Johnson, James (1777-1845) (DNB00)

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JOHNSON, JAMES (1777–1845), physician, was born at Ballinderry, county of Derry, Ireland, in February 1777. His family, whose name was originally spelt Johnstone, had migrated from Scotland, and become possessed of a small farm, on which his father lived. He lost his parents early, received the rudiments of a scanty education at a school in his native parish, and at the age of fifteen was apprenticed to a surgeon-apothecary at Port Glenone, co. Antrim. Here he stayed two years; he passed two more at Belfast, and then moved to London, where he arrived without money or friends, in order to finish his medical education. While supporting himself as an apothecary's assistant he contrived, by hard study and irregular attendance on lectures, to pass a creditable examination at Surgeons' Hall in 1798. He was immediately appointed surgeon's mate in the navy, and sailed to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, visiting the naval hospitals whenever his ship was in harbour. In January 1800 he passed his second examination, and in February he was made full surgeon and was appointed to the Cynthia sloop-of-war. He accompanied the expedition to Egypt, but was forced to return to London invalided. He spent the winter in studying anatomy at the theatre in Great Windmill Street, and in June 1801 obtained an appointment to the Driver sloop-of-war, and served in the North Sea. At the peace of 1802 he was again out of employ for a time; but in the following year (May) sailed for the East, and did not return to England till January 1806. He published a lively account of his voyage with the title, ‘The Oriental Voyager, or Descriptive Sketches and Cursory Remarks on a Voyage to India and China in His Majesty's ship Caroline, performed in the years 1803–4–5–6,’ &c., 1807. In 1808 he was appointed to the Valiant of 74 guns, in which ship he remained nearly five years, and saw much active service. He attended the disastrous expedition to Walcheren in 1809, and was there attacked with ague. In 1812 he published ‘The Influence of Tropical Climates on European Constitutions,’ as the result of his own observations in the East. It reached a sixth edition in 1841, under the supervision of Sir James R. Martin, who made some valuable additions.

At the peace of 1814 Johnson served in the Impregnable, when the Duke of Clarence (afterwards William IV) conveyed the emperor of Russia and the king of Prussia to this country. He attended the duke for a slight attack of fever, was thereupon appointed his surgeon-in-ordinary, enjoyed much friendly intercourse with him, and, after the duke's accession to the throne in 1830, became physician extraordinary.

In 1814, after the end of the long war, Johnson was placed on half-pay, and settled in general practice at Portsmouth. There he commenced in 1816 his well-known ‘Medico-Chirurgical Review.’ Originally undertaken in conjunction with Drs. Shirley Palmer and William Shearman, it was at first called the ‘Medico-Chirurgical Journal,’ and appeared in monthly numbers. But in 1818 Johnson removed to London, and thenceforth conducted the review at his own pecuniary risk, and under his sole editorial management, in quarterly numbers. The contents, almost all of which were written by Johnson himself, were mainly analytical; the work obtained a wide and profitable circulation, and was for several years reprinted in America. In January 1836 Sir John Forbes [q. v.] began the publication of his ‘British and Foreign Medical Review,’ which interfered to some extent with the circulation of Johnson's periodical. Johnson consequently introduced some modification into his plan, and in his later volumes associated his son, Henry James Johnson, with himself as editor. He retired from the editorship in October 1844. The last ‘new series’ (6 vols., 1845–7) was chiefly under the editorship of Dr. Gavin Milroy [q. v.], though his name does not appear on the title-page. An index to vols. i–xx. was published in 1834. In 1848 Johnson's and Forbes's rival reviews were amalgamated under the title, ‘British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review.’

Johnson is said to have graduated M.D. at Aberdeen in 1813; but on 3 June 1821 he proceeded M.D. at St. Andrews; and on 25 June of the same year he was admitted a licentiate of the London College of Physicians. His practice in London gradually grew, but his health showed early signs of failure. He died while on a visit to Brighton on 10 Oct. 1845, and was buried at Kensal Green. In the autumn of 1806 he married Miss Charlotte Wolfenden of Lambeg, county of Antrim, who survived him; by her he had six children. His portrait, by J. Wood, was engraved by William Holl [q. v.] Johnson was a man of much ability, industry, and religious feeling. He was a good practitioner, and the author of some popular medical works.

Besides the works already mentioned he wrote: 1. ‘The Influence of the Atmosphere on the Health of the Human Frame, with researches on Gout and Rheumatism,’ 8vo, London, 1818. 2. ‘Practical Researches on the Nature, Cure, and Prevention of Gout, with a critical Examination of some celebrated Remedies and Modes of Treatment,’ 8vo, London, 1819. 3. ‘Treatise on Derangements of the Liver, Internal Organs, and Nervous System,’ 3rd edit. 8vo, London, 1820. 4. ‘Essay on Morbid Sensibility of the Stomach and Bowels as the proximate Cause or characteristic Condition of Indigestion, Nervous Irritability, &c.,’ 4th edit. 8vo, London, 1827. 5. ‘The Economy of Health, or the Stream of Human Life; with Reflections on the Septennial Phases of Human Existence,’ 2nd edit. 8vo, London, 1837. 6. ‘Pilgrimages to the Spas in pursuit of Health and Recreation, with Inquiry into the merits of different Mineral Waters,’ 8vo, London, 1841. 7. ‘Excursions to the principal Mineral Waters of England,’ 8vo, London, 1843. 8. ‘Tour in Ireland, with Meditations and Reflections,’ 8vo, London, 1844.

[Life by his son, Henry James Johnson, in Med.-Chir. Rev. January 1846, also published in a separate form; Med. Times, xiii. 114; Munk's Coll. of Phys. iii. 238; London Med. Directory, p. 185, 1846, from Cormack's Journal.]

W. A. G.