Rev Dr Francis Willis

A picture of the Rev Dr Francis Willis Here
The Rev Francis Willis

Born 17 August 1718, probably at Lincoln, third son of Rev John Willis and Genevra Darling. Died at Greatford, Lincolnshire, 5 December 1807, and buried in the church there. His will. Matriculated at Lincoln College, Oxford, 30 May 1734; B.A. from St Alban Hall 21 March 1738; and M.A. from Brasenose College 10 Feb 1740. Ordained Deacon 24 May 1741 at Buckden by the Bishop of Lincoln, and Priest 19 September 1742 at the same place. Licensed to a curacy at Nocton 29 August 1745 (signs the registers in 1746), registered as domestic chaplain to William, Earl of Dunmore, 2 July 1752, and registered as chaplain to Francis Dashwood, 15th Baron le Despencer, on 22 December 1763. Vice-president of Brasenose for a time. Lord of the Manor of Braceborough. Rector of the college living of St. John, Wapping (31 December 1748 - 18 November 1800), and Vicar of Ashby de la Launde, Lincolnshire; presented 1775, though he was signing the registers as Vicar as far back as 1745 and was appointed sequestrator there 9 January 1746. Somebody else was appointed Vicar there in 1789, so I guess he left then.

Willis was inclined more to medicine than the church, and shortly after his marriage settled at Dunston in Lincolnshire, where he practised medicine (and was either curate or incumbent); in 1755 he published 'The Case of a Shepherd near Lincoln'. In 1760 the Royal Society published 'An Account of an Extraordinary Case of a Lady, Who Swallowed Euphorbium. By Dr. Willis, of Lincoln'. Reading between the lines, the patient in that case was his brother Cecil's wife Elizabeth, who had recently given birth to their son Charles Wallett Willis. Oxford University tried to regularise the situation by awarding him the degrees of M.B. and M.D. in 1759. In 1769 he was appointed one of the physicians to the Lincoln Hospital. He was also in the habit of treating mental patients in his own house at Dunston, but his landlord Lord le Despencer would not sell it to him and in 1776 he moved to Greatford (see Parry-Jones).

It is said that the great success that attended the eminent Dr Willis had its origin in an experiment tried upon a tradesman of Lincoln, who on becoming insane was taken to Dunston, where the treatment of his malady was such that in a short time he was enabled to return to this city and resume his duties behind the counter. Stamford Mercury, Friday 05 August 1859

1795 Jan. 1.—Dr. Willis ordered to be distributed to the poor of the parishes of Greatford, Wilsthorpe, and Barholm 73 stone weight of beef and mutton. And the same time 16 poor children of the parish of Greatford were clothed by Dr. John Willis, his son. Stamford Mercury, Friday 12 August 1859

In 1788 he was called in to treat the King, having successfully treated the mother of the wife of one of the equerries; at this point he claimed to have been treating patients for for 28 years. On the King's recovery he was voted an annual pension of £1000, and had some medallions struck for promotional purposes. One side had his own likeness, and the other the motto Britons Rejoice Your King's Restored. His treatment of the Queen of Portugal was less successful, but did earn him £16000.

This highly–celebrated character started in the study of divinity, for which purpose he was early in life entered a student at Oxford, but fortunately for himself and his country attached himself to physic.

After quitting Oxford, he went to reside near Lincoln, where the first patient he undertook was a poor old pieman, a native of Lincoln, at that time chained naked in the castle, raving mad. The Doctor succeeded in the cure, and the man is now living very healthy, alike sound in body and intellect, though very old.

His fame, like his business, is very widely extended. Although he has not slept from his own house for six weeks together, he is known not to have seen its during that time by day-light, having been entirely occupied in writing about, visiting his patients.

Very soon after that memorable event, which communicated such unexampled joy through the metropolis and the kingdom at large, the Doctor was sent for to Oxford, to attend Sir Charles Nourse, Bart. a distant relation, who died very rich, and left the Doctor a very small legacy, and the bulk of his fortune to his house-keeper. This fact is related for the sake of introducing the following circumstance, that he rode from thence on horseback to his own house at Greatford, in Lincolnshire, 115 miles in one day, being at that time seventy-two years of age; and that, since passing his seventieth year, he has frequently rode from his own house to London in one day and back again at the next, a distance of ninety-five miles each way.

Some years ago Dr. Willis attended his friend, Nathanial Dance, Esq. during a very severe illness, and succeeded in curing him.—The Doctor, sometime after calling upon Mr. Dance, refused to take any reward for his trouble, when Mr. Dance begging the Doctor to sit down a few minutes, and taking out his pencil, drew a very striking likeness of the Doctor upon a sheet of paper, which the latter has now by him in great preservation.

The Doctor is very rich, and what is better, very humane, generous, and charitable. The poor go daily away from his door thankful, fed, and clothed; he attends them in sickness, and furnishes them with medicine from his own house; and he is, perhaps, deservedly the most popular man in the kingdom, as having been the means under heaven of restoring a beloved Sovereign to his people.
Anecdotes and Biography: Including Many Modern Characters in the Circles of Fashionable and Official Life, Selected from the Portfolios of a Distinguished Literary and Political Character, Lately Deceased, Alphabetically Arranged, Leman Thomas Rede, London, 1799

Married at Branston, 23 December 1749 to Mary Curtois, daughter of Rev John Curtois, Rector of Branston. Curtois was also a Brasenose man.

Married secondly on 2 August 1798 at Greatford, Lincolnshire, to Ann Storr, spinster. Little is known about her, but she died on 16 June 1813 at Greatford; here is her will.

On Wednesday night, at Greatford, after a long illness, Mrs. Willis, relict of the Rev. Francis Willis, M.D. sincerely lamented by numerous friends. Stamford Mercury, 18 June 1813

Issue with his first wife, five sons:

  1. Francis Willis. Born 7 September 1750 at Dunston, Lincolnshire, and baptised there 20 September. Died unmarried at Greatford 22 November 1831, and buried there. His will, and a portrait of him.

  2. Dr John Willis, born 28 September 1751 at Dunston.

  3. Rev Dr Thomas Willis, born 18 January 1754 at Dunston.

  4. Admiral Richard Willis, born 7 May 1755 at Dunston.

  5. Dr Robert Darling Willis, born 8 May 1760.

Dr Willis. - These are his rewards, and never before exactly stated-For himself, 1000l. a year. Dr. John Willis, 500l. a year. Rev Mr. Willis, Windsor Canonry. The younger son a ship. The New Lady's Magazine, Or, Polite and Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, 1789