Physicians

From An Illustrated History of Ireland by Margaret Anne Cusack

« start... Chapter XXXII. ...continued

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A century previous (A.D. 1566), Thomas Smyth seems to have been the principal, if not the only English practitioner in Dublin; and although he sold his drugs with his advice, his business did not pay. However, Thomas was "consoled" and "comforted," and "induced to remain in the country," by the united persuasions of the Lord Deputy, the Counsellors of State, and the whole army. The consolation was administered in the form of a concordat, dated April 25th, 1566, by which an annual stipend was settled on him, the whole army agreeing to give him one day's pay, and every Counsellor of State twenty shillings, "by reason of his long contynuance here, and his often and chardgeable provision of druggs and other apothecarie wares, which have, from tyme to tyme, layen and remained in manner for the most part unuttered; for the greater part of this contray folke ar wonted to use the mynisterie of their leeches and such lyke, and neglecting the apothecarie's science, the said Thomas thereby hath been greatly hyndered, and in manner enforced to abandon that his faculty."[8] It was only natural that the English settler should distrust the leeche who gathered his medicines on the hillside by moonlight, "who invoked the fairies and consulted witches;" and it was equally natural that the native should distrust the Saxon, who could kill or cure with those magical little powders and pills, so suspiciously small, so entirely unlike the traditionary medicants of the country.

In a list still preserved of the medicines supplied for the use of Cromwell's army, we may judge of the "medicants" used in the seventeenth century. They must have been very agreeable, for the allowance of sugar, powder and loaf, of "candie," white and brown, of sweet almonds and almond cakes, preponderates wonderfully over the "rubarcke, sarsaparill, and aloes."[9] Mr. Richard Chatham was Apothecary-General, and had his drugs duty free by an order, dated at "ye new Customs' House, Dublin, ye 24th of June, 1659."

Dr. William Bedell was the first who suggested the foundation of a College of Physicians. On the loth of April, 1628, he wrote to Usher thus: "I suppose it hath been an error all this while to neglect the faculties of law and physic, and attend only to the ordering of one poor college of divines." In 1637 a Regius Professor of Physic was nominated.

In 1654 Dr. John Stearne was appointed President of Trinity Hall, which was at this time set apart "for the sole and proper use of physicians;" and, in 1607, the physicians received their first charter from Charles II. The new corporation obtained the title of "The President and College of Physicians." It consisted of fourteen Fellows, including the President, Dr. Stearne. Stearne was a grand-nephew of Archbishop Usher, and was born in his house at Ardbraccan, county Meath. He was a man of profound learning; and although he appears to have been more devoted to scholastic studies than to physic, the medical profession in Ireland may well claim him as an ornament and a benefactor to their faculty. The College of Physicians was without a President from 1657 until 1690, when Sir Patrick Dun was elected. The cause of this was the unfortunate illiberality of the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College, who refused to confirm the election of Dr. Crosby, simply because he was a Roman Catholic. In 1692 the College received a new charter and more extended privileges; and these, with certain Acts of Parliament, form its present constitution.

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[8] Faculty.—Document in the State Paper Office, Dublin, entitled Smyth's Information for Ireland.

[9] Aloes.—Ulster Arch. Jour. vol. iii. p. 163.


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