‘In the year 1710, Dr. Steevens, an eminent physician of Dublin, bequeathed his real estate of six hundred pounds a year to his sister Grizelda during her life; and after her decease vested it in trustees for erecting and endowing an Hospital near Dublin, for the relief and maintenance of curable poor persons, and to be called Steevens’ Hospital.
Mrs. Steevens, becoming possessed of the estate, was desirous of seeing her late brother’s intention executed; and soon after his decease purchased land between James’s-street, and the Royal Hospital. In 1720 they began to build the Hospital on a more extensive plan than the fund would support; but being assisted by several considerable bequests and benefactions, she was enabled to complete two thirds of the building in July, 1733, when the Hospital was opened…’
Richard Lewis, The Dublin Guide (Dublin 1787, p. 236).Portrait of Grizelda Steevens by Michael Mitchell.
It is clear that though it was Richard Steevens’s monetary bequest which had set the plan in motion, the person who carried it through to fruition was his twin sister, Grizelda. A broadsheet of 1735 succinctly summarises her involvement: ‘This Lady, assisted by the Legacies of some, and the Donations of others, finished more than two Thirds of the Building, and furnished some Parts of it, with all Things necessary for the Entertainment of Forty Sick Persons: Which Number she is pleased to maintain and provide for during her Life.’
Richard Steevens had left his estates and money to Grizelda for her lifetime and, after her death, the residue was to go towards the foundation of a hospital. Grizelda saw no reason to delay the establishment of something which would benefit so many of her fellow citizens and promptly set about drawing together a circle of fund-raisers to enable her to make her brother’s dream a reality. Once her brother’s will had gone through probate Grizelda’s team approached James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormond, to petition Queen Anne for financial assistance. When this plan fell through Grizelda decided on 11 July 1717 to set up a Trust made up of some of the leading citizens of Dublin which would administer her brother’s estate: in effect she gave up her life interest in the revenue of her brother’s estates (bar £100 a year), seeking to ensure that the hospital would come into being during her own lifetime.
First and foremost in the Trust came leading members of the clergy: William King (1650–1729), the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin; John Stearne (1660–1745), Bishop of Clogher (previously mentioned in her brother’s will when he was Dean of St Patrick’s) and Peter Drelincourt (1644–1722), Dean of Armagh. Robert Rochfort (also previously mentioned in Richard Steevens’ will) was joined by other politicians such as Sir William Fownes (d.1735), Marmaduke Coghill (1673–1739), Samuel Dopping (MP for TCD 1715–20), the banker Benjamin Burton (a.1665–1728) and architect Thomas Burgh (1670–1730). Last but certainly not least, was a strong contingent of the most influential physicians of their day: two medical trustees mentioned in Richard Steevens’ will: Robert Griffith and Thomas Proby, were joined by Thomas Molyneux (1661–1733), Edward Worth (1676-1733), and Richard Helsham (c.1682–1738).
At the first meeting of the Trust, on 14 August 1717, it was ‘resolved unanimously that it is the unanimous opinion of all the Trustees present that the piece of ground belonging to Sir Samuel Cooke, lying between the end of St James’ Street and Bow Bridge, containing about three acres and a half, is a very fit and convenient place for building the Hospital designed by Doctor Steevens deceased for the reception of persons labouring under curable distempers.’ Dependent as it was on charitable donation, the construction of the hospital took some time and it was only in 1733 that the building, though un-finished, was in a position to open its doors to patients.
Grizelda Steevens continued to reside at the hospital, having been assigned an apartment there. As the 1735 broadsheet, mentioned in the Foundation webpage, makes clear, she continued to actively fundraise for the hospital and on her death further aided the cause by bequeathing her estate to the Governors of the Hospital. She is honoured today not only by an inscription at the East Gate (the original gate) of the hospital but also by the establishment, by the Trustees of the Edward Worth Library, of an annual lecture in medical history in her name.
Falkiner, C. L., rev. Patrick Wallis, (2004) ‘Steevens, Richard (1653–1710)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press).
Kirkpatrick, T. P. C. (1924; reprinted 2008) The History of Doctor Steevens’ Hospital Dublin, 1720-1920 (Dublin).
O’Riordan, Turlough (2009), ‘Richard Steevens (c.1654-1710) MD and benefactor’ in James McGuire and James Quin (eds) Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge University Press).