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Millington, Thomas (DNB00)


MILLINGTON, Sir THOMAS (1628–1704), physician, son of Thomas Millington, esq., of Newbury, Berkshire, was born at Newbury in 1628. He was sent to Westminster School, whence he was elected to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1645, graduating A.B. in 1649 and M.A. in 1657. He then removed to Oxford, where he graduated M.D. in 1659 and became fellow of All Souls' College. Here he took part with Wilkins, Boyle, Wallis, Wren, and Willis in those scientific meetings in which originated the Royal Society, of which he was an original member. In 1672 he became a fellow of the College of Physicians; in 1678 he was chosen censor; in 1679 Harveian orator; from 1686 to 1689 treasurer; and from 1696 till his death, president. In 1675 he was appointed Sedleian professor of natural philosophy at Oxford. His inaugural lecture on 12 April 1676 was, according to Wood, ‘much commended’ (Wood, Life and Times, ed. Clark, ii. 343). He retained the post till his death, but generally performed the duties of the office by deputy. He became physician to William and Mary; was knighted in 1680; and occupied the same office under Queen Anne. In 1701, by an advance of 2,000l. he freed the College of Physicians of a debt of nearly 7,000l. Millington died of asthma in London, 5 Jan. 1704, and was buried on the 28th in the Wentworth Chapel of Gosfield Church, Essex, where there was a fine monumental brass to his memory, which, with the exception of some coats of arms, was stolen from its Purbeck-marble slab at the beginning of the present century.

Millington is spoken of in laudatory terms as a physician by Sydenham, and under the name of ‘Machaon’ in Garth's ‘Dispensary,’ but is now chiefly remembered as the alleged discoverer of sexuality in plants. Nehemiah Grew [q. v.], in a lecture on the anatomy of flowers, read to the Royal Society on 6 Nov. 1676, says: ‘In discourse hereof with our learned Savilian [an error] professor, Sir Thomas Millington, he told me, that he conceived that the attire [stamens] doth serve as the male for the generation of the seed. I immediately replied, that I was of the same opinion …’ As Pulteney points out (Sketches of the Progress of Botany, i. 336), the credit probably belongs rather to Grew himself, Millington being, as Sachs says (History of Botany, p. 382, English translation), ‘a botanist otherwise unknown to history;’ but the date of this lecture is six years earlier than Grew's ‘Anatomy of Plants.’

There is a fine portrait of Millington at the Royal College of Physicians, and the younger Linnæus commemorated him in the genus Millingtonia among Bignoniaceæ.

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. 1878, i. 363; Patrick's Autobiography, passim.]

G. S. B.