The King’s Doctor

Dr Richard Mead (1673-1754) was one of the leading physicians of his day, and an important supporter of the Foundling Hospital in its early years. An expert on poisons, scurvy, smallpox and public health, Mead’s patients included Queen Anne, George II, Sir Isaac Newton and the French painter Antoine Watteau. He was quite a character, with stories of drinking snake venom during his investigations into the effects of various poisons, and fighting a duel to defend his theory on smallpox treatment.

Foundling Hospital supporter

Mead backed Thomas Coram’s efforts to create the Foundling Hospital. He was a founding Governor and a speaker at the presentation of the Hospital’s Royal Charter at Somerset House in November 1739. He advised the institution on aspects of care for the children, attended them when they were sick, and made recommendations about nurses’ wages. Decades before Edward Jenner developed vaccination, Mead was a keen advocate of inoculation against smallpox. The disease was a major killer in the eighteenth century, and he undoubtedly saved the lives of many. Of the 247 children inoculated at the Hospital by 1756, only one had died of the disease. Mead was the first of many doctors and surgeons to support the institution. He singled out the Hospital for support in his will, leaving the institution £100.

Artists’ patron

Mead was also a collector and lifelong patron of the arts. He took an interest in the career of Scotsman Allan Ramsay, introducing the young artist to his circle and supporting his Grand Tour to Italy in the 1730s. Following his return from Italy, Ramsay became a very fashionable portraitist and by 1767 had been appointed Principal Painter in Ordinary to King George III.