Millington, Thomas

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(b. Newbury, Berkshire, England, 1628; d. London, England, 5 January 1704)


The son of Thomas Millington, Esquire, of Newbury, Millington was educated at Westminster School during the headmastership of Richard Busby. From Westminster he was elected a scholar to Trinity College, Cambridge, on 31 May 1645 and matriculated the following Easter. At Cambridge he was under the tutorship of James Duport and graduated B.A. in 1649. Shortly afterward he moved to Oxford, where he became fellow of All Souls and proceeded M.A. on 30 May 1651 (incorporated Cambridge 1657), B.D. on 8 July 1659, and M.D. on 9 July 1659. Why Millington moved is unclear, but Carter states that he was invited.1 Possibly, in view of his close connections with the groups engaged in natural philosophy at Wadham, All Souls, and elsewhere, his interest in these activities was the cause.2 He was particularly involved in the research on the brain conducted by the Willis-Wren-Lower circle.3

Candidate of the Royal College of Physicians on 30 September 1659, Millington became a fellow on 2 April 1672, although he still seems to have been living at Oxford. Appointed Sedleian professor of natural philosophy as successor io Willis in 1675, he gave his inaugural lecture on 12 April 1676; according to Wood it was “much comtended.”4 Shortly afterward, however, he seems to have moved io London, although he retained his post at Oxford until his death, discharging his duties by deputy. (Among these deputies was John Keill, in 1700.) Physician in ordinary to William and Mary, as he was also to Queen Anne, Millington was knighted in March 1680. Censor of the Royal College of Physicians in 1678, 1680, 1681, and 1684; Harveian orator in 1679; and treasurer from 1686 to 1689, he was consiliarius in 1691 and 1695, and served as president from 1696 until his death. Millington was licensed to marry Hannah King, widow of Henry King, on 23 February 1680; they had a son, Thomas (who seems to have gained notoriety as a beau), and a daughter, Anne.5 In 1680 Bishop John Fell put forward Millington’s name to William Sancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, for the vacant chair of medicine at Oxford.6

Millington’s claim upon the attention of posterity is threefold: as a physician, as a man of wide-ranging intellectual activities, and as the reputed discoverer of sexuality in plants. This last claim rests entirely on a remark by Nehemiah Grew (to whom the discovery would otherwise be credited) in a discourse upon the anatomy of flowers read to the Royal Society on 9 November 1676. While discussing the role of the attire (stamens) in flowers, he said, “In Discorse hereof with our Learned Savilian [sic] Professor Sir Thomas Millington, he told me he conceived, That the Attire doth serve in the Male, for the Generation of the Seed. I immediately reply’d, That I was of the Opinion; and gave him some reasons for it, and answered some Objections, which might oppose them.”7 The emphasis here seems to be on the immediacy of Grew’s reply and the reasons he provided in support of Millington’s idea. This suggests that Grew had been considering the problem for some time, while for Millington it was still little more than an undeveloped insight. In the lack of any other evidence that Millington had been working on this particular subject, there seems no reason to ascribe priority to him over Grew in the enunciation and explanation of this phenomenon.

Millington impressed his contemporaries as a learned man, as indeed he still does, despite the scarcity of materials relating to him. Thanks partly to his learning and partly to a notably amiable disposition, he was much respected as a physician, being praised in Samuel Garth’s “The Dispensary” under the name of Machaon and also by Sydenham. He had a highly fashionable practice—amassing, says Carter, a fortune of £60,000.8 Millington was called to the deathbed of Charles II and was one of the physicians to perform the dissection of William III’s body. As an officer and as president of the Royal College of Physicians, he was active and zealous during a somewhat disturbed period of the College’s history but was unable to restore it from its moribund state. He was, however, instrumental in liquidating the College’s £7,000 debt to the executors of Sir John Cutler in 1701, providing £2,000 himself. Linnaeus named the genus Millingtonia among the Bignoniaceae after him.


1. Edmund Carter, History of Cambridge (London, 1753), 329.

2. Anthony Wood, Life and Times, A. Clarke, ed., I (Oxford, 1891) 201.

3. Thomas Willis, Cerebri anatomici (Oxford, 1664), dedicatory epistle.

4.Op. cit., II, 343.

5. William Musgrave, ed., Obituaries Prior to 1800 (as far as Relates to England, Scotland and Ireland), which is Harleian Society, XLVII (London, 1900), 201–202. Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson D 1160, fol. 34a.

6. Bodleian MS Tanner 36*, fol. 51.

7. Nehemiah Grew, The Anatomy of Plants With an Idea of a Philosophical History of Plants (London, 1682), bk. IV, ch. 5, 171.

8.Op. cit., p. 350.


I. Original Works. Millington’s only published work, prepared jointly with Sir Richard Rlackmore and Sir Edward Hannes, was The Report of the Physicians and Surgeons, Commanded to Assist at the Dissecting the Body of His Late Majesty at Kensington, March the Tenth MDCCII. From the Original Delivered to the Right Honourable the Privy Council (London, 1702). Bodleian MS Rawlinson D 1041, “Sententiae collectae a Tho. Millington Cantabrigiensi anno 1648,” and British Museum, Sloane MS 3565, “Celebriorum distinctionum synopsis Thomas Millington April 7 1646,” are undergraduate notebooks. Sloane 2148, “De morbis in specie eorumque remedius: Tum logice tum empirice,” is more a recipe book than a treatise.

II. Secondary Literature. In addition to the references given in the notes, further discussions of Millington and the Royal College of Physicians can be found in W. Munk, The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London (London, 1878), 363–365; and Sir George Clark, A History of the Royal College of Physicians, 2 vols. (London, 1964–1966), I, 323, 358, 370; II, 469, 472, 474–475, 483, 487. For most purposes, the entry in Dictionary of National Biography, XIII, 442, is perfectly adequate.

A. J. Turner