Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wheeler, Thomas

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WHEELER, THOMAS (1754–1847), botanist, was second son of Thomas Wheeler by his wife Susannah Rivington. Mrs. Cibber, the actress, was his father's first cousin. His grandfather, John Wheeler, surgeon to the Bridewell and Bethlehem hospitals, died in 1740 during his year of office as master of the Barber-Surgeons' Company. Thomas Wheeler was born on 24 June 1754 in Basinghall Street, London, where his father practised as a surgeon. He received his elementary education under David Garrow, the father of Sir William Garrow [q. v.], at Hadley, Middlesex, and was admitted a pupil at St. Paul's school on 25 Jan. 1765. Here he became an excellent classical scholar.

After leaving St. Paul's school he was apprenticed to Messrs. Walker of St. James's Street, apothecaries to the king and queen, and in 1767 he entered St. Thomas's Hospital as a student. At an early period he showed a great fondness for botany, a taste which was fostered by William Hudson, the botanical demonstrator at the Society of Apothecaries. On 18 March 1778 he was appointed, at a salary of 37l. 10s., demonstrator of plants and præfectus horti of the apothecaries' garden at Chelsea in succession to William Curtis [q. v.], author of the ‘Flora Londinensis.’ He was already a fellow of the Linnean Society. In 1784 he began a series of lectures on botany at the Apothecaries' Hall, but the scanty attendance deterred him from continuing it after 1786. For the rest of his life he contented himself with peripatetic teaching.

Wheeler was elected apothecary to Christ's Hospital in 1800, and six years later he was appointed to a similar post at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. This office he resigned in 1820, when he was succeeded by his son Charles; while in the same year his eldest son, Thomas Lowe Wheeler, succeeded him as botanical demonstrator at the Society of Apothecaries.

Wheeler was admitted an assistant of the Society of Apothecaries on 29 June 1815; he served as warden in 1820–2, and he was master in 1822–3. He was also appointed a member of the first court of examiners under the act of 1815. From 1790 to 1796 he lived at 54 Newgate Street, and practised there as an apothecary. In 1797 he moved into the house of the Medical Society in Bolt Court, where he continued to reside until he retired in his old age to the house of his eldest son, 61 Gracechurch Street, and afterwards to 3 College Hill, Cloak Lane, Queen Street, where he died on 10 Aug. 1847. He was buried in Norwood cemetery. He married at Pancras Old Church, in May 1788, Ann Blatch of Amesbury. By her he had six sons. She died on 25 Aug. 1800.

Wheeler, who was enthusiastically devoted to the doctrines of Linnæus, was an able botanist of the old school. As a teacher he was eminently successful, and the ‘herborisings’ of the Apothecaries' Society under his guidance became famous throughout England. As a medical practitioner he filled the difficult position of apothecary to St. Bartholomew's Hospital with the greatest credit. As a man he was distinguished by the childlike simplicity of his faith, his manners, and his habits. From the age of forty to the time of his death at ninety-four he abstained entirely from fermented liquors. He was one of the last practitioners who adhered to the dress fashionable in his youth. He wrote nothing, but when he had passed his eightieth year he acquired a sound knowledge of Hebrew.

An excellent portrait of Wheeler by Henry Briggs, R.A., hangs in the great parlour of the Apothecaries' Hall. Mrs. Wheeler of Woking owns a three-quarter-length in watercolours by George Richmond, executed in 1822, and a remarkable wax vignette by Peter Rouw, ‘sculptor modeller of gems and cameos, 80 Norton Street, Portland Road, 1834.’

[Field and Semple's Memoirs of the Botanic Garden at Chelsea, London, 1878; Proc. Linn. Soc. 1848, i. 380; manuscript notebooks in the possession of Mrs. Wheeler; information and personal recollections by Henry Power, esq., the last apprentice of Thomas Rivington Wheeler.]

D’A. P.