Stearne John (Physician)
John Stearne (1642-1669) was born in Ardbraccan, the episcopal palace of his
grand -uncle James Ussher, then Bishop of Meath.
He is one of the founding fathers of medicine in Ireland, and founder of the
College of Physicians.
Stearne entered Trinity College, Dublin, at the age of fifteen, in 1639, and
obtained a scholarship in 1641.
On the outbreak of the rebellion of 1641, Stearne fled to England, and in 1643 proceeded to Cambridge, where he studied medicine at Sidney-Sussex College, and collected material for his first work, ‘Animi Medela.’ He remained at Cambridge for about seven years, and then spent some time at Oxford.
Prior to his departure for England he had been elected a fellow of Trinity College (1643). In 1656 he was appointed the first Hebrew lecturer in the university, receiving the degree of M.D. in 1658, and that of LL.D. in 1660. In 1659 he resigned his fellowship (probably as a necessary preliminary to his marriage in that year to Dorothy, daughter of Charles Ryves), but was appointed to a senior fellowship in 1660, after the Restoration, receiving a dispensation from the statutes of the university respecting celibacy. He became in the same year professor of law. During his tenure of these various offices, Stearne practised as a physician in Dublin, obtaining special permission to live outside the walls of the college.
Stearne is chiefly noticeable as the founder of the Irish College of Physicians. In 1660 he proposed to the university that Trinity Hall, situated in Back Lane, Dublin, then a college or hall affiliated to the university, of which he had been constituted president in 1654, should be set apart for ever as a college of physicians. The arrangement was sanctioned, and Stearne, on the nomination of the provost and senior fellows of Trinity College, became its first president. No students were to be admitted who did not belong to Trinity College.
In 1662 Stearne was appointed for life professor of medicine in the university. In 1667 a charter was granted to the College of Physicians, under which a governing body of fourteen fellows was constituted—of whom Sir William Petty was one—with Stearne at their head as president for life.
Stearne died in Dublin on 18 Nov. 1669 in his forty-fourth year, having done and written much in his comparatively short but active life. He was buried, by his own request, in the chapel of Trinity College, where his epitaph, by his friend Henry Dodwell the elder, in which he is described as ‘Philosophus, Medicus, summusque Theologus idem,’ may still be read. He had three daughters and one son, John Sterne (1660–1745), afterwards bishop of Clogher, who presented a set of his father's works to Archbishop Marsh's library at Dublin. Few men in the academic sphere have accomplished more than Stearne. Ware says of him ‘he was a very learned man, and more fond of the study of divinity than of his own profession, in which nevertheless he had great knowledge.’ That he was also a man of the world is shown by the success with which he contrived to stand well both with the Cromwellian and the royalist parties. There is a fine portrait of Stearne in the College of Physicians, Dublinand the John Stearne Medical Library in Trinity College Dublin is named after him.
Sources: Chalmer's Biographical Dictionary; Ware's Irish Writers Stubbs's Hist. of Dublin University; Hist. of Irish Coll. of Phys.; Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science, xix. (paper by Aquilla Smith on the Early Hist. of the Irish College of Physicians); Journ. of Medical Science, May 1865 (reprinted as ‘A Memoir of Stearne,’ by Dr. T. W. Belcher);