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300 Years of Growth

Edward Hill (1773-1800)

Edward HillEdward Hill was born on 14th May 1741 at Ballyporeen, Co. Tipperary, eldest child among five sons and two daughters of Thomas Hill, Esq.  After his father's death his family moved to Cashel, where he was educated at the classical school before boarding at the diocesan school of Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. He entered TCD (1761), was elected scholar (1763) and graduated BA (1765), MB (1771), and MD (1773).  He was appointed lecturer in Trinity College in 1773 and was subsequently appointed Professor of Botany in 1785, a position he held until 1800. He also became Regius Professor of Physic in 1781 when William Clement  resigned so that Hill might succeed him. When in 1800 he was forced by the new School of Physic Act to resign either the chair of Botany or the Regius Professorship of Physic he opted to retain the latter. By the time he died on 31st October 1830 at his home in York St., Dublin, according to McDowell and Webb (2004), “he was a somewhat fantastic survivor of a bygone age who had had apparently drifted by accident into the world of medicine despite the fact that his main interests were literary and the science for which he showed most enthusiasm was botany”.
As Professor of Botany, Hill made strenuous efforts to establish a first class Botanic Garden. He had inherited a barren, rat-infested physic garden and he repeatedly tried to remedy this situation, botany being a central subject in the medical curriculum. He appealed to the College of Physicians, Trinity College and the Dublin Society, appeared before a parliamentary committee, and was finally advised by the provost of TCD in 1795 to rent land at Harold's Cross, south of Dublin, in trust for the university, and in the expectation of funds being made available from Sir Patrick Dun's estate. However, under the terms of the School of Physic Act of 1800, provision was made for a hospital but not for a garden. His ambitions frustrated by the act, Hill felt deeply resentful and believed that he was the object of persecution.  His attempts to recover from TCD the money that he had spent on the garden only succeeded in 1803 after a trial at the court of King's Bench. He compiled, with Robert Perceval and Edmund Cullen, the first Dublin pharmacopoeia for the College of Physicians, of which 100 copies were printed in 1794, though it was never officially sanctioned by the college and later a committee (of which Hill was not a member) was established for its revision. From 1773 to 1830 he was physician to Mercer's Hospital, Dublin; he attended all board meetings but rarely appeared on the wards, describing it as ‘a dangerous and arduous duty’.
Hill was a talented calligrapher who was asked by the board of TCD in 1766 to write the Duke of Bedford's testimonial, for which he was paid five guineas. Interested in printing, he was granted the use of the Printing House by the board of TCD (1774–84), but after being joined in 1779 by Joseph Hill (apparently not a relation), who printed tracts that were considered to be seditious, he was asked to leave. An accomplished scholar, he was knowledgeable in Greek, Latin, French, and Italian. He was also a bibliophile – his library, which he sold by auction in 1816, consisted of 1,800 books, which included eighteen incunabula, over a hundred books printed in the early sixteenth century, Greek and Latin classics, Hebrew bibles, and French and Italian literature.
His great love was for the works of John Milton and as a young man he began a new edition of Paradise Lost; though it was never completed, he wrote a prolegomena, a critical examination of French translations, a word index, and descriptions of the engraved portraits of Milton and the plates used in several editions. He was unable to find a publisher but his manuscript ‘Materials for an edition of Paradise Lost is preserved in the library of TCD (MS 629/1–5). Also unpublished is ‘The history of physic’, a description of medicine in antiquity up to the time of Celsus, which was presented to the RCSI in 1843 by his nephew Thomas Hill. Hill’s interests included architecture; a drawing of a Greek temple, which he submitted in 1814 for the competition for the Wellington monument, is preserved in the Library of the Statistical Society of Ireland. Appointed as Dun's librarian (1819–26) Hill catalogued in his meticulous handwriting its entire collection in alphabetical order of authors' names, giving date and place of publication of each book and its place on the library shelf.


Andrews, Helen ‘Edward Hill, 1741-1830’ in Dictionary of Irish Biography, online edition.
McDowell RB and Webb DA (2004) Trinity College Dublin – 1592-1952. Trinity College Dublin Press



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Last updated 24 February 2011 by