Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Boys, William

BOYS, WILLIAM (1735–1803), surgeon and topographer, was born at Deal on 7 Sept. 1735. He was of an old Kent family (Hasted, History of Kent, iii. 109), being the eldest son of Commodore William Boys, R.N., lieutenant-governor of Greenwich Hospital, by his wife, Elizabeth Pearson of Deal (Gent. Mag. lxxiii. pt. i. 421-3). About 1755 he was a surgeon at Sandwich, where he was noted for his untiring explorations of Richborough Castle, for skill in deciphering ancient manuscripts and inscriptions, for his zeal in collecting antiquities connected with Sandwich, and for his studies in astronomy, natural history, and mathematics. In 1759 he married Elizabeth Wise, a daughter of Henry Wise, one of the Sandwich jurats (ib.), and by her he had two children. In 1761 he was elected jurat, acting with his wife's father. In the same year, 1761, she died, and in the next year, 1762, he married Jane Fuller, coheiress of her uncle, one John Paramor of Statenborough (ib.) In 1767 Boys was mayor of Sandwich. In 1774 his father died at Greenwich (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ix. 24 n.) In 1775 appeared his first publication—a memorial to resist a scheme for draining a large tract of the neighbouring land, which it was thought would destroy Sandwich harbour. Boys drew it up as one of the commissioners of sewers, on behalf of the corporation, and it was published at Canterbury in 1775 anonymously (Gent. Mag. lxxiii. pt. i. 421-3). In 1776 Boys was elected F.S.A. In 1782 he again served as mayor. In 1783 his second wife died, having borne him eight or nine children (ib., and Hasted, Hist. of Kent, iv. 222 n.} In the same year Boys furnished the Rev. John Duncombe with much matter relating to the Reculvers, printed in Duncombe's 'Antiquities of Reculver.' In 1784 was published 'Testacea Minuta Rariora,' 4to, being plates and description of the tiny shells found on the seashore near Sandwich, by Boys, 'that inquisitive naturalist' (Introd. p. i). The book was put together by George Walker, Boys himself being too much occupied by his profession. In 1786 Boys issued proposals for publishing his 'Collections for a History of Sandwich' at a price which should only cover its expenses, and placed his materials in the hands of the printers (Nichols, Lit. Ill. vi. 613). In 1787 Boys published an 'Account of the Loss of the Luxborough,' 4to (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ix. 24), a case of cannibalism, in which his father (Commodore Boys) had been one of the men compelled to resort to this horrible means of preserving life. Boys had a series of pictures hung up in his parlour portraying the whole of the terrible circumstances (Pennant, in his Journey from London to the Isle of Wight, quoted in Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 24 n.) Of this 'Account,' as a separate publication, there is now no trace; but it appears in full in the 'History of Greenwich Hospital,' by John Cooke and John Maule, 1789, pp. 110 et seq.; it is also stated there that six small paintings in the council room of the hospital (presumably replicas of those seen by Pennant in the possession of William Boys) represent this passage in the history of the late gallant lieutenant-governor. In 1788 appeared the first part of 'Sandwich,' and in 1789 Boys was appointed surgeon to the sick and wounded seamen at Deal. Over the second part of 'Sandwich' there was considerable delay and anxiety (Letter from Denne, Nichols's Lit. Ill. vi. 613); but in 1792 the volume was issued at much pecuniary loss to Boys. In 1792 Boys also sent Dr. Simmons some 'Observations on Kit's Coity House,' which were read at the Society of Antiquaries, and appeared in vol. xi. of 'Archæologia.' In 1796 he gave up his Sandwich practice and went to reside at Walmer, but returned to Sandwich at the end of three years, in 1799. His health had now declined. He had apoplectic attacks in 1799, and died of apoplexy on 15 March 1803, aged 68.

Boys was buried in St. Clement's Church, Sandwich, where there is a Latin epitaph to his memory, a suggestion for a monument with some doggerel verses, from a correspondent to the 'Gentleman's Magazine' (lxxiii. pt. ii. 612), having fallen through. He was a member of the Linnean Society, and a contributor to the 'Gentleman's Magazine' (Index, vol. iii. preface, p. lxxiv). A new fern found by him at Sandwich was named Sterna Boysii, after him, by Latham in his 'Index Ornithologicus.'

[Watt's Bibl. Brit., where 'Sandwich' is said, wrongly, to have consisted of three parts, and to have been published in London; Gent. Mag. lxxiii. pt. i. 293, 421-3; Hasted's Kent, iii. 109, 557 n. u, iv. 222 n. i; Nichols's Lit. Ill. iv. 676, vi. 613, 653, 685, 687; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 24-27 nn.]

J. H.