The man who brought us drinking chocolate and his Chelsea past.

Sir Hans Sloane 

Sir Hans Sloane is remembered in place names throughout the Chelsea area, from Sloane Square to Hans Town to the Botanist pub. Hans Sloane was a physician and philanthropist and is best known for bringing to the nation a vast collection of natural specimens, books, coins, manuscripts and artefacts. But did you know he also introduced us to drinking chocolate.

Hans Sloane was born in County Down Northern Ireland in 1660 and studied botany at the Chelsea Physic Garden and chemistry at the Apothecaries’ Hall. He travelled around Europe to learn more about medicine and botany, and passed his Doctorate of Physic in 1683. Sloane became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1685 at the age of 25 and a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1687.

It was during his many visits to Jamaica that Sloane encountered cocoa where the locals were drinking it mixed with water. Sloane found the taste of this nauseating and decided to mix it with milk instead this made the drink much more pleasant. On returning to London he prescribed the milk for medicinal purposes as a beverage with health-giving properties, sometime later it came to the attention of the Cadbury brothers who purchased the recipe that Sloane had discovered in Jamaica. Cadbury produced their milk chocolate drink based on Sir Hans Sloane’s recipe between 1849 and 1875 and added their own milk chocolate bars in 1897.

Sloane was appointed the physician to three different monarchs during his life: Queen Anne in 1696, George I in 1716 and George II in 1727 and was knighted in 1716. He married Elizabeth Rose, a widow, in 1695, and they had two daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth.

Sloane became president of the College of Physicians in 1719 and succeeded Sir Isaac Newton as president of the Royal Society in 1727. As a socially-minded man he used some of the fortune to give free services to the poor.

Sloane purchased the Manor of Chelsea from Charles Cheyne to house and exhibit his growing collections in 1712. This also gave him the freehold of the Chelsea Physic Garden, which he supported by leasing it to the Society of Apothecaries in 1722 for £5 a year in perpetuity on the condition that ‘it be forever kept up and maintained as a physic garden’ and that 50 plant specimens a year were delivered to the Royal Society until 2,000 pressed and mounted species had been received. By 1795, the total had reached 3,700. The peppercorn rent is still paid to Sloane’s heirs at the Cadogan Estate by the charity that runs the Chelsea Physic Garden today.

Sloane retired to the Chelsea house that had been built for Henry VIII, where he remained until his death in 1753 at the age of 92 and was buried at Chelsea Old Church. In his will, Sloane offered his vast collection which consisted of over 71,000 natural history specimens, books, coins and medals to the nation for a fraction of its estimated value.

The collection was acquired by Parliament and used to found the British Museum and later the Natural History Museum. When he died, Sloane’s property was divided between his two daughters as his wife, Elizabeth, had died 29 years previously, in 1724.

               

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