Dover, Thomas (DNB00)

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DOVER, THOMAS, M.D. (1660–1742), physician, whose name is misprinted Dovar on the title-page of his book, was born in Warwickshire about 1660. Where he studied and graduated is unknown, but he mentions that he lived for a time in the house of Sydenham. He there had the smallpox, and describes how in the beginning twenty-two ounces of blood were taken from him, after which he was given an emetic. The rest of the treatment was simple. ‘I had no fire allowed in my room, my windows were constantly open, my bedclothes were ordered to be laid no higher than my waist. He made me take twelve bottles of small beer, acidulated with spirit of vitriol, every twenty-four hours.’ This was in the month of January. In 1684 Dover began practice in Bristol. In 1708, with other adventurers, he sailed with the ships Duke and Duchess on a privateering voyage round the world. He was second in command of the expedition, and captain of the Duke. He was also captain of the marines and president of the general council of the expedition, with a double voice in its affairs. There were four surgeons, and he had no medical charge. The voyage began in August 1708, and the ships reached home again in 1711. Dover came back in a Spanish prize, a ship of twenty-one guns. The voyage is described in a history written by Woodes-Rogers, the chief commander, with the view of giving nautical information as to winds, currents, and the distant appearance of shores and islands, but its dull pages may be looked at with interest, since one incident they record suggested to the genius of Defoe the history of ‘Robinson Crusoe.’ Dover found Alexander Selkirk, a shipwrecked sailor, on Juan Fernandez, 2 Feb. 1709, where he had been for four years and four months, and brought him home in his ship. In April 1709 the expedition sacked the city of Guaaquil in Peru. The English sailors stored their plunder, and slept in the churches, where they were much annoyed by the smell of the recently buried corpses of the victims of an epidemic of plague. After returning to their ships, in less than forty-eight hours a hundred and eighty men were struck down with sickness. Dover ordered the surgeons to bleed them in both arms, and thus about a hundred ounces of blood were taken from each man. He then gave them dilute sulphuric acid to drink, and though the malady proved to be the true plague, only eight sailors died. In December 1709 a valuable Spanish ship was taken. The adventurers were satisfied with their gains and sailed home by the Cape of Good Hope. Dover was admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians 30 Sept. 1721, resided in Cecil Street, London (Legacy, p. 11), and practised there till 1728, when he left London for a time. In 1731 he was again in London, living in Lombard Street, and seeing patients daily at the Jerusalem Coffee-house. In 1736 he moved to Arundel Street, Strand, and there died in 1742.

He published in 1733 ‘The Ancient Physician's Legacy to his Country.’ This work shows that he had an exaggerated estimation of the value of metallic mercury as a remedy, and explains why he was called the ‘quicksilver doctor’ (p. 51). The knowledge of medicine displayed is small. He denounces the College of Physicians as a ‘clan of prejudiced gentlemen,’ and seems to complain that he had not attained the degree of practice which his merits deserved. One of his prescriptions has made his name of almost daily use in medical practice to this day. The diaphoretic powder composed of ten grains each of opium, ipecacuanha, and sulphate of potash, is called Dover's powder, though its precise composition is different from that originally proposed in the ‘Ancient Physician's Legacy’ (p. 12), where the ingredients are opium, ipecacuanha, and liquorice, each an ounce, saltpetre and tartar vitriolated, each four ounces. The seventh edition of the ‘Legacy’ appeared in 1762, but the book contains little of value except this receipt, and was bought by the uninformed because they believed in its profession of giving ‘the power of art without the show.’ It was attacked by several writers soon after it appeared.

[Woodes-Roger's A Cruising Voyage round the World, London, 1712; Dover's Ancient Physician's Legacy, 1733; H. Bradley's Physical and Philosophical Remarks on Dr. Dover's late Pamphlet, London, 1733; A Treatise on Mercury, London, 1733; Encomium Argenti Vivi, by a Gentleman of Trinity College, Cambridge, London, n. d.; An Antidote, or some Remarks upon a Treatise on Mercury; Munk's Coll. of Phys. ii. 79.]

N. M.