Thomas Wakley

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Thomas Wakley Thomas Wakley72.jpg
Thomas Wakley

Thomas Wakley (11 July 1795 – 16 May 1862) was an English surgeon. He gained fame as a social reformer who campaigned against incompetence, privilege and nepotism. He was the founding editor of The Lancet , a radical Member of Parliament (MP) and a celebrated coroner.

Nepotism is the granting of jobs to one's relatives in various fields, including business, politics, entertainment, sports, religion and other activities. Nepotism is the act of using one's power to get good jobs or unfair advantages for the members of your family when the members of your family do not deserve it. The term originated with the assignment of nephews to important positions by Catholic popes and bishops. Trading parliamentary employment for favors is a modern-day example of nepotism.

<i>The Lancet</i> journal

The Lancet is a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal. It is among the world's oldest, most prestigious, and best known general medical journals.

Contents

Life

He was born in Membury, Devon, to a prosperous farmer and his wife. His father, Henry Wakley (1750–26 August 1842), inherited property, leased neighbouring land and became a large farmer by the standards of the day and a government Commissioner on the Enclosure of Waste Land. He was described as a 'just but severe parent' and, with his wife, had eleven children, eight sons and three daughters. [1] :3 Thomas was the youngest son, and attended the grammar school at Chard, then Taunton Grammar School. In his early teens, he was apprenticed to a Taunton apothecary. Young Wakley was a sportsman and a boxer: he fought bare-fisted in public houses. [2]

Membury, Devon village in United Kingdom

Membury is a village three miles north west of Axminster in East Devon district. The population at the 2011 Census was 501.

Grammar school type of school in the United Kingdom and some other countries

A grammar school is one of several different types of school in the history of education in the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries, originally a school teaching Latin, but more recently an academically-oriented secondary school, differentiated in recent years from less academic secondary modern schools.

Chard, Somerset town in Somerset

Chard is a town and a civil parish in the English county of Somerset. It lies on the A30 road near the Devon border, 15 miles (24 km) south west of Yeovil. The parish has a population of approximately 13,000 and, at an elevation of 121 metres (397 ft), Chard is the southernmost and one of the highest towns in Somerset. Administratively Chard forms part of the district of South Somerset.

After a brief period at sea, he went to London, where he attended anatomy classes at St Thomas's Hospital, and he enrolled in the United Hospitals of St. Thomas's Hospital and Guy's. [1] :15 The dominant personality at these two hospitals was Sir Astley Cooper FRS (1768–1841). Wakley qualified as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) in 1817. A surgeon at 22, he set up in practice in Regent Street and married (1820) Miss Goodchild, whose father was a merchant and a governor of St Thomas' Hospital. They had three sons and a daughter, who died young. His eldest son, Henry Membury Wakley, became a barrister and sat as deputy coroner under his father. His youngest son, James Goodchild Wakley, and his middle son, Thomas Henry Wakley, became joint editors of The Lancet.

Guys Hospital Hospital in London

Guy's Hospital is an NHS hospital in the borough of Southwark in central London. It is part of Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and one of the institutions that comprise the King's Health Partners, an academic health science centre.

Astley Cooper English surgeon and anatomist

Sir Astley Paston Cooper, 1st Baronet was an English surgeon and anatomist, who made historical contributions to otology, vascular surgery, the anatomy and pathology of the mammary glands and testicles, and the pathology and surgery of hernia.

Fellow of the Royal Society Elected Fellow of the Royal Society, including Honorary, Foreign and Royal Fellows

Fellowship of the Royal Society is an award granted to individuals that the Royal Society of London judges to have made a 'substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science, and medical science'.

Commemorative plaque outside Wakley's former residence in Bedford Square, London Blue plaque Thomas Wakley.jpg
Commemorative plaque outside Wakley's former residence in Bedford Square, London

All through his career, Wakley proved to be a man of aggressive personality, and his experiences had a sensational beginning. In August 1820 a gang of men (reputedly, the Thistlewood gang) that had some imagined grievance against him burnt down his house and severely wounded him in a murderous assault. The whole affair is obscure. The assault may have been a follow-up to the Cato Street conspiracy, whose supporters believed (wrongly) that the hangman was a surgeon. [2] :24–32 Wakley was indirectly accused by the insurance company, which had refused his claim, of setting fire to his house himself. He won his case against the company.

Arthur Thistlewood Cato Street Conspiracy instigator

Arthur Thistlewood was a British radical activist and conspirator in the Cato Street Conspiracy. He planned to murder the cabinet, but there was a spy and he was apprehended with 12 other conspirators. He killed a policeman during the raid. He was executed for treason.

Wakley's death, on 16 May 1862 in Madeira, was occasioned by pulmonary haemorrhage after a fall from a boat in the harbour. [3] [4] He had been declining in health for about ten years, and the symptoms are entirely consistent with tuberculosis. [2] :494 [3] [4] Wakley's three sons survived him, and the Lancet remained in Wakley hands for two more generations. His funeral was a very private affair, attendance restricted to family and close friends: the long-term consequences of his radicalism were eventually appreciated, at least to some extent. Wakley is interred in the catacombs of Kensal Green Cemetery (alcove 59, compartment 13 ) alongside his wife Elizabeth, nee Goodchild, (alcove 59, compartment 16), who died three years earlier. [5] There is a blue plaque on his house in Bedford Square, London, and further plaques in the grounds of the Harefield Hospital in Uxbridge, Land Farm in Membury, and Membury parish church .

Madeira Autonomous Region of Portugal in the archipelago of Madeira

Madeira, officially the Autonomous Region of Madeira, is one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal. It is an archipelago situated in the north Atlantic Ocean, southwest of Portugal. Its total population was estimated in 2016 at 289,000. The capital of Madeira is Funchal, which is located on the main island's south coast.

Tuberculosis Infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) bacteria. Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs, but can also affect other parts of the body. Most infections do not have symptoms, in which case it is known as latent tuberculosis. About 10% of latent infections progress to active disease which, if left untreated, kills about half of those affected. The classic symptoms of active TB are a chronic cough with blood-containing mucus, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. It was historically called "consumption" due to the weight loss. Infection of other organs can cause a wide range of symptoms.

Blue plaque marker commemorating a link between a location and a person or event

A blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in a public place in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person, event, or former building on the site, serving as a historical marker. The term is used in the United Kingdom in two different senses. It may be used narrowly and specifically to refer to the "official" scheme administered by English Heritage, and currently restricted to sites within Greater London; or it may be used less formally to encompass a number of similar schemes administered by organisations throughout the UK.

Lancet years

In 1823, he started the now well-known medical weekly, The Lancet , with William Cobbett, William Lawrence, James Wardrop and a libel lawyer as associates. It was extremely successful: by 1830, it had a circulation of about 4,000. In 1828, one of his accounts of medical negligence accused Bransby Cooper (the nephew of Sir Astley Cooper, the General Surgeon) of incompetence in causing a patient immense suffering as he attempted to extract a bladder stone through a cut beneath the scrotum. Such operations were regularly completed in only a minute's time by excellent surgeons such as the previous century's William Cheselden, but Cooper took more than an hour and was seen to have great difficulty in locating the stone. The magazine account led to a libel case, Cooper v Wakley , which would raise the profile and popular prestige of Wakley and his magazine. The court found in Cooper's favor, but awarded him much smaller damages than requested, which was generally taken as an acknowledgment that Wakley's accusations of incompetence and nepotism were justified. [6]

William Cobbett English pamphleteer, farmer and journalist

William Cobbett was an English pamphleteer, farmer, journalist and member of parliament born in Farnham, Surrey. He believed that reforming Parliament, including abolishing "rotten boroughs", would ease the poverty of farm labourers. Relentlessly he sought an end to borough-mongers, sinecurists and "tax-eaters". He opposed the Corn Laws, which imposed a tax on imported grain. Early in life he was a loyal devotee of King and Country, but he later pushed for radicalism, which helped the Reform Act 1832 and his election that year as one of two MPs for the newly enfranchised borough of Oldham. He strongly advocated of Catholic Emancipation. His polemics cover subjects from political reform to religion. His best known book is Rural Rides.

Sir William Lawrence, 1st Baronet British surgeon

Sir William Lawrence, 1st Baronet was an English surgeon who became President of the Royal College of Surgeons of London and Serjeant Surgeon to the Queen.

James Wardrop Scottish surgeon

Dr James Wardrop or Wardrope FRSE FRCSEd FRCS (1782–1869) was a Scottish surgeon and ophthalmologist.

At first, the editor of the Lancet was not named in the journal, but after a few weeks, rumours began to circulate. After the journal began printing the content of Sir Astley Cooper's lectures without permission, the great man paid a surprise visit to his former pupil to discover Wakley correcting the proofs of the next issue. Upon recognising each other, they fell immediately into laughter [7] or perhaps an altercation. [8] Either way, they reached an agreement that was mutually satisfactory. [1] :85

The libel lawyer was certainly needed for a series of attacks on the jobbery in vogue among the medical practitioners of the day. In opposition to the hospital surgeons and physicians, he published reports of their lectures and exposed their malpractices. He had to fight a number of lawsuits, but they only increased his influence. He attacked the whole constitution of the Royal College of Surgeons and obtained so much support from among the general body of the profession, now roused to a sense of the abuses that he exposed, that in 1827, a petition to Parliament resulted in a return being ordered of the public money granted to it.

Wakley as Jackdaw plucking feathers from the peacocks of his times. Punch 1841 Wakley-toon72.jpg
Wakley as Jackdaw plucking feathers from the peacocks of his times. Punch 1841

Wakley's campaigning was rough and outspoken:

[We deplore the] "state of society which allows various sets of mercenary, goose-brained monopolists and charlatans to usurp the highest privileges.... This is the canker-worm which eats into the heart of the medical body" Wakley, The Lancet 1838–39, 1, p2–3.
"The Council of the College of Surgeons remains an irresponsible, unreformed monstrosity in the midst of English institutions – an antediluvian relic of all... that is most despotic and revolting, iniquitous and insulting, on the face of the Earth". Wakley, The Lancet 1841–42, 2, p246.

He was especially severe on whomever he regarded as quacks. The English Homeopathic Association were "an audacious set of quacks" and its supporters "noodles and knaves, the noodles forming the majority, and the knaves using them as tools". [2] :145

London College of Medicine

One of Wakley's best ideas came in 1831, when a series of massive meetings were held to launch a rival to the Royal Colleges. Though successful, not eventually unsuccessful, and the LCM incorporated ideas that formed the basis of reforms in the charters of the main licensing bodies, the Apothecaries, the Royal Colleges of Surgeons and Physicians. Firstly, there was to be one Faculty: the LCM was to include physicians, surgeons and general practitioners; teachers at private medical schools and naval surgeons would also be included. Secondly, the structure was to be democratic: there would be no restrictions by religion (e.g. the Anglican restrictions of Oxford and Cambridge Universities) or by institution (e.g. membership of hospitals). Its officers and Senate would be decided by annual ballot. The cost of diplomas would be set low; those already qualified would be eligible to become Fellows so, for instance, those qualified in Scotland would be received without re-examination. Appointments to official (public) positions were to be by merit, eliminating nepotism and the hand-placing of protégées. All Fellows would carry the prefix 'Dr', removing artificial divisions between members.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the LCM did not succeed against the united opposition of the established Colleges and other institutions. Nevertheless, the strong case for reform had been made in the most public manner. Subsequent legislation and reforms in governing charters were, for many years, influenced by this campaign. [9] :104–7

Miscellany

In its early years, the Lancet also had other content of a non-medical kind. There was a chess column, the earliest regular chess column in any weekly periodical: The Chess Table. [10] There were also occasional articles on politics, theatre reviews, biographies of non-medical persons, excerpts of material in other publications &c. None of that diminished its huge impact on surgery, hospitals and the Royal Colleges, which were opened up to public view as never before. Wakley also played a leading role in the reform of the London Veterinary College and the creation of the Society of Coroners. In addition to his work on The Lancet he also published a number of pamphlets and short guides, including "The Mother's Medical Adviser", published by Wilson and Company, New York, 1844.

Member of Parliament

Reform in the College of Surgeons was slow, and Wakley now set himself to rouse the House of Commons from within. He became a radical candidate for Parliament and in 1835 was returned for Finsbury; he retained his seat till 1852. Even after his departure, his work was largely responsible for the content of the Medical Act of 1858. [3] He spoke in the House of Commons against the Poor Laws, police bills, newspaper tax and Lord's Day observance and for Chartism, Tolpuddle Martyrs, free trade, Irish nationalism and, of course, medical reform. [9] :428 All the topics were vigorously debated and fought over, for the 1830s was a turbulent decade; the origin of the difficulties lay in the massively expensive Napoleonic Wars, and in the inherent injustice of the way British law and Parliament operated. The Chartist demands were 1. Universal suffrage for adult men 2. Annual Parliaments 3. Payment for members of Parliament 4. Abolition of property qualifications for candidates 5. Vote by ballot (i.e. secret voting) 6. Abolition of rotten boroughs (rough equalisation of electoral districts). Apart from annual Parliaments, but it took time. The effect was to give ordinary citizens a direct say in how the country was governed. Wakley was one of many campaigners; his influence was greater than most because he was now inside Parliament.

Wakley in old age.
Illustrated London News 1862 Old Wakley72.jpg
Wakley in old age.
Illustrated London News 1862

As an Anglican and a regular church-goer, Wakley's opposition to aspects of the Lord's Day Observance legislation was based not on secularism but on his sympathy for the ordinary man. In his day, men worked a full six days each week and could not shop on pay nights. If all shops closed for the whole of Sunday, it was clearly unfair to working men. Also, he advocated that places of education, such as museums and zoos, should be open to all on Sundays. [1] :304 The working week became five days long around 1960, and it was even later before shops were able to open on Sundays.

Medical coroner

Wakley also argued for medical coronerships, and when they were established, he was elected Coroner for West Middlesex in 1839. Consistent with his views, he held inquests into all sudden deaths, including deaths in police custody. He was indefatigable in upholding the interests of the working classes and advocating humanitarian reforms as well as in pursuing his campaign against medical restrictions and abuses, and he made the Lancet not only a professional organ but a powerful engine of social reform. During his term as coroner he held between 25,000 and 30,000 investigations, sometimes delegating responsibility to his son Henry Membury Wakley. Charles Dickens, a frequent guest at Wakley's dinner table, is said to have derived material for "Oliver Twist" from Wakley (inquest on Eliza Burgess, held St. Marylebone Workhouse, January 1840) and was juror on more than one Wakley inquest. Details of many of his cases are held in the reference sections of a number of north and west London reference and local history libraries under the collective title of "Coroner Wakley's Casebook" - a series of books published by CB Wakley between 2015 - 2017.

Flogging

Wakley campaigned against flogging as a punishment for many years. Deaths from flogging in the British Army were not unknown and not surprising when one reads the details. Wakley was Coroner when Private James White, after committing a disciplinary offence, was subjected to 150 lashes of the cat-o'-nine-tails in the Seventh Hussars in 1846 and died a month later after symptoms of 'serious cardiac and pulmonary mischief' were followed by pleurisy and pneumonia. The army doctors, under direct pressure from the colonel of the regiment, signed the certificate saying 'cause of death was in no way connected with the corporal punishment'. Before burial, the vicar communicated with Wakley, who issued a warrant for an inquest. Evidence was given by the Army surgeons, by the hospital physician and orderlies and by independent experts. In the event, it was the evidence of Erasmus Wilson, consulting surgeon the St Pancras Infirmary, who made it clear that the flogging and the death were causally connected. [1] :404 The jury concurred and added a strongly worded rider that expressed their 'horror and disgust that the law of the land provided that the revolting punishment of flogging should be permitted upon British soldiers'. Sprigge added that it was not Wilson's able scientific arguments that convinced the jury, but it was his assertion that had it not been for the flogging, White would be alive. The Army Act of 1881 abolished flogging as a punishment.

Adulteration of foodstuffs

Wakley's last campaigns were against the adulteration of foodstuffs. This was common in Wakley's day, and his opposition was significant in bringing about much-needed reforming legislation. [2] :159–75 To provide evidence, Wakley set up The Lancet Analytical and Sanitary Commission, which provided 'records of the microscopical and chemical analyses of the solids and fluids consumed by all classes of the public'. The methods were devised by Wakley, Sir William Brooke O'Shaughnessy and Dr Arthur Hill Hassall, who was the Commissioner.

The first investigation showed that "it is a fact that coffee is largely adulterated". [11] Of 34 coffees, 31 were adulterated; the three exceptions were of higher price. The main adulteration was chicory, otherwise bean-flour, potato-flour or roasted corn was used. Moreover, it was found that chicory itself was usually adulterated. The Lancet published the names of the genuine traders and threatened the others with exposure if they failed to mend their ways. A second report (26 April 1851) actually carried out the threat. A third report showed that canister coffee was even more adulterated. Investigations of sugar, pepper, bread, tobacco and tea followed, then finally the purity of the water supply. The first Adulteration Act became law in 1860, the second in 1872. The Sale of Food and Drugs Acts of 1875 and 1879 followed. All was achieved by Wakley and his associates.

Related Research Articles

Inquests in England and Wales are held into sudden or unexplained deaths and also into the circumstances of and discovery of a certain class of valuable artefacts known as "treasure trove". In England and Wales, inquests are the responsibility of a coroner, who operates under the jurisdiction of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. In some circumstances where an inquest cannot view or hear all the evidence, it may be suspended and a public inquiry held with the consent of the Home Secretary.

Taunton Grammar School

Taunton Grammar School was an English grammar school in Taunton, Somerset, founded by Bishop Richard Foxe in 1522. It was sometimes called Bishop Foxe's School. The current Bishop Fox's School traces back to Taunton Grammar School.

St Thomass Hospital Medical School London medical school

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Frederick Tyrrell or Tyrell (1793–1843) was an English surgeon.

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Sir Samuel Squire Sprigge was an English physician, medical editor, and medical writer.

John Rutherford Ryley was an Irish-born surgeon who studied medicine in Glasgow, where he learned about Listerian antisepsis from Joseph Lister. He emigrated to New Zealand and introduced antiseptic surgery there in January 1868. Most of his career was then spent in Australia. He took his own life at the age of 46.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Sprigge, Samuel Squire (1899). The life and times of Thomas Wakley. London: Longman Green & Co.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Brook, C (1945). Battling surgeon. Strickland, Glasgow.
  3. 1 2 3 Jones, R (October 2009). "Thomas Wakley, plagiarism, libel and the founding of The Lancet". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine . 102 (10): 404–10. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2009.090144. PMC   2755341 .
  4. 1 2 The concise DNB (Dictionary of National Biography). 1. Oxford University Press. p. 1351.
  5. Paths of Glory. Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery. 1997. p. 102.
  6. Richardson, Ruth. Death, Dissection, and the Destitute.
  7. Burch, D (2007). Digging up the dead: uncovering the life and times of an extraordinary surgeon. London: Chatto & Windus.
  8. Hale-White, W (1935). Great Doctors of the Nineteenth Century. London: Edward Arnold.
  9. 1 2 Desmond, A. (1989). The politics of evolution: morphology, medicine, and reform in radical London. Chicago.
  10. Hooper, David and Whyld, Kenneth 1996. The Oxford companion to chess. 2nd ed, Oxford. 'Newspaper columns', p271, which notes a column in the daily Liverpool Mercury which started in 1813.
  11. The Lancet, 4 January 1851
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Robert Spankie
Thomas Slingsby Duncombe
Member of Parliament for Finsbury
18351852
With: Thomas Slingsby Duncombe
Succeeded by
Thomas Challis
Thomas Slingsby Duncombe