THOMAS PERCIVAL,1740-1804

 

Thomas Percival was the son of Joseph Percival of Warrington and his wife Margaret Orred of Newton in Cheshire. He was born on 29 September 1740. His grandfather was Peter Percival, who came from a family farming at Latchford and practiced medicine in Warrington. When Thomas Percival was only three years old, both his parents died and he was left in the care of an elder sister.

He was educated initially in classics at the grammar school in Warrington and was at that time an Anglican. In 1750, at the age of 10, Thomas received the bequest including a library from his father's eldest brother, Thomas Percival MD, a physician in Warrington. Thomas became a Dissenter which prevented him from going to Oxford University. Instead he went to Warrington Academy in 1757. The Academy was set up for the higher education of those who could not go to the universities as they did not subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles.

Percival then studied medicine for three sessions at Edinburgh University before qualifying as MD at Leyden in Holland on 6 July 1765. This was a common route for Nonconformists to study medicine in the early 18th century. In the later 18th century many Nonconformists qualified at Edinburgh. Between his studies in Edinburgh, Percival spent a year in London where he came to know a number of men of science including Lord Willoughby of Parham, vice president of the Royal Society who proposed him for fellowship. It is thought that he was the youngest member of the Royal Society at the time. While in Edinburgh, Percival formed a friendship with David Hulme, the philosopher

From 1765, Percival practiced medicine in Warrington and during that period he married Elizabeth Bassnett the daughter and sole heiress of Nathaniel Bassnett a London merchant. In 1767 he moved to Manchester where he lived for the rest of his life. He published articles on medicine and science in the Philosophical Transactions, the journal of the Royal Society, between 1767 and 1776, which brought his name to the leading men of science. Thomas Percival's experiences of medical life in Manchester stimulated him to write two pamphlets - Internal Regulation of Hospitals 1771 and A Scheme of Professional Conduct Relative to Hospitals and other Medical Charities 1772. Among other early publications were Essays, Medical and Experimental, in 1767, and Essays, Medical, Philosophical and Experimental, in 1773

In 1775 he published the first of three parts of A Father's Instruction, which was finally completed in 1800. He was interested in the use of mortality statistics for insurance purposes and wrote Proposals for establishing more accurate and comprehensive bills of mortality in Manchester.

.The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society began as a monthly meeting at Percival's house in 1781. Percival was initially the joint president then sole president until the end of his life with the exception of one year. In 1785 he helped to establish the Manchester Academy, which began as the academy at Warrington came to an end. He was the president from 1793 to 1800. Together with other members of the Literary and Philosophical Society he was involved in trying to establish a college of arts and sciences which soon faltered but was finally set up in the middle of the 19th century as a result of the bequest of John Owens.

Percival was one of the founder members of the first board of health in Manchester in 1795. This was a voluntary organisation that campaigned for improved sanitation. The background to this event is given in more detail in the article on John Ferriar. Percival suggested that public baths were made available. In 1796, at a meeting of the Manchester Board of Health, he spoke on the need for legislation on factory labour

Percival had correspondence with men of science and letters in Europe and America. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Medical Society of London. He died in Manchester on 30 August 1804 aged 63 and was buried at Warrington, where there is an epitaph by Dr. Samuel Parr. There was also a memorial tablet at the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, written by Thomas Henry. Percival left a widow and three surviving sons. His works were published in four volumes, edited by his son, Edward Percival, MD. Thomas Pervical's book Medical Ethics, published in 1803 was the first on this subject. It was stimulated by events at the Manchester Infirmary in 1789, which are related briefly in the article on John Ferriar.

Sources:

Memorials of a Dissenting Chapel, its Foundation and Worthies, by Sir Thomas Baker, Manchester 1884.
Dictionary of National Biography.

See also Manchester & the Northwest Region of England, A Virtual Encyclopaedia of Greater Manchester in the Third Millennium to be found at http://www.manchester2002-uk.com/celebs/scientists1.html

 

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