Sir Hans Sloane

Childhood in Killyleagh
Hans was born on 16 April 1660, the youngest of seven sons although, sadly, four of his brothers died before Hans was even born. He was brought up in what was then called Back Street – modern day Frederick Street – in a fine two storied house not far from the castle. His father, Alexander, was an agent for the Hamilton family and was relatively well to do. However he died when Hans was just six years old and his mother soon remarried.

The boys looked forward to having a new father but, unaccountably, he and their mother upped sticks and left Killyleagh leaving the boys, then aged only seven, nine and 11, to fend for themselves. But the lads managed with the help of friends and neighbours and presumably with money left to them by their late father.

But Hans had a real passion from an early age – he was a collector.

He spent his time combing the streets and fields around the village and encouraging the local fishermen to take him out to the islands on Strangford Lough. And so, before long, every room in his home was filled with plants, shells, bird eggs and every kind of interesting item. He loved his new hobby but, most importantly, he was a very far-sighted lad. He wanted to know everything about the things he had found and was soon up at the castle door, or at the rectory, to consult the relevant books in their libraries. When he found the answers – and even the Latin names for every object – he returned home and started to catalogue and properly encase each item.

The fact is that little Hans was surely one of the first people to undertake this essential task for there was no use in collecting interesting specimens without taking the time to find out not only what exactly they were, but also to carefully put them into jars and boxes with their names affixed to the outside. For don’t we all pick up fascinating objects throughout our lives but then quickly forget them?

Hans attended a school in the village which, in those days, was simply the home of a local teacher who encouraged a few children to come for lessons. But, in his teenage years, Hans contracted TB – it wasn’t known as such in those days – and, on medical advice, remained indoors for up to three years. This was a very frustrating time for Hans but he knew he should follow the advices given to him – stay at home and don’t expose yourself to the germs outside. His brothers and all his friends, however, never neglected Hans – they continued to bring all sorts of objects to his house and, when he asked them to go up to the library to bring him down some books, they always obliged. Nothing was going to deter Hans Sloane from pursuing his interest.

When he was 19 years old, after discussions with his teachers and friends, Hans decided to leave Killyleagh and head for London to study chemistry and then, a few years later, medicine.

We should therefore remember these pivotal years which Hans spent in the village of his birth. Some of his original artefacts, collected and catalogued in Killyleagh in the 1670s, are still to this day exhibited in the British Museum.

Had it not been for this tenacious and determined little Killyleagh boy – a lad who had the foresight to find out about every item he collected and who always made sure to show to all his friends, would there ever have been that wonderful establishment in London – the British Museum? Possibly not.