Smith, John Gordon (DNB00)

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SMITH, JOHN GORDON (1792–1833), professor of medical jurisprudence, born in 1792, was educated at Edinburgh and graduated in the university in 1810 with the highest honours in medicine. He entered the army as a surgeon, and was attached to the 12th lancers at the battle of Waterloo, when he received the thanks of Colonel Ponsonby, whose life he saved, for his services to the wounded. He retired from the army on half-pay when peace was concluded in 1815, and settled in London. Here he found it difficult to establish himself in practice, as he held a Scottish degree only, and was therefore not entitled to practise in England. He accepted the appointment of physician to the Duke of Sutherland, and resided with him for four years, occupying his leisure in composing a work on forensic medicine. At the same time he acted as surgeon to the Royal Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital. He also lectured on medical jurisprudence at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in 1825 and again in 1826, and at the Mechanics' Institute; and in 1829 he was elected the first professor of medical jurisprudence at the London University (now University College) in Gower Street. None of the licensing bodies in London required any evidence of instruction in forensic medicine, and there was consequently no class. Smith lectured for two years, and then resigned his office. For a time he edited the ‘London Medical Repository.’ He died in a debtor's prison, after fifteen months' confinement, on 16 Sept. 1833.

An ardent reformer in politics as well as medicine, Smith was an enthusiastic pioneer of the study of medical jurisprudence, which (Sir) Robert Christison [q. v.] was endeavouring at the same time to set on a scientific basis. Smith fought hard, but again unsuccessfully, to place Scottish and English degrees and licences in medicine upon an equal footing.

He published, besides various contributions to the ‘Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal:’ 1. ‘De Asthmati,’ Edinburgh, 1810. 2. ‘The Principles of Forensic Medicine,’ 8vo, London, 1821; 2nd edit. 1824; 3rd edit. 1827. 3. ‘An Analysis of Medical Evidence,’ London, 8vo, 1825. 4. ‘The Claims of Forensic Medicine,’ 8vo, 1829. 5. ‘Hints for the Examination of Medical Witnesses,’ 12mo, 1829.

[Obituary notice in the Lond. Med. and Surg. Journ. 1833, iv. 287; additional information kindly given by Mr. Henry Young, assistant-secretary to the Royal Institution of Great Britain.]

D’A. P.