One of the most absorbing sections of James Delbourgo’s lively and meticulous study of the physician and collector Sir Hans Sloane concentrates on the medical case histories he compiled during his momentous stay in Jamaica between 1687 and 1689. Whereas Sloane was disdainful of the slaves whom he treated, often challenging the accounts they gave him of their own health, he humoured his expatriate English patients, despite the chronic overdrinking in which they indulged, and recorded in vivid detail both the disturbing symptoms they displayed and the results of the bleedings and purges he prescribed. All of this reached a climax with perhaps his most important patient, the second Duke of Albemarle, whom Sloane accompanied to Jamaica as personal physician following Albemarle’s appointment as governor in 1687. Once there, not only did Sloane have to endure a notable lack of cooperation on the part of his patient, whose ‘love of Madeira and claret’ was notorious, but he also, after Albemarle’s death, had to supervise the embalming of his body so that it could be returned to England for burial.
Sloane’s Jamaican period comprises two chapters in Collecting the World. It follows a brisk and effective survey of his rise, from his birth in 1660 in Ulster, where he was brought up, to the promising place he carved out for himself in London intellectual life in the 1680s (though Delbourgo