Sutherland, John (DNB00)

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SUTHERLAND, JOHN (1808–1891), promoter of sanitary science, was born in Edinburgh in December 1808, and educated at the High School. He became a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1827, and graduated M.D. at the university in 1831. After spending much time on the continent he practised for a short period in Liverpool, where he edited ‘The Liverpool Health of Towns' Advocate’ in 1846. In 1848, at the request of the Earl of Carlisle, he entered the public service as an inspector under the first board of health. He conducted several special inquiries, notably one into the cholera epidemic of 1848–9 (Parl. Papers, 1850 No. 1273, 1852 No. 1523). He was the head of a commission sent to foreign countries to inquire into the law and practice of burial, and he went to the Paris conference on quarantine law in 1851–2, when Louis Napoleon presented him with a gold medal.

In 1855 he was engaged at the home office in bringing into operation the act for abolishing intramural interments (ib. 1856, No. 146). He was also doing duty in the reorganised general board of health when, at the request of Lord Palmerston and Lord Panmure, he became the head of the commission sent to the Crimea to inquire into the sanitary condition of the English soldiers. On 25 Aug. 1855 he came to England for consultation, and was summoned to Balmoral to inform the queen of the steps that had been taken for the benefit of the troops.

He took an active part in the preparation of the report of the royal commission on the health of the army dated 1858 (ib. 1857–58, No. 2318), and also of the report on the state of the army in India, dated 19 May 1863 (ib. 1863, No. 3184). Both reports were of vast importance to the welfare of the soldiers, and most of Sutherland's recommendations were carried out. One of these was the appointment of the barrack and hospital improvement commission, with Sidney Herbert as president and Captain (afterwards Sir Douglas) Galton, Dr. Burrell of the army medical department, and Sutherland as members. This committee visited every barrack and hospital in the United Kingdom, and the sanitary arrangements of each were reported on. Defects were brought to light and remedied, and the health of the troops consequently improved (ib. 1861, No. 2839). Subsequently Dr. Sutherland and Captain Galton visited and made reports on the Mediterranean stations, including the Ionian Islands (ib. 1863, No. 3207).

In 1862 the barrack and hospital improvement commission was reconstituted with the quartermaster-general as president and Sutherland as a prominent member. The title was altered to the army sanitary committee in 1865 (ib. 1865, No. 424). Two Indian officers were added, and all sanitary reports were submitted to the committee and suggestions for improving Indian stations prepared. This arrangement remained in force until Sutherland's retirement on 30 June 1888, when he was appointed a medical superintending inspector-general of the board of health and home office.

Sutherland continued his beneficent work to within a few years of his death, which took place at Oakleigh, Alleyne Park, Norwood, Surrey, on 14 July 1891.

Sutherland published ‘General Board of Health Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Epidemic Districts in London, with special reference to the threatened Visitation of Cholera,’ 1852; and a reply to Sir John Hall's ‘Observations on the Report of the Sanitary Commission despatched to the Seat of the War in the East,’ 1857, to which Hall made a rejoinder in 1858. Sutherland edited the ‘Journal of Public Health and Monthly Record of Sanitary Improvement,’ 1847–8.

[Lancet, 25 July 1891, pp. 205–6; Times, 24 July 1891, p. 8; Illustrated London News, 1 Aug. 1891, p. 135, with portrait.]

G. C. B.