Untold lives blog

28 February 2023

Dr David Price – JMW Turner’s Physician

Dr David Price (1787-1870) was the son of a Welsh clergyman.  After qualifying, he initially practised in the East End of London and then in 1826 moved for health reasons to Margate, a seaside town in Kent.

Print of engraving of Margate Pier'Margate Pier' by Benjamin Thomas Pouncy published London 1807 - British Library shelfmark: Maps K.Top.17.4.i. BL flickr

Price became a well-known and highly respected practitioner who gave his services to the local board of health, the town council, and the National Hospital for Scrofula (or Royal Sea-Bathing Infirmary).  He was described as ‘painstaking, earnest, and able, inspiring confidence by his manly bearing and pleasing manners, and extracting from all who knew him much reverence for his thorough honesty and uprightness’.

David Price - newspaper article about a presentation for his work as Chairman of local board of health in MargatePresentation of a silver inkstand to Dr David Price in recognition of his services as chairman of the Margate Local Board of Health - South Eastern Gazette 9 February 1858 British Newspaper Archive

Price lived with his family at Hoopers Hill House, in Northdown Road Margate, and worked on anatomy and dissections in nearby Gloucester House.

JMW Turner was a regular visitor to Margate throughout his life.  As well as being a popular leisure resort, Margate was also known for its health benefits.  Turner was sent to school in Margate as a precaution against diseases such as cholera.   In later years, Turner would visit Margate regularly from London by steamship to relax and recuperate, painting many scenes of the stunning sunsets and maritime scenes he enjoyed.  He often stayed at a boarding house on the seafront near the harbour with widow Sophia Booth. Turner and Mrs Booth eventually had a relationship that would last until the end of his life.

In the spring of 1832, there was an outbreak of cholera in Margate. Sophia took special care of Turner at this time, particularly as both her husband and son had succumbed to the disease.  Though Turner had a reputable London physician, Sophia introduced him to David Price.  Sophia trusted and knew Price well, as he had acted as executor of her husband and son’s wills, and she had asked him to look after her inheritance.

From 1845, now in his 70s, Turner’s health started to decline.  He and Sophia increasingly relied on Dr Price for nursing and medication to aid recovery.  Turner became a very good friend of Price, who called him ‘Mr Mallard’.  In 1846, Sophia and Turner moved to Chelsea in London. When Turner caught cholera, they rushed back to Margate for the dedicated support of Dr Price. Turner survived and went to recuperate at Deal, where Price continued to visit.

Shortly before Turner’s death in December 1851, Price diagnosed heart disease.  Turner then succumbed again to cholera.  Price travelled from Margate to see Turner in Chelsea on 18 December.  His friend died the next day.

Price attended Turner’s funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral, riding in one of the mourning coaches.

Newspaper report of funeral of JMW TurnerReport of JMW Turner’s funeral Express (London) 31 December 1851 British Newspaper Archive

Turner left an unpaid bill of more than £500 owed to Price, who took the executors to court to get it paid.

Dr Price died in 1870 at the age of 83 in the Margate house he had lived in since 1826.  His death notice in the East Kent Gazette outlined his valuable services to the town beyond his medical duties.

Newspaper death notice for David PriceDeath notice for Dr David Price - East Kent Gazette 11 June 1870 British Newspaper Archive

David Price is buried in the family vault at Margate Cemetery.  His sons Peter Charles, David Simpson, and William Preston followed their father into the medical profession.

Photograph of family vault of Dr David Price in MargateFamily vault of David Price in Margate Cemetery - photograph by author

Alison Shuttle
Independent researcher
Volunteer steward and guide at Turner’s House, Twickenham

Further reading:
Dr David Price from Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows Royal College of Surgeons
British Newspaper Archive
Franny Moyle, Turner; The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of JMW Turner (2016)
Stephen Channing, Turner’s Margate through contemporary eyes – the Viney Letters (2009)
For more information on cholera in Margate, there is a fascinating account found in the files of Margate Local History
JMW Turner and Sophia Booth

Turner's House

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is open to visitors.

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