Sir William Burnett

Sir William Burnett  KCB. KCH. RN
Director-General of the Medical Department of the Navy 1844.

William Burnett was born in Montrose Scotland in January 1779 and on leaving his education he was apprenticed to a Surgeon in Montrose.
At the age of 16 having joined the Royal Navy he became a Surgeons mate onboard Edgar (Captain Sir Charles Knowles).
In 1797 he transferred to Goliath (Captain Sir Charles Knowles) as the Assistant Surgeon and saw action at the Battle of Cape St Vincent (February 1797) (Admiral Nelson lost his arm at this battle).
William Burnett still onboard the Goliath (Captain Thomas Foley) he served at the Battle of the Nile August 1798. He then transferred to Defiance (Captain Phillip Durham) Burnett was involved in the main action at the Battle of Trafalgar (17 crew killed and 53 injured).
In 1810 he became Physician and Inspector of Hospitals to the Mediterranean Fleet and in the April Investigated and reported on the Mass poisoning with Mercury Vapour onboard the Triumph at Cadiz. He also invented and determined the promotion of his disinfecting fluid ‘Chloride of Zinc Solution’ for which he held lucrative patents.
In 1813 he became Medical officer in Charge of Prison Hulks at Chatham and in 1814 took private practise at Chichester.
During his career Sir William Burnett earnt the reputation of being a ‘hard-working, unimaginative and somewhat harsh man’ he was at the same time very humane in both his work and writings. His reputation was eroded in latter life by his determined promotion of his Zinc Solution.
There was a great hue and cry from the Naval Medical officers of the day when they were required to contribute from their pay towards the cost of the painting as shown.
9th June
25th May
13th April
28th January
1st January
16th August
30th April
16th Feb
Member of the Victualling board.
KCH Knight Commander of the Royal Guelphic  Order) Civil Physician of the Navy.
Physician in ordinary to King William IV.
Inspector General of Naval Hospitals and Fleets.
Director General of the Medical Department of the Navy, the first Naval Surgeon to hold this office.
KCB Knight Commander of the Bath.
Retired to Chichester on a pension of £1,000 per annum.



Copyright on all photo's remain the property of MoD, Haslar Heritage Group, Eric Birbeck and Nicola Smith and are not to be reproduced without prior permission.
Site Design by Nicola Smith in conjunction with Ann Ryder
Background image reproduced by kind permission of John Pounds