Bristowe, John Syer (DNB01)

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BRISTOWE, JOHN SYER (1827–1895), physician, born in Camberwell on 19 Jan. 1827, was the eldest son of John Syer Bristowe, a medical practitioner in Camberwell, and Mary Chesshyre his wife. He was educated at Enfield and King's College schools, and entered at St. Thomas's Hospital as a medical student in 1840. Here he took most of the principal prizes, securing the highest distinction, the treasurer's gold medal, in 1848, and in the same year he obtained the gold medal of the Apothecaries' Society for botany. In 1849 he was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and on 2 Aug. 1849 he received the licence of the Society of Apothecaries. In 1850 he took the degree of M.B. of the university of London, gaining the scholarship and medal in surgery and the medals in anatomy and materia medica; in 1852 he was admitted M.D. of the London University.

In 1849 he was house surgeon at St. Thomas's Hospital, and in the following year he was appointed curator of the museum and pathologist to the hospital. He was elected assistant physician in 1854, and during the next few years he held several teaching posts, being appointed lecturer on botany in 1859, on materia medica inl860, on general anatomy and physiology in I860, on pathology in 1870. In 1860 he was elected full physician, and in 1876 he became lecturer on medicine, a post which he held until his retirement in 1892, when he became consulting physician to the hospital.

He served many important offices at the Royal College of Physicians. Elected a fellow in 1858, he was an examiner in medicine in 1869 and 1870. In 1872 he was Croonian lecturer, choosing for his subject 'Disease and its Medical Treatment;' in 1879 he was Lumleian lecturer on 'The Pathological Relations of Voice and Speech.' He was censor in 1876, 1886, 1887, 1888, and senior censor in 1889. He was examiner in medicine at the universities of Oxford and London, at the Royal College of Surgeons, and at the war office. He was also medical officer of health for Camberwell (1856-95). physician to the Commercial Union Assurance Company, and to Westminster school.

In 1881 he was elected F.R.S., and the honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him at the tercentenary of the Edinburgh University in 1884. He was president of the Pathological Society of London in 1885, of the Neurological Society in 1891, and of the Medical Society of London in 1893. In this year he delivered the Lettsomian lectures on 'Syphilitic Affections of the Nervous System.' He was also president of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, of the Hospitals Association, and of the metropolitan counties' branch of the British Medical Association. In 1887 his term of office as physician to St. Thomas's Plospital having expired, he was appointed for a further term of five years at the unanimous request of his colleagues.

Bristowe died on 20 Aug. 1895 at Monmouth, and is buried at Norwood cemetery. A three-quarter-length portrait by his daughter, Miss Beatrice M. Bristowe, hangs in the committee-room at St. Thomas's Hospital. The bulk of the subscriptions collected on his retirement from St. Thomas's Hospital in 1892 was used to found a medal to be awarded for proficiency in the science of pathology. He married, on 9 Oct. 1856, Miriam Isabelle, eldest surviving daughter of Joseph P. Stearns of Dulwich, by whom he had five sons and five daughters.

Dr. Bristowe's reputation rests chiefly upon his great power of teaching students at the bedside, for in this he was facile princeps among the physicians of his own time. The faculty seemed to depend on a most retentive memory for detail, a thoroughly logical mind, an inability to accept anything as a fact until he had proved it to be so to his own satisfaction, and a very complete mastery of the science of pathology. As a physician his reputation stood highest in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the nervous system, though he took almost an equal interest In diseases of the chest and abdomen. The problems of sanitary science, too, afibrded him a constant gratification, and he communicated to the public health department of the privy council a series of important reports 'On Phosphorus Poisoning in Match Manufacture' (1862), 'On Infection by Rags and Paper Works' (1865), 'On the Cattle Plague' (1866) in conjunction with Professor (Sir) J. Burdon Sanderson, and 'On the Hospitals of the United Kingdom' jointly with Mr. Timothy Holmes. He had considerable skill as a draughtsman, and many of the microscopical drawings to be found in his books were the work of his own hand. In particular his figures of trichina spiralis, a parasitic worm in the muscles of man, have been copied into many text-books.

Bristowe published: 1. 'Poems,' London, 1850, 8vo; towards the end of his life he issued another small volume of poems for private circulation. 2. 'A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Medicine,' London, 1876, 8vo; the 7th edit, was issued in 1890. This work immediately became one of the principal text-books of medicine for students and practitioners in all English-speaking countries; the chapters on insanity form one of the most valuable portions of the book. 3. 'Clinical Lectures and Essays on Diseases of the Nervous System,' 1888, 8vo. 4. 'Annual Reports of the Medical Officer of Health to the Vestry of St. Giles, Camberwell, Surrey,' London, 1857-82, 8vo. He also edited the 'St. Thomas's Hospital Reports,' 1870-76.

[Personal knowledge; information kindly contributed by Mr. L. S. Bristowe, barrister-at-law ; St. Thomas's Hospital Eeports, new series, 1894, xxiii. 18.]

D’A. P.