Sir Henry Thompson, 1st Baronet

Last updated

Sir Henry Thompson, 1st Baronet
Sir Henry Thompson.jpg
Born6 August 1820
Framlingham, Suffolk
Died18 April 1904
OccupationSurgeon, polymath

Sir Henry Thompson, 1st Baronet, FRCS (6 August 1820 – 18 April 1904) was a British surgeon and polymath.


Medical career

Thompson was born at Framlingham, Suffolk. His father wished him to enter business, but he was eventually (by 1848) able to enroll in the Medical School of University College London. He obtained his medical degree in 1851 with the highest honours in anatomy and surgery. [1]

In 1853 he was appointed assistant surgeon at University College Hospital, becoming full surgeon in 1863, professor of clinical surgery in 1866, and consulting surgeon in 1874. In 1884 he became professor of surgery and pathology in the Royal College of Surgeons. Specializing in surgery of the genito-urinary tract, and in particular in that of the bladder, he studied in Paris under Jean Civiale, who in the first quarter of the 19th century had developed a procedure to crush a stone within the human bladder and who had invented an instrument for this minimally invasive surgery.

After his return from Paris, Thompson soon acquired a reputation. [1]

Thompson in a portrait painted by John Everett Millais SirHenryThompsonBt.jpg
Thompson in a portrait painted by John Everett Millais

In 1863, when King Leopold I of Belgium was suffering from kidney stones, Thompson was called to Brussels to consult in the case, and after some difficulties was allowed to perform the operation of lithotripsy. It was successful, and in recognition of his skill Thompson was appointed surgeon-extraordinary to the King, [2] an appointment which was continued by Leopold II. Nearly ten years later Thompson carried out a similar operation on the former Emperor Napoléon III; however, the Emperor died four days after, not from the surgical procedure, as was proved by the post-mortem examination, but from uremia. [1]

In 1874 Thompson helped in founding the Cremation Society of Great Britain , of which he was the first president; he also did much toward the removal of the legal restrictions on cremation. He denounced the prevailing methods of death certification in Great Britain; and in 1892 a select committee was appointed to inquire into the matter; its report, published the following year, was generally in line with his thinking. Woking Crematorium finally became the first of its kind in the UK. Thompson's last public duty for the society, in 1903, was to open Birmingham Crematorium, [3] the country's ninth. [4] He died in April 1904; his body was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, [5] the first in London, which he had opened in 1902. [6]

Personal life

Thompson's portrait of Carlo Pellegrini Carlo Pellegrini by Sir Henry Thompson.jpg
Thompson's portrait of Carlo Pellegrini

Thompson was also an artist, producing sketches and paintings, some of which were hung at the Royal Academy of Arts and in the Paris Salon. About 1870 he began to collect Chinese porcelain, in particular of old blue and white Nanking; in time his collection became so large that he could no longer find room for it, and most of it was sold. A catalogue of it, illustrated by himself and James Whistler, was published in 1878. [1]

He was also interested in astronomy, and for a time maintained a private observatory in his house at Molesey. He presented the Royal Greenwich Observatory several instruments, including a photographic heliograph of 9-inch aperture; a 30-inch reflecting telescope, and a large refracting telescope with a 26-inch object glass (of 22 feet focal length). The offer of the last instrument was made in 1894. Its manufacture was undertaken by Sir Howard Grubb of Dublin, and its erection was completed in 1897. [1]

Sir Henry Thompson, knighted in 1867, received a baronetcy in 1899, in connection with his telescope gifts to the National Observatory. [1]

In 1851 he married Kate Loder, a pianist, who was stricken with paralysis soon afterwards. On his death, his only son, Herbert, a barrister and Egyptologist, succeeded to the baronetcy. Of his two daughters, the elder (author of a valuable Handbook to the Public Picture Galleries of Europe, first published in 1877) married Henry William Watkins, Archdeacon of Durham. The younger daughter, Helen Edith Thompson, married the Ven. Henry Lawe Corry Vully de Candole, the only sibling of the WW1 poet Alec de Candole [7] They had no children.

Thompson believed in an impersonal God. In his 1903 essay "The Unknown God?", he promoted the idea that an eternal source of energy exists in the universe that is beneficent and intelligent but not personal. [8] He argued that all the major religions which are regarded as "divinely" inspired are unsubstantiated and unsupported by evidence. [9]

Debate over vegetarianism

Thompson was incorrectly cited and misquoted by vegetarians as being a supporter of vegetarianism. [10] For example, he is cited as supporting a vegetarian diet in Gandhi's essay The Superiority of Vegetarianism. Thompson rejected excessive meat consumption and promoted a "lighter" diet but was not a vegetarian. He was involved in a debate over vegetarianism which led to controversy in the Nineteenth Century magazine. [11]

Thompson authored two articles on vegetarianism, in 1898.


The Royal College of Surgeons in 1852 awarded Thompson the Jacksonian Prize for an essay on the Pathology and Treatment of Stricture of the Urethra (on stenosis of the urethra, a common condition in the times of gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases); and again in 1860 for his essay on the Health and Morbid Anatomy of the Prostate Gland . These two memoirs belong to urology, his medical speciality. Besides devising operative improvements, he wrote books and papers dealing with them, including:

He produced two successful novels, Charley Kingston's Aunt (1885) and All But (1886).


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Chisholm 1911.
  2. "Obituary: Sir Henry Thompson". Medical Press and Circular. 77: 463. 1904. Retrieved 28 June 2008.
  3. "History of the Society". Cremation Society of Great Britain. 1 January 1999. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  4. "Birmingham Crematorium commemorates 110th anniversary". Dignity plc. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  5. "History of the Society: Death of Sir Henry Thompson". Cremation Society of Great Britain. 1 January 1999. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  6. Historic England. "Golders Green Crematorium (1001575)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  8. McCabe, Joseph. (1913). The Existence of God. Watts & Co. p. 120
  9. "Literary Notes". The British Medical Journal. 1 (2149): 615–617. 1902.
  10. "The Anti-Kreophagists". The British Medical Journal. 1 (1953): 1475–1476. 1898.
  11. Gregory, James. (2007). Of Victorians and Vegetarians: The Vegetarian Movement in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Tauris Academic Studies. p. 85. ISBN   978-1-84511-379-7


Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Wimpole Street) 
Succeeded by
Henry Francis Herbert Thompson

Related Research Articles

Urology Subspecialty of surgery

Urology, also known as genitourinary surgery, is the branch of medicine that focuses on surgical and medical diseases of the male and female urinary-tract system and the male reproductive organs. Organs under the domain of urology include the kidneys, adrenal glands, ureters, urinary bladder, urethra, and the male reproductive organs.

Cystoscopy Medical procedure; endoscopy of the urinary bladder via the urethra

Cystoscopy is endoscopy of the urinary bladder via the urethra. It is carried out with a cystoscope.

Urinary incontinence (UI), also known as involuntary urination, is any uncontrolled leakage of urine. It is a common and distressing problem, which may have a large impact on quality of life. It has been identified as an important issue in geriatric health care. The term enuresis is often used to refer to urinary incontinence primarily in children, such as nocturnal enuresis.

Bladder stone stone found in the urinary bladder

A bladder stone is a stone found in the urinary bladder.

Jean Civiale French surgeon and urologist

Jean Civiale (1792–1867) was a French surgeon and urologist, who, in 1832, invented a surgical instrument and performed transurethral lithotripsy, the first known minimally invasive surgery, to crush stones inside the bladder without having to open the abdomen (lithotomy). To remove a calculus, Civiale inserted his instrument through the urethra and bored holes in the stone. Afterwards, he crushed it with the same instrument and aspired the resulting fragments or let them flow normally with urine.

Lithotomy surgical method for removal of calculi, stones formed inside certain organs

Lithotomy from Greek for "lithos" (stone) and "tomos" (cut), is a surgical method for removal of calculi, stones formed inside certain organs, such as the kidneys, bladder, and gallbladder (gallstones), that cannot exit naturally through the urinary system or biliary tract. The procedure, which is usually performed by means of a surgical incision, differs from lithotripsy, wherein the stones are crushed either by a minimally invasive probe inserted through the exit canal, or by an acoustic pulse, which is a non-invasive procedure.

Jean Zuléma Amussat French surgeon

Jean Zuléma Amussat was a French surgeon.

A urethrotomy is an operation which involves incision of the urethra, especially for relief of a stricture. It is most often performed in the outpatient setting, with the patient (usually) being discharged from the hospital or surgery center within six hours from the procedure's inception.

Leopold Ritter von Dittel Austrian urologist

Leopold Ritter von Dittel was an Austrian urologist born in Fulnek, a community now located in the Czech Republic.

James Earle british surgeon

Sir James Earle (1755–1817) was a celebrated British surgeon, renowned for his skill in lithotomy.

Urethroplasty is the repair of an injury or defect within the walls of the urethra. Trauma, iatrogenic injury and infections are the most common causes of urethral injury/defect requiring repair. Urethroplasty is regarded as the gold standard treatment for urethral strictures and offers better outcomes in terms of recurrence rates than dilatations and urethrotomies. It is probably the only useful modality of treatment for long and complex strictures though recurrence rates are higher for this difficult treatment group.


The lithotrite was an early medical device, invented by Al-Zahrawi,an early form of the lithotrite which he called "Michaab", he was able to crush the stone inside the bladder without the need for a surgical incision. and it was later modified by Jean Civiale, which was used to perform transurethral lithotripsy, the first known minimally invasive surgery, to crush stones inside the bladder without having to open the abdomen (lithotomy). To remove a calculus the instrument was inserted through the urethra and holes bored in the stone. Afterwards, it was crushed with the same instrument and resulting fragments aspirated or allowed to flow normally with urine.

Otto Zuckerkandl Austrian urologist

Otto Zuckerkandl was an Austrian urologist and surgeon. He was a younger brother of anatomist Emil Zuckerkandl (1849–1910).

William Coulson English surgeon

William Coulson was an English surgeon.

Sir Henry Morris, 1st Baronet British doctor

Sir Henry Morris, 1st Baronet FRCS was a British medical doctor and surgeon, president of the Royal Society of Medicine and the author and editor of significant works on anatomy. He was also known for his work in the field of cancer.

Abraham Groves Canadian physician and surgeon

Abraham Groves was a Canadian physician and surgeon in Fergus, Ontario, who is credited with performing the first appendectomy in North America, in 1883. He is also recognized for performing Canada's first suprapubic lithotomy and for his early use of aseptic technique in surgery, possibly being the first person to use surgical gloves for infection control. Groves practiced in Fergus for sixty years, and the hospital he founded, formerly the Royal Alexandra, is now named the Groves Memorial Community Hospital in recognition of his work.

Henry Wade (surgeon)

Sir Henry Wade PRCSE FRSE DSO CMG was a Scottish military and urological surgeon. He was elected President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1935. His collection of anatomical specimens was donated to Surgeon's Hall in Edinburgh and is known as the Henry Wade Collection.

Guy LeRoy Hunner (1868–1957) was an American physician, surgeon, urologist and gynecologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

Peter Freyer

Sir Peter Freyer was an Irish surgeon with an expertise in genitourinary surgery, best known at first as an Indian Medical Service (IMS) officer, for making popular the procedure for crushing bladder stones to allow them to be evacuated through the natural passages, a procedure known as a litholapaxy. Following retirement from the IMS after 20 years of service in India, he returned to England and popularized a procedure for benign large prostates. This was known as the suprapubic prostatectomy, a transvesical prostatectomy or the Freyer operation, where the prostate is removed through an abdominal incision above the pubic bone but below the umbilicus and through the bladder, and it included using suprapubic drainage post-operatively.

Cremation Society of Great Britain First Cremation Society in the UK

The Cremation Society of Great Britain was founded in 1874 to promote the use of cremation as an alternative means of dealing with the bodies of the dead instead of burial which until then was the only option. Today the Society is a registered charity and is not conducted for profit.