Baker, George (1722-1809) (DNB00)

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BAKER, Sir GEORGE (1722–1809), physician, was the son of the vicar of Modbury, Devonshire, and was born in that county in 1722. He was educated at Eton and at King's College, Cambridge, of which college he became a fellow and graduated in 1745. He proceeded M.D. in 1756, and the following year was elected a fellow of the College of Physicians. He began to practise at Stamford in Lincolnshire, but in 1761 settled in London. He soon attained a large practice,and became F.R.S., physician to the queen and to the king, and a baronet in 1776. Between 1785 and 1795 he was nine times elected president of the College of Physicians, and in his own day was famed for deep medical learning. He was a constant admirer of literature as well as of science, and wrote graceful Latin prose and amusing epigrams. Baker made an important addition to medical knowledge in the discovery that the Devonshire colic and the colica Pictonum were forms of lead-poisoning. That lead would produce similar symptoms was known, but no one had suggested the connection between these forms of colic and lead, and they were reputed endemic to the soil or climate of Devonshire and of Poitou. Baker, as a Devonshire man, was familiar with the disease. He noticed that it was most common where most cider was made in Devonshire, and that in Herefordshire, where cider was also a local production, colic was almost unknown. He inquired into the process of manufacture, and found that in the structure of the Devonshire presses and vats large pieces of lead were used, while in Herefordshire stone, wood, and iron formed all the apparatus. That colic and constipation, followed by palsy, might be produced by lead, was known. Baker completed his argument by extracting lead from Devonshire cider and showing that there was none in that of Herefordshire. Great was the storm that arose. He was denounced as a faithless son of Devonshire; the lead discovered was said to be due to shot left in the bottles after cleaning, the colic to acid humours of the body (Alcock, The Endemial Colic of Devon not caused by a Solution of Lead in the Cider, Plymouth, 1768, &c.) Baker extended and repeated his experiments, and at last convinced the Devonians, so that from that time forth leaden vessels were disused, and with their disuse colic ceased to be endemic in Devonshire. In other essays Baker traced other unsuspected ways in which lead-poisoning might occur, as from leaden water-pipes, from tinned linings of iron vessels, from the glaze of earthenware, and from large doses of medicinal preparations of lead. He examined the subsequent symptoms in detail, and left the whole subject clear and in perfect order. His other works are, a graduation thesis, 1755; a Harveian oration, 1761 ; 'On the Epidemic Influenza and Dysentery of 1762,' 1764 ; the preface to the 'Pharmacopeia' of 1788, all in Latin; and in English 'An Inquiry into the Merits of a Method of Inoculating the Small-pox,' 1766, and some other medical essays contained in the collected edition of his 'Medical Tracts' published by his son in 1818. His portrait was painted by Ozias Humphrey, R.A., and is preserved at the College of Physicians. Baker retired from active practice in 1798, and after a healthy old age died on 15 June 1809. He is buried in St. James's Church, Piccadilly.

[Munk's Roll, ii. 213; Baker's Medical Tracts, &c.]

N. M.