Sterne, John (1624-1669) (DNB00)

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STERNE or STEARNE, JOHN (1624–1669), founder of the Irish College of Physicians, was born on 26 Nov. 1624 at Ardbraccan, the episcopal palace of his grand-uncle, James Ussher [q. v.], then bishop of Meath. His father, John Stearne, of Cambridge, who settled in co. Down and married Mabel Bermingham, a niece of Primate Ussher, was distantly connected with the family of Archbishop Richard Sterne [q. v.] Stearne entered Trinity College, Dublin, at the age of fifteen, in 1639, and obtained a scholarship in 1641. On the outbreak of the great Irish rebellion, 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 about seven years, and then spent some time at Oxford, where he was welcomed by Seth Ward [q. v.], then fellow of Wadham. Prior to his departure for England he had been elected a fellow of Trinity College (1643), a position from which he was ejected by order of the Rump. On his return to Ireland in 1651 he was restored to his fellowship by direction of Henry Cromwell, with whom he was on terms of friendship, and to whom he dedicated one of his books. 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 reside 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, in whom the appointment was vested, became its first president. No students were to be admitted who did not belong to Trinity College. The connection between the College of Physicians and Dublin University may still be traced in the gown of the officials of the former body, which is the same as that formerly worn by fellows of 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 [q. v.] 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 [q. v.], in which he is described as ‘Philosophus, Medicus, summusque Theologus idem,’ may still be read. He had issue three daughters and one son, John Sterne (1660–1745) [q. v.], 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, Dublin.

The following is a list of his works, all of which were published in Dublin: 1. ‘Animi Medela,’ dedicated to Henry Cromwell, 1653. 2. ‘Thanatologia,’ 1656. 3. ‘Adriani Heerboordii disputationum de concursu examen,’ 1660. 4. ‘De Electione et Reprobatione,’ 1662. 5. ‘Aphorismi de Felicitate,’ 1664. 6. ‘De Destinatione,’ posthumously published and edited by Henry Dodwell, his pupil and literary executor, 1672.

[Chalmers's Biogr. Dict.; Ware's Irish Writers, ed. Harris, p. 159; 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); Todd's List of Graduates of Dublin University.]

C. L. F.