Phillips, Thomas (1760-1851) (DNB00)

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PHILLIPS, THOMAS (1760–1851), surgeon and benefactor of Welsh education, was born in London on 6 July 1760, and was the son of Thomas Phillips, of the excise department, a Welshman from Llandegley in Radnorshire. He went to school at Kempston in Bedfordshire, and was apprenticed to an apothecary at Hay in Breconshire. He afterwards studied surgery under John Hunter, and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1780 he entered the medical service of the royal navy, serving first as surgeon's mate of the Danae frigate, and afterwards as surgeon of the Hind. In 1782 he entered the service of the East India Company, and went to Calcutta. In 1796 he was made inspector of hospitals in the new colony of Botany Bay. In 1798, when returning to England on leave, he was captured in the Channel by a French privateer, but liberated after being taken to Bordeaux. In 1800 he married Althea Edwards, daughter of the rector of Cusop, near Hay, and in 1802 he returned to India, where he became superintendent, surgeon, and finally a member of the Calcutta medical board. In 1817 he returned to England with a competent fortune. He took up his residence at 5 Brunswick Square, where he died on 13 June 1851, in his ninety-first year. He was buried in the catacombs of St. Pancras Church, beside his wife, who had died in 1841.

Phillips devoted himself to works of benevolence on a very large scale. Besides dealing liberally with his relatives (he had no children), he for many years made large and miscellaneous purchases of books at the London salerooms, and presented them freely to many public libraries. The majority he sent to Wales, to towns like Hay and Builth, with which he was acquainted, to the literary society at Hereford, and above all to the library of St. David's College, Lampeter, to which he is computed to have presented more than twenty thousand volumes. He established six scholarships, called the Phillips scholarships, at St. David's College, and bequeathed by his will the sum of 7,000l. to found a Phillips professorship in natural science in that institution. In 1847 he founded the Welsh Educational Institution at Llandovery in Carmarthenshire, which has since become one of the two most important public schools in South Wales. Besides an original endowment of 140l. a year, he gave seven thousand books to the library at Llandovery, and left it about 11,000l. in his will. He deserves remembrance as the only Welshman of his day who made large sacrifices in the cause of the education of his countrymen.

There is a bust of Phillips in the library of St. David's College, and a portrait is at Llandovery school.

[Gent. Mag. 1851, i. 655–6; Calendar, Charters, and Statute-book of St. David's College, Lampeter; Dodswell and Miles's Medical Officers of India.]

T. F. T.