Heysham, John (DNB00)

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HEYSHAM, JOHN, M.D. (1753–1834), physician, born at Lancaster on 22 Nov. 1753, was the son of John Heysham, shipowner, by Anne Cumming, the daughter of a Westmoreland ‘statesman.’ He was educated at a school kept by quakers at Yealand, near Burton, Westmoreland, and then apprenticed for five years to a surgeon at Burton. In 1774 he joined the medical classes at Edinburgh, and graduated M.D. in 1777. His thesis was ‘De rabie canina,’ a disease of which no case in man or dog ever occurred in his own experience. In 1778 he settled in practice at Carlisle, and resided there until his death on 23 March 1834. He was buried in St. Mary's Church, and a memorial window has been placed at the east end of the south aisle of the cathedral. His practice at no time exceeded 400l. a year. In 1779 he began the statistical observations by which he is best known: a record of the annual births, marriages, diseases, and deaths in Carlisle for ten years (to 1788), including a census of the inhabitants in 1780, and again in 1788. These statistics, which were published with remarks on them at Carlisle in 1797, were used in 1816 by Joshua Milne, actuary of the Sun Life Assurance Office, as the basis of the well-known Carlisle Table. Heysham was also a naturalist, his observations on the flora and fauna of his district being recorded in Hutchinson's ‘History of Cumberland.’ He was intimate with the cathedral dignitaries, and is conjectured to have assisted Archdeacon Paley on questions of structural design in nature. He published also ‘An Account of the Jail Fever at Carlisle in 1781,’ London, 1782. In Nichols's ‘Literary Illustrations’ (viii. 267) there is a letter of Bishop Percy, in which he recommends Heysham; and a letter of Heysham's to Percy is in the same collection (viii. 357). With the help of the dean and chapter he established the first dispensary for the poor at Carlisle. Having been a strong tory and supporter of the Lonsdale family most of his life, he joined the reform movement in 1832. His informal conduct as a justice of the peace, together with other personal traits, are fully and amusingly described by his biographer.

[The Life of John Heysham, M.D., and his correspondence with Mr. Joshua Milne relative to the Carlisle Bills of Mortality, by H. Lonsdale, M.D., London, 1870.]

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