Sir Hans Sloane, Irish physician and naturalist whose collection of books, manuscripts, and curiosities form the basis for the British Museum in London, is born on April 16, 1660 in Killyleagh, County Down in what is now Northern Ireland.
As a child Sloane possesses a strong curiosity of nature, and he develops a particular interest in plants. After studying medicine in London, he travels in France, taking an M.D. degree at the University of Orange in 1683. In 1685 he returns to London and is elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He proceeds to practice medicine as an assistant to British physician Thomas Sydenham. He is made a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1687. That same year he accepts an opportunity to visit Jamaica, traveling as personal physician to the Christopher Monck, 2nd Duke of Albermarle, who had been appointed to govern the island.
The journey to Jamaica provides Sloane with the chance to pursue his interest in the natural sciences. During the 15 months of his travels, he visits multiple islands in the West Indies, including Saint Kitts, Nevis, and Barbados. He ultimately collects specimens of about 800 plants. He also records information on and collects specimens of various fish, mollusks, and insects, and he observes the local peoples and contemplates the natural phenomena of the area. His observations and the specimens he collects during the voyage lay the foundation for his later contributions to botany and zoology and for his role in the formation of the British Museum. He returns to England in 1689, his trip having been cut short by Monck’s death. His collection of plants from the West Indies is one of the first from that region to reach England.
Sloane’s trip to Jamaica also leads to his invention of a milk chocolate beverage. While on the island, he encounters a local drink made from a cacao plant. The beverage apparently makes him nauseous. To avoid this, he decides to mix the cacao material with milk. He finds this concoction to be not only more tolerable but also tasty and healthy. Shortly after his return to England, his milk-based concoction is sold by apothecaries as a medicinal product. His recipe later forms the basis for a milk chocolate product manufactured by Cadbury.
In 1696 Sloane publishes in Latin an elaborate catalogue, Catalogus Plantarum Quae in Insula Jamaica, on the plants he collected in Jamaica. He later publishes Natural History of Jamaica (2 Vol., 1707 and 1725), a comprehensive account of his studies of the natural phenomena of the island country.
Sloane also makes important contributions to medicine. He is physician to Queen Anne, King George I, and King George II. He is created a baronet in 1716, becoming the first medical practitioner to receive a hereditary title. He is relatively progressive as a physician, and, while serving George I, he adopts the practice of inoculation against smallpox for members of the royal family. In 1719 he is elected president of the Royal College of Physicians, a post he serves until 1735. In 1727 he becomes president of the Royal Society, succeeding physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton. He holds the position until 1741. He earns a reputation as a specialist in eye diseases, and he eventually publishes Account of a Medicine for Soreness, Weakness and Other Distempers of the Eyes (1745).
Sloane is also known as an avid collector, and he benefits greatly from the acquisition of the cabinets of other collectors, including amateur scientist William Charleton and English apothecary and botanist James Petiver. When he retires from active work in 1741, his library and cabinet of curiosities has grown to be of unique value, and on his death he bequeaths his collection to the nation, on condition that parliament pay his executors £20,000. The bequest is accepted and goes to form the collection opened to the public as the British Museum in 1759.
Sloane has no son that survives beyond infancy, and the baronetcy becomes extinct upon his death in London on January 11, 1753.
(From: Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Sir-Hans-Sloane-Baronet/)