to the Duke of Albemarle, Christopher Monck, Governor of Jamaica, 1687-9, with a salary of 600. Monk died not long after the arrival in Jamaica. Sloane accompanied his widow back and stayed on in her household as her personal physician for about five years. This connection, together with his Sydenham connection, launched his successful practice.
In Jamaica he invested heavily in quinine and sugar. Several years after his return he married the widow of a rich planter in Jamaica; she brought a fortune with her. That is, Sloane became a very wealthy man.
Physician to Christ's Hospital, 1694-1730, 30, which he gave back to the hospital.
Physician to Queen Anne, 1712-14.
Physician-general to the army, 1722-7.
First physician to George II, 1727.
8. Patronage
Types: Physician, Aristrocrat, Court Official
Brooks is convinced that the patronage of the Hamilton family was necessary to launch Sloane's career--his medical study in London and Paris. It is far from evident to me that Sloane's family was even close to poverty.
Boyle, with whom Sloane became acquainted, recommended him to Thomas Sydenham when Sloane returned from France. Sydenham promoted his early career. Among other things he seems to have been responsible for Sloane's election into the College of Physicians.
The Albemarle connection was important.
Sloane dedicated his Catalogus, 1696, to the Royal Society and the Royal College of Physicians. By then he was well launched. He was already Secretary of the Royal Society. I am not inclined to treat that dedication as an aspect of patronage.
Appointed physician to Anne, and later to George II. He dedicated the first volume of the Natural History of Jamaica to Anne and the second volume to George I. He dedicated his medical work, An Account, 1645, to George II.
Sloane preserved the life of Anne a few hours at a critical juncture and thus preserved the Hanoverian succession. George I conferred a baronetcy on him in 1716.
When Sloane became wealthy, he became a patron himself. He took young physicians with him exactly as Sydenham had done for him. Books were dedicated to him. When he purchased Chelsea manor, he conveyed the Physick Garden to the impoverished Company of Apothecaries virtually as a gift. Above all, he gave his great collection to the nation. Perhaps Sloane, especially his correspondence, might help to illuminate the motives of the patron.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology
Sloane was interested in the pharmacological uses of plants; he contributed some new drugs from Jamaica into the accepted pharmacology. He included material of this sort in his Natural History of Jamaica. He apparently concocted Sir Hans Sloane's Milk Chocolate as a medicine. He helped to establish the use of quinine. The Account was about an ointment (based on viper grease!) for sore eyes; it is said to have continued in wide use for some time. As President of the College of Physicians he pushed a revised London Pharmacopaeia, 1724.
De Beer claims that Sloane introduced scientific method into medicine with his insistence on empirical observation. This seems greatly exaggerated to me. However, Sloane did promote all sorts of projects to improve health care in London, including the foundation of the Foundling Hospital. He greatly helped the introduction of inoculation for small pox after 1718, and did inoculate members of the royal family.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Royal Society, Medical College, Académie Royal des Sciences, Berlin Academy, Russian Academy (St. Petersburg)
Informal Connections: Close friendships with John Ray, Robert Boyle and Tancred Robinson, beginning in the 1670s; with Thomas Sydenham, beginning in 1684. Friendship with John Locke, Samuel Pepys, Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley, William Courten, Christopher Wren, and John Evelyn. Most of his immense correspondence is in the Sloane Manuscripts in the British Library. See Books, p. 118, for a summary of the location of Sloane's correspondence. His correspondence with Ray at least is published, in the Derham volume.
Royal Society, 1685; Secretary, 1693-1712; President, 1727- 41.
Royal College of Physicians, 1687; Censor, 1705, 1709, 1715; Elect, 1716; President, 1719-35.
College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 1705.
Academy of Sciences of Paris, 1709.
Royal Academy of Science, Berlin, 1712.
Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg, 1735.
Royal Academy of Madrid, 1735.
Academy of Sciences of Gottingen, 1752.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 18, 376-80. Biographia Britannica, 1st ed. (London, 1747-66), 6.1, 3697-706.
  2. Gavin R. de Beer, Sir Hans Sloane and the British Museum, (London, 1953). Eric St. John Brooks, Sir Hans Sloane, The Great Collector and His Circle, (London, 1954).
  3. Richard Pulteney, Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Progress of Botany in England, (London 1790), 2, 65-96.
  4. Not consulted: "Sir Hans Sloane," British Museum Quarterly, 18 (1953), 1-26. This whole issue is devoted to Sloane.
  5. W.R. Sloan, "Sir Hans Sloane, F.R.S.: Legend and Lineage," Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 35 (1980), 125-33.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
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