Literature, History, Heritage

DIEDERICH WESSEL LINDEN (fl.1745-1768; d.1769), medical doctor and minerologist

The below is the original, unabridged article I wrote for publication in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography, or in short the Bywgraffiadur, as part of my work as the Community Outreach Officer of the Diversity Project. The aim of this project is to collect names and produce articles about people who have a strong association with Wales, but who in previous decades have been overlooked. To make the article suitable for the Bywg, it had to be cut down considerably. So this is the version with a little more flourish and added detail. In due course I will provide links to the published English and Welsh versions.

If you would like to find out more about the Diversity Project of the Bywgraffiadur, please follow this link:

Diederich Wessel Linden was most likely born during the early eighteenth century in the small village of Hemmerde, Westphalia, the son of Thomas Linden, and his wife Mary. The circumstances of his upbringing remain obscure. However, it is likely he received some schooling that acquainted him with the foundations of mining and mineralogy. Furthermore, the area surrounding his birthplace was at the time of Linden’s childhood known for its rich supplies of coal, various ores and preponderance of mineral wells. No doubt these circumstances contributed towards his persistent interest in these. While identifying later in life as medical doctor and physician, there is no evidence that he received a degree from any university in Germany or Britain. His name appears in no university registers or schools that would have been able to award degrees in either country. In fact, in one of his publications, Linden proudly announced that he was not a learned academic.

Following his emigration to Britain in 1842, Linden first settled in London and made a living as physician and pharmaceutical instructor. During this time, he prepared his first publication, Gründliche historische Nachricht vom Theer-Wasser (1745), a German edition of a recent medicinal study on ‘tar water’ by George Berkeley (1685-1753). In March 1845, he petitioned for a 14-year patent for the exclusive production of saltpeter, having invented a procedure using only ‘Ingredients wholly the growth and produce of this Kingdom’. The patent was granted for England, Wales and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed on 1 April 1746. Around the same time, Linden’s second book, a detailed commentary on a study of mineral waters by the German physician Johann Heinrich Schütte (1694-1774), was already in preparation and shortly published thereafter.

Print, satirical print (BM 1847,0710.15) British Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; ‘Satire on quack doctors and their customers. A crowd gathered around a podium where a quack displays his medicines in an open chest.’

Possibly swelled by his early successes, Linden next petitioned for his naturalisation and his Bill was presented to the House of Lords on 18 April 1846, but it did not progress any further. It would take until 1762 for him to become naturalised through a Private Act signed by King George III. What is worse, any financial success from his patent or publications seems to have eluded him, and Linden plunged so much into debt that he was committed to Fleet Prison on 20 January 1747. However, this crisis was resolved quickly and he was released already a little over a month later on settling his debts of £118-11-10. By spring, he had quit London for Wales.

By the second half of 1747, Linden had drawn up a lease with the goldsmith Richard Richardson from Chester about several mineral mines at Caerwys and with John Williams of Holywell for several parcels of as of yet undeveloped land in Prestatyn. As a result, he relocated to Holywell and established a new medical practice in town whilst developing his mining ventures across the county.

It is around this time that Linden first drew public notice – and ire – from among British contemporaries, such as Lewis Morris (1701-1765) and Thomas Pennant (1726-1798). With support from Elizabeth Adams, a Chester printer, and Thomas Cotham, a personal friend who had translated the German manuscript, Linden presented his first English publication, A Letter to William Hooson, a Derbyshire Miner (1747). In this pamphlet, he chiefly attacked Hooson as a hack and dilettante. As an ardent believer in the scientific usefulness and functionality of divining rods for the use in mining, Linden also censured Hooson’s ridicule of this tool. Finally, he labelled all British mining activities as in their infancy, comparing badly to the superiority of German knowledge and activities in these quarters. Unfortunately for the German newcomer, Hooson was an established name among British miners.

The combination of Linden’s own, modest mining successes in Flintshire, his growing number of supporters, his belief in the divining rod together with his attack on Hooson subsequently drew Lewis Morris’s attention who, in return, wrote scathing letters to his brother, Richard Morris (1703-1779), in London. Whereas the Morrises’ remarks circulated privately or among their largely London-based coterie, Thomas Pennant produced an anonymized, albeit thinly-veiled character assassination of Linden in his Tour of Wales (1778) for his belief in and active use of divining rods.

Divining Rod Thomas Pennant, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; ‘An image from a set of 8 extra-illustrated volumes of A tour in Wales by Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) that chronicle the three journeys he made through Wales between 1773 and 1776. These volumes are unique because they were compiled for Pennant’s own library at Downing. This edition was produced in 1781.’ This image is based on an original woodcut illustration showing a prospector for ores in Georgius Agricola’s treatise De re metallica (1556).

Linden would venture into mining territory once more in 1750 with Three letters on Mining and Smelting, largely describing the state of the art or lack thereof across north Wales. Not relenting on his previous evaluation of Hooson, nor his opinion on divining rods, this publication would proof successful. It was republished several times and eventually translated into French as Lettres sur la Minéralogie et Métallurgie pratiques (1752).

The majority of Linden’s written output, however, was dedicated to his favourite subject, mineral waters. In subsequent years, Linden published several letters, pamphlets and books. His first English text on the subject was A Treatise on the Origin, Nature, and Virtues of Chalybeat Waters, and Natural Hot Baths (1748), which was republished several times over the following years. It is this and several later studies on mineral and hot wells that improved Linden’s reputation among his British readership, although his medical and chemical expertise was doubtful even according to the standards of his own times. While this study is largely dedicated to English wells, it also includes a chapter on the mineral properties and medicinal value of St Winefride’s Well in addition to a few other natural wells in the vicinity of Holywell, Linden’s place of residence and medical practice at the time.

St. Winifred's Well, Holywell (1133360) National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons; St. Winifred’s Well, Holywell (1133360), by George Cuitt (1779-1854)

A dedicated advocate for the medicinal value of mineral waters, he would continue publishing several further studies of mineral wells over the following years, the most notable of which was his Treatise on the Three Medicinal Mineral Waters at Llandrindod, in Radnorshire, South Wales (1854). The background of his study was Linden’s own poor health at the time. For that purpose, he retired to Llandrindod Wells for several weeks during August 1754 to cure himself of what he believed was a case of scurvy by drinking water from the local medicinal wells. Written in Linden’s typical meandering and idiosyncratic English, the study makes poor reading as a medical and chemical study of the wells. It comes as no surprise that Lewis Morris disparaged the work to his friends and professional connections as ‘mere puff’, whilst himself praising the water quality. That said, Linden’s publication remains noteworthy as the first of its kind regarding an infant spa culture emerging in a handful of locations in rural Wales by the middle of the eighteenth century. Based on the impressive list of subscribers to this particular volume alone, Linden had clearly recognized the economic potential for Welsh towns to gain financially and in infrastructure by reinventing themselves as modern spas.

During the 1750s, Linden’s written output slowed down, while his earlier works would be reprinted several times. While acknowledged as more alchemist than chemical in his outlook, Linden had gained a reputation as medical practitioner whose expertise would be called in from several quarters. With his persistent interest in treating gout and rheumatism, he had developed an ‘Etherial Oil, or Quintessence of Mustard’ that his proprietors John Holdstock and a Mr Bowen produced and sold for him in London. While the validity of his experiments or his medical conclusions were not always sound and opened the door to much ridicule of Linden’s personality, in their sum, his publications on mineral waters represent the most comprehensive study of Welsh and English spas in the eighteenth century.

During the 1750s, Peregrine Bertie, third Duke of Ancaster (1714-1778) engaged Linden as an adviser to develop several of the estate’s mining interests in the upper Conwy Valley, chiefly in the vicinity of Trefriw. Several letters written from Llanrwst suggest that Linden had settled here for the time being. Developing the mines, Linden appears to have been moderately successful, as Ancaster increased his salary before the end of the first year of his engagement. When Lewis Morris heard of Linden’s successes in Denbighshire, he was less than congratulatory. With his friend Thomas Cotham, Linden took over the lead mill at Trefriw, never paid its rent, and by the end of the decade, the mill was converted to a smithy. After the initial successes, however, the mines never developed their envisaged potential and never recovered Ancaster’s substantial financial investment. Most likely, Linden had left his employment with Ancaster by the middle of the decade and removed to Brecon around 1756 as is evident by a series of letters written from here.

In Brecon, Linden set up a new medical practice and settled into town life. He participated in meetings of the Brecknockshire Agricultural Society, the first of its kind in Wales, held at the Golden Lyon Inn in Brecon. Linden joined the society as an official member in 1757, eventually presiding over one of the meetings in May 1759. During his involvement with the society, he also struck up a friendship with one of its founders, Hywel Harris, Trevecka (1714-1773). In April 1759, four men, Thomas Price and George Adney of Brecon, Evan Phillip of Llangamarch and one Thomas Protherto separately accused Linden with physically assaulting each one of them on New Year’s Day ‘with an intent [of] that most horrid detestable and abominable Crime of amongst Christians not to be named, called Buggery’. All four accusations were dismissed by the Court of Great Sessions as ‘No true Bill’, on what grounds however is impossible to say for lack of any additional documentation from this court session or documents elsewhere.

After 1760, Linden’s locations become uncertain, and it is unclear whether he had a permanent address. However, he remained in contact with his friends and acquaintances in Wales. In 1763, he spent time in London and exchanged several letters of advice with John Williams, Ancaster’s mining agent in Denbighshire, regarding the still ongoing efforts to extract lead and copper in the upper Conwy Valley. In one of these, Linden cautioned Williams against using the Trefriw smelting house for lead and copper ‘because it would poison the verdurer and the catel [sic] and all the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, and that […] will not doe’. Linden was a mining enthusiast, but a careful one. This letter shows that he was aware of the pollution and the ill affects that such activities could have on their surroundings and that industry should not be carried out at all cost or without due diligence and care.

On other occasions, Linden would accompany clients to take the waters at Bristol, a habit which later resulted in a satirical character portrait in the novel The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771) by Tobias Smollett (1721-1771). Linden continued publishing and writing letters concerning treatments with mineral waters, albeit at diminished pace, and undertook a correspondence with Emanuel Mendes da Costa (1717-1791), a Fellow of the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. On two separate occasions in 1766, he was called upon to undertake An Experimental and Practical Enquiry into the Opthalmic, Antiscrophulous, and Nervous Properties of the Mineral Water of Llangybi, in Carnarvonshire (1767) to compile a compendium of illnesses among the local population that had been cured through the use of these wells. This publication would eventually be published posthumously in an abridged Welsh translation under the title Hanes ferr o gynnedfau meddyginiaethawl dyfroedd Llangybi (1771).

Around the time of the Llangybi journeys, Linden settled in or near Shrewsbury. It is from here that he published his final book, A Medicinal and Experimental History and Analysis of the Hanlys-Spa Saline, Purging and Chalybeate Waters, near Shrewsbury, etc (1768). A year later he died in Shrewsbury under unknown circumstances and was buried at what is these days old St Chad’s on 25 August 1769.

St. Chad's new church, Shrewsbury, 1796 John Ingleby, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; St. Chad’s new church, Shrewsbury by John Ingleby (1749–1808). Over the years, old St Chad’s church near College Hill had fallen into disrepair and eventually collapsed in 1788. The churchyard, where Linden is buried, subsequently fell into disuse. The new church and associated graveyard were built further west on the site of the derelict town wall.

As gleaned from his published works, his correspondence and the manner in which his contemporaries reacted towards him, Diederich Wessel Linden appears to have had a compulsive and pompous temperament. Convinced of his own accomplishments and opinions, he pursued his interest in mining and mineral waters with well-meaning passion and diligence – not infrequently to the dismay of others, more skilled and experienced in the same areas. Scorned by some of his contemporaries, others eagerly supported this German immigrant in his mineralogical and medical ventures. Linden produced some of the most comprehensive pre-nineteenth century surveys of mining activity in north Wales and mineral waters in Wales and England at a time when there was little if any literature on those subjects available in Britain.


4/382/4. Gaol file, 1759 Apr. Breconshire Court of Great Sessions: criminal proceedings, Court of Great Sessions in Wales. National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

J. H. Davies (ed.), The Letters of Lewis, Richard, William and John Morris of Anglesey, (Morrisiaid Mon) 1728-65, vol. 1, Aberystwyth: 1907. 114, 157-8, 200, 355.

‘Dr. Linden’s Etherial Oil’, The Whitehall Evening Post, or London Intelligencer, 18 November 1755, 2

A. E. Evans, ‘Wessel Linden and the Holywell MS’, Ars Quatuor Coronatum 58 (1947), 128-154

‘A.D. 1746, April 1.—No. 616’, Patents for Inventions. Abridgements of Specifications Relating to Acids, Alkalines, Oxides, and Salts. A.D. 1622-1866. London: Office of the Commissioners of Patents for Inventions, 1869. 14

Folios 96-100. 13 Mar 1746. SP – Records assembled by the State Paper Office, including papers of the Secretaries of State up to 1782. SP 36/82/1/96. The National Archives, London, England

‘Linden, 1st April 1746’, Titles of Patents of Invention, Chronologically Arranged from March 2, 1617 (14 James I.) to October 1, 1852 (16 Victoriæ). London: The Queens Printing Office, 1854. 116

R. C. B. Oliver, ‘Diederick Wessel Linden, M.D.’, National Library of Wales Journal 18.1 (Summer 1974), 241-67

T. Pennant, A Tour in Wales. Dublin: 1773. 53-54.

RCHY 2/2/111. RCHY – Hornby Catholic Mission Papers (St Mary’s Church). 24 Aug 1747. Lancashire Archives, Preston.

G. S. Rousseau, ‘Matt Bramble and the Sulphur Controversy in the XVIIIth Century: Medical Background of Humphry Clinker’, Journal of the History of Ideas 28.4 (1967), 577–89. JSTOR,

St. Chad’s Register, Births & Burials, from 31st, March, 1769. P253/A/1/4. Shropshire Archives, Shrewsbury. 1.

V. Scribner, ‘Drowning in Health: Murky Perceptions of Mineral Water and Alcohol in Eighteenth-Century Medical Literature and Social Mores’, Spa Culture and Literature in England, 1500-1800, eds. Sophie Chiari, Samuel Cuisinier-Delorme. Cham: Springer International Publishing. 231-259

S. Vasset, Murky Waters: British Spas in Eighteenth-Century Medicine and Literature. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2022.

Further Reading

The excellent Ian Taylor, aka Well Hopper, has written up a great description of Ffynnon Cybi located outside Llangybi (hist. Carnarvonshire, now Gwynedd). The post includes a set of recent photographs and historical description of how the well underwent some changes since Linden’s original description of the place.

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DIEDERICH WESSEL LINDEN (fl.1745-1768; d.1769), medical doctor and minerologist by Rita Singer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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