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

WOODVILLE, WILLIAM (1752–1805), physician and botanist, was born at Cockermouth in Cumberland in 1752. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University, where he became the favourite pupil of William Cullen [q. v.], and graduated M.D. on 12 Sept. 1775. After spending some time on the continent he began to practise at Papcastle in his native county, but shortly afterwards removed to Denbigh. In 1782 he came to London, became physician to the Middlesex dispensary, and was admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians on 9 Aug. 1784. On 17 March 1791 he was elected physician to the smallpox and inoculation hospitals at St. Pancras, in succession to Edward Archer [q. v.]

Woodville, who was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1791, had a strong taste for botany, and appropriated two acres of ground at King's Cross belonging to the hospital as a botanical garden, which he maintained at his own expense. In 1790 he published the first volume of his great work on ‘Medical Botany’ (London 4to), in which he gave a description of all the medicinal plants mentioned in the catalogues of the ‘Materia Medica’ published by the Royal Colleges of Physicians of London and Edinburgh. These descriptions were illustrated by plates and accompanied by an account of the medicinal effects of the plants. The second volume appeared in 1792, the third in 1793, and a supplementary volume, containing plants not included in the ‘Materia Medica,’ in 1794. A second edition in four volumes was published in 1810 (London, 4to), and a third in 1832, edited by (Sir) William Jackson Hooker [q. v.], with a fifth volume by George Spratt.

As was natural from his official position, Woodville took a keen interest in the various remedies for smallpox. The older system of inoculating persons with a mild form of the disease itself first attracted his attention, and in 1796 he published the first volume of a ‘History of the Inoculation of the Smallpox in Great Britain’ (London, 8vo). The second volume did not appear owing to the discovery by Edward Jenner (1749–1823) [q. v.] of the efficacy of vaccination from cow-pox. Woodville was at first hostile, but afterwards enthusiastically adopted Jenner's theory, and made many experiments with a view to elucidating it. In 1799 he published ‘Reports of a Series of Inoculations for the Variolæ Vaccinæ or Cow-pox; with Remarks and Observations on this Disease considered as a Substitute for the Smallpox,’ London, 8vo. This treatise was translated into French in 1800 (Paris, 8vo; new edit. 1801). In 1800 appeared ‘A Comparative Statement of Facts and Observations relative to the Cow-pox, published by Doctors Jenner and Woodville’ (London, 4to).

Woodville, who was a member of the Society of Friends, had his residence in Ely Place, Holborn, but died at the smallpox hospital on 26 March 1805, and was buried in the Friends' burial-ground, Bunhill Fields, on 4 April. His portrait, by Lemuel Abbott, was presented to the smallpox hospital. It was engraved by William Bond.

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. ii. 345; Gent. Mag. 1805, i. 321–3, 387; Smith's Cat. of Friends' Books; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit.; Georgian Era, 1833, ii. 581; Lettsom's Hints, 1816, iii. 24, 33–41 (with portrait); Rees's Cyclopædia, 1819.]

E. I. C.