Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Charles Lucas (1713-1771) by Harriet Wheelock

This week marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Lucas, a politician, physician and writer.

Charles Lucas was born on 16th September 1713. Left penniless on the death of his father, Lucas was apprenticed to a Dublin apothecary. Apothecaries, at that time, were the least respectable branch of the rapidly expanding medical profession, but the only one a man in Lucas’ position could hope to access. The apothecaries’ trade was notorious at the time for fraud, malpractice, adulteration of medicines and the use of poison. Lucas actively campaigned for legislation to control the profession, and was partly responsible for the 1735 act which gave this College the power to regulate the Apothecaries trade.

Rising in his profession, in 1741 Lucas was chosen by the barber-surgeons’ guild to represent them on Dublin Corporation. Lucas campaigned against the usurpation of the rights of the common citizens by the Lord Mayor and Alderman, and was instrumental in getting the matter examined by committee. However, his outspoken views created enemies and in 1744 he lost his seat on the Corporation.

Lucas’ appetite for politics had been whetted and in 1749 he decided to contest the vacant parliamentary seat for Dublin. He expanded the arguments he had used on the Corporation, to argue against the deliberate erosion of the citizens’ rights of the entire population of Ireland. His denial of the right of the English parliament to make laws for Ireland raised some eyebrows, but he really overstepped the mark when he stated that there was ‘no general rebellion in Ireland since the first British invasion, that was not raised or fomented by the oppression, instigation, evil influence or connivance of the English’.  Parliament condemned Lucas’ ‘rebellious doctrines’ and ordered his arrest, forcing Lucas to flee to the Isle of Man.

Lucas used his 11 years of exile to great advantage; he studied medicine in Paris and Lieden, before establishing a practice in London and publishing many political and medical works. In 1760, after the accession of George III, Lucas was pardoned and allowed to return to Ireland. On his return he immediately and successfully contested the Dublin parliamentary seat, and was active in pressing for parliamentary and medical reform. For the medical profession his most lasting legacy was Lucas’ Act, passed in 1761. This greatly extended the powers of the College of Physicians, re-establishing their right of inspection over Apothecaries, and giving them the right to compile a Pharmacopoeia, cataloguing and detailing the mixture of all drugs which could be prescribed. Lucas died on 4th November 1771, at the age of 58.

To mark the tercentenary of Lucas’ birth, the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland will be holding an evening symposium of Lucas on 23rd September in Dublin City Hall, starting at 5pm. The programme is as follows:
Professor James Kelly, St Patrick’s College/DCU; The Life and Significance of Charles Lucas: An Overview
Professor Jacqueline Hill, NUI Maynooth; Dublin and Irish Politics in the Age of Charles Lucas
Dr Eoin Magennis, President of the Eighteenth Century Ireland Society; Charles Lucas and Patriot Politics in mid-18th Century Ireland
Professor Marian Lyons, NUI Maynooth; The Professionalisation of Medical Practice in Dublin during the Early-17th Century: the Case of Thomas Arthur, M.D.
Dr Susan Mullaney, RAMI/UCC; Charles Lucas and Medical Regulation in 18th Century Ireland
Sean J. Murphy, M.A., Genealogy Teacher, UCD Adult Education; The ‘Essay on Waters’ and other Medical Writings of Charles Lucas

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