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MUNK, William (1816-1898)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-MUNKW
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: MUNK, William (1816-1898)
Date(s): 1849-1922
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 9 volumes; 5 files
Name of creator(s): Munk | William | 1816-1898 | physician and medical biographer


Administrative/Biographical history:

William Munk was born on 24 September 1816 at Battle, Sussex, the eldest son of William Munk, an ironmonger originally from Devon. He was educated at University College London, and subsequently at the University of Leyden, where he graduated MD in 1837 at the early age of 21.

Munk began practice in London in September 1837. His first appointment was as demonstrator of morbid anatomy at St Thomas's Hospital. This was followed by a number of honorary appointments at the Eastern, Tower Hamlets, and Queen Adelaide's Dispensaries. In 1853 he was elected physician to the Smallpox Hospital, and the following year became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. For many years he was physician to the Royal Infirmary for Asthma, Consumption and Diseases of the Chest, and consulting physician to the Royal Hospital for Incurables.

Munk is best known however as an historian. He was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and, in 1857, was appointed Harveian Librarian of the Royal College of Physicians, serving in this office for over forty years until his death. In 1857 he wrote a biography of a former president of the College, `A Memoir of the Life and Writings of John Ayrton Paris', published in the Medical Times and Gazette. In 1861 the first edition, in two volumes, of the Roll of the Royal College of Physicians (Munk's Roll) was published. In this Munk provided a biographical record of the fellows and licentiates of the College, from its foundation in 1518 to the end of the 18th century. He subsequently published a second edition, in three volumes, which was brought to 1825, the date when the College moved from Warwick Lane to Pall Mall East. Originally Munk's Roll was not intended for publication and consequently lacks detailed referencing and methodical presentation, however, `it serves an essential purpose in providing historians and biographers with an invaluable and copious fund of information' (Munk's Roll, 1955, p.76).

In the medical world he was a leading authority of his day on smallpox, and was called in to consult Prince Arthur, later Duke of Connaught, when the Prince had smallpox in 1867. Munk's plea for the increased use of narcotics and analgesics for relieving pain in incurable diseases also attracted much attention. He published a number of papers in medical journals such as The Lancet and in the St Bartholomew's Hospital Reports. A further contribution to medical literature was his book Euthanasia, or Medical Treatment in aid of an Easy Death, in 1887. The book was

`an earnest and learned plea for the recognition of the duty which physicians owe their patients not to end life but to render its passing in hopeless cases more easy' (The Lancet, 1898, p.1818).

Munk also produced an edition of The Gold-Headed Cane (1884) by William Macmichael, Registrar of the Royal College of Physicians. The book tells of the adventures of a physician's cane carried by several eminent physicians, and gives both good biographies of the owners and information on the condition of medicine in 18th century England. Munk became vice-president of the College in 1889, and also served as senior censor.

In 1893 he retired from the Smallpox Hospital, although he remained consulting physician to the Royal Hospital for Incurables until his death. In 1895 he wrote a biography of Sir Henry Halford, the longest serving president of the College, entitled The Life of Sir Henry Halford, for which the College voted him 100.

Munk married Emma Luke in 1849, and they had two sons and three daughters. Munk died at Finsbury Square London, on 20 December 1898, after suffering for many years from glycosuria

The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 1518-1800 [Munk's Roll, vols. 1-3] (2nd ed., London, 1878) (continued as Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London)
A Brief Account of the Circumstances Leading to and Attending the Reintombment of the Remains of Dr William Harvey in the Church of Hempstead in Essex, October 1883 (London, 1883)
The Gold-headed Cane, William MacMichael (William Munk, ed.) (London, 1884)
Euthanasia: Or, Medical Treatment in Aid of an Easy Death (London, 1887)
The Life of Sir Henry Halford (London, 1895)
Marvodia [An Account of the Last Illness of James I and of the Post-Mortem Examination of his Body; with some Notes on the Marwoods and their Descendants]


Scope and content/abstract:

Munk's papers, 1849-1922, include his copy of Benjamin Hutchinson's Biographia Medica with additional biographies in Munk's hand, c.1850-c.1860, which probably formed the basis of his Roll of the Royal College of Physicians (Munk's Roll); Manuscript copy of Munk's 'Biographia Medica Devoniensis', containing over fifty biographies, c.1860; Notebook entitled 'Notae Breves ad Medicina Praxin Praecipue Pertinentes', consisting mainly of prescriptions, c.1889-1891; History of the College, in Munk's hand, mid-late 19th century, and newspaper cuttings and notes, some in Munk's hand, relating to the College's history, mid-late 19th century; Biographical notes regarding Munk's Roll and the College, 1849-1922, notes, prescriptions, and extracts from medical writers, c.1889, possibly rough notes for his 'Notae Breves...', copy of 1759 Pharmacopoeia Londinensis, and typescript of document detailing Sir John Cutler's loan of money to the College in 1675.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English and Latin

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Part of the collection was presented to the Royal College of Physicians by the Misses Munk, Munk's daughters, in March 1933, another part was purchased from them; Part was presented to the College by Sir Dyce Duckworth; The provenance of the rest of the collection is unknown.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Munk's annotated editions of Munk's Roll, with related correspondence and notes, are to be found amongst the College's papers within a series of the Roll incorporating earlier editions written by Munk and later editions compiled by subsequent editors, 1855-1975 (MS2249-2265).

There is material held elsewhere in the archives particularly relating to Munk's role as Harveian Librarian and Senior Censor of the College. This includes a catalogue of the library collections, library committee minutes, and his report as Librarian, 1856-98, in his hand, and correspondence referring to Munk's role as Librarian and to his personal collection of manuscripts and books, 1899-1904, in College papers about the Library (MS2000/4-5, 7, 26, 89, 143-44); Copy of 'Statuta Vetera' in Munk's hand, 1891, and note by Munk inside two volumes of statutes, verifying date of copied volume and presenting a volume to the College, 1892, amongst the College series of statutes (MS2012/62-63, 78); Introductory note by Munk in Bartholomew Parr's biographical anecdotes of the late Dr Glass of Exeter, 1795 (MS484); Letters from Munk to Sir Dyce Duckworth about the College's armorial window, 1887 (MS1094/72), and to William Allchin regarding his biography of Sir Andrew Clark, 1895 (MSALLCW/712/222); Letters to Munk from Robert Lee about Lee's delivery of the Croonian Lectures, 1861 (MS1012/22), and from Albert Forbes Sieveking donating bulletin on George III's health to the Library, 1890 (MS3011/45a); Munk's note as Censor on correspondence about case of William Chapman Grigg writing a testimonial for a commercial company, 1885, amongst College papers on advertising (MS2412/105).

There is further material relating to Munk, including papers relating to the portrait of Munk commissioned by the College, 1897-98 (MS2003/35/103; MS2004/49, 51, 71); Typescript copies of Munk's written history of the College, 20th century (MS2313; MS2315). There are also a number of Munk's letters in the College's autographed letters collection.

Munk's Collections Towards a History of the Medical Worthies of Devon is held at the West Country Studies Library, Exeter. See the National Register of Archives for details.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 1518-1800, William Munk [Munk's Roll, vols. 1-3] (2nd ed., London, 1878) (continued as Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London)
Collections Towards a History of the Medical Worthies of Devon, William Munk

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, Vol. IV, 1826-1925, compiled by G.H. Brown (London, 1955) [Munk's Roll, 1955, pp.75-76]; Dictionary of National Biography, Supplement Vol. III, Sidney Lee (ed.) (London, 1901) [DNB, 1901, pp.212-13]; `William Munk', The Lancet, 1898, Vol. ii, p.1818; `William Munk', British Medical Journal, Vol. ii, p.1914; Historical Manuscripts Commission On-Line National Register of Archives.
Compiled by Katharine Williams

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Compiled July 2003; Modified September 2003

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