Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Maton, William George

MATON, WILLIAM GEORGE, M.D. (1774–1835), physician, son of George Maton, a wine merchant, was born at Salisbury, 31 Jan. 1774. He was sent to the free grammar school of his native city, and early showed some taste for natural history. In July 1790 he entered at Queen's College, Oxford, and while there gave much time to botany, and acquired the friendship of Dr. John Sibthorp [q. v.], the professor of that subject. On 18 March 1794 he was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society, and thus came to know Sir James Edward Smith [q. v.] the botanist. He published several papers in the ‘Transactions’—one in vol. iii. on a freshwater shell, Tellina rivalis; another in vol. v., ‘Observations on the Orcheston Long Grass;’ a third (vol. vii.), with Mr. Rackett, ‘An Historical Account of Testaceological Writers,’ and ‘A Descriptive Catalogue of British Testacea;’ a fifth (vol. x.), ‘On Testacea from Rio de la Plata.’ He became vice-president of the society; and the members showed their regard for him by calling a woodpecker, a shell-fish, and a genus of plants after him. In the ‘London Medical Journal,’ vol. v., he published a paper on cinchona, in which he describes his discovery of the alkaline principle of the bark. He also worked at history; wrote an account of a conventual seal found at Salisbury in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1792, and parts of the ‘Salisbury Guide,’ and Hutchins's ‘History of Dorset,’ as well as a paper on Stonehenge in the ‘Archæologia’ for 1794. In that year he graduated B.A. at Oxford, and in 1797 M.A. In 1797 he published at Salisbury, in two volumes, ‘Observations relative chiefly to the Natural History, Picturesque Scenery, and Antiquities of the Western Counties of England, made chiefly in the Years 1794 and 1796.’ This is a record of travels in Dorset, Devonshire, Cornwall, and Somerset. The plants and the antiquities are pleasantly described, while the author seems to have been very sensible to the charms of landscape. In Cornwall he did not forget to inquire about the Cornish language, but could not find a single person who could speak it, and concluded that it was extinct. The first tour was made with his friend Charles Hatchett, F.R.S., and Mr. Rackett the botanist. On his return from the second he began medical study at the Westminster Hospital, and 11 July 1798 graduated M.B. at Oxford, and 15 April 1801 M.D. He was elected a fellow of the College of Physicians of London 30 Sept. 1802, became Gulstonian lecturer in 1803, censor 1804, 1813, and 1824, treasurer 1814 to 1820, and Harveian orator 1815. He was physician to the Westminster Hospital 1800–8. He published three papers in the ‘Transactions of the College of Physicians:’ ‘On Superfœtation’ (vol. iv.); ‘Some Account of a Rash liable to be mistaken for Scarlatina;’ ‘On a case of Chorea in an Aged Person cured by Musk.’ They do not show much depth of medical attainment.

During the Weymouth season Maton used to practise in that town. One day as he was walking there an equerry summoned him to Queen Charlotte, who asked him to name a specimen of Arundo (now Calamagrostis) Epigejos, which one of the princesses fond of botany had obtained. He named the plant, and acquired the confidence of the royal family. In 1816 he was appointed physician extraordinary to Queen Charlotte, and in 1820 attended the Duke of Kent in his last illness. He afterwards became physician to the duchess and to the infant Princess Victoria. His practice increased, and was only exceeded by that of Sir Henry Halford [q. v.] In his holidays he travelled abroad. His father, who died in 1816, proved to be deeply in debt, and before 1827 Maton paid all that was owing to the amount of 20,000l. The mayor and corporation of Salisbury, in testimony of his honourable conduct, on this occasion gave him the freedom of their city in a gold box. He bought a country seat near Downton, Wiltshire, but six months later became very ill and died 30 March 1835 at his house in Spring Gardens, London. A portrait of him hangs in the dining-room of the College of Physicians, and a good engraving of a drawing of him is the frontispiece of Dr. Paris's ‘Life.’

[J. A. Paris's Biographical Sketch of William George Maton, M.D., London, 1838; Munk's Coll. of Phys. iii. 6; Works.]

N. M.