Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Acland, Henry Wentworth

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ACLAND, Sir HENRY WENTWORTH (1815–1900), physician, fourth son of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland [q. v.], was born at Killerton, Exeter, on 23 Aug. 1816. Sir Thomas Dyke Acland [q. v. Suppl.] was his elder brother. Henry was educated first by Mr. Fisher, a private tutor, to whom he owed much, and afterwards at Harrow School, which he entered between August 1828 and April 1829; he was placed in Mr. Phelps's house, where, without achieving any special distinction, he became a monitor, a member of the football eleven, and a racquet player. He left school at Easter 1832, but did not matriculate at Christ Church, Oxford, until 23 Oct. 1834, and graduated B.A. in 1840, M.A. 1842, M.B. in 1846, and M.D. in 1848. At Christ Church he made the acquaintance of John Ruskin, his junior by four years, while both were undergraduates. Acland was by nature of an artistic, enthusiastic, and romantic temperament, which strongly appealed to Ruskin, and the two men became lifelong friends. In 1838, being in delicate health, Acland spent nearly two years out of England, for the most part cruising in the Mediterranean as a guest on board H.M.S. Pembroke. While there he visited the eastern shores of the Levant to study the site of the ancient city of Pergamos, and to explore the banks of the Simois and Scamander. One of the results of his 'three visits to the Troad was an account of the plains of Troy, with a panoramic drawing, which was published by James Wyatt at Oxford in 1839. He also made careful drawings of the sites of the seven churches of Asia mentioned by St. Paul.

In 1840 Acland was elected fellow of All Souls' College, Oxford, and in the same year, following the wish of his father, he commenced the study of medicine, entering himself, by the advice of Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie [q. v.], at St. George's Hospital, London. During 1842 he worked hard at microscopy with John Thomas Quekett [q. v.], and attended the lectures of (Sir) Richard Owen [q. v.] upon comparative anatomy. In 1843 he migrated to Edinburgh, where he lived with William Pulteney Alison (1790–1859), the university professor of medicine. In 1844 he gained the gold medal given in the class of medical jurisprudence for the best essay on 'Feigned Insanity.' In 1845 he returned to Oxford on being appointed Lee's reader of anatomy at Christ Church, Oxford. That position he held until 1858. It was while Lee's reader that he began, under the inspiration of Alison and Goodsir, to form at Christ Church an anatomical and physiological series on the plan of the Hunterian Museum in London, then under the care and exposition of Richard Owen. In 1846 he was admitted a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of London, being elected a fellow of the college in 1850, and delivering the Harveian oration in 1865, the first occasion on which it was given in English. He served the office of 'conciliarius' in the college during the years 1882-3-4. Meanwhile, in 1847, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

Acland's professional position at Oxford grew rapidly in importance and influence. In 1851 he was appointed physician to the Radcliffe infirmary at Oxford, and Aldrichian professor of clinical medicine in succession to Dr. John Kidd (1776–1851) [q. v.] In 1851 also he was appointed Radcliffe librarian, the library being then in the building now known as the Radcliffe Camera. He resigned the Lee's readership in 1858 upon his nomination to the high post of regius professor of medicine in the university of Oxford and master of Ewelme Hospital. He remained regius professor until 1894, and continued to hold the office of Radcliffe librarian until a few months before his death in 1900. Acland was also a curator of the Oxford University galleries and of the Bodleian library. In 1860 he was elected an honorary student of Christ Church.

Outside Oxford Acland's medical attainments also gained marked recognition. When the General Medical Council was established in 1858 Acland was chosen to represent the university. He continued a member of the council for twenty-nine years, during thirteen of which (1874-87) he was president. He was local secretary of the British Association in 1847 when it met for the second time at Oxford, and in 1868 he was president of the British Medical Association. In 1860 he visited, America as a member of the suite of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, and on his return to England was appointed an honorary physician to his royal highness. He was also physician to H. R.H. Prince Leopold, afterwards the Duke of Albany, while he was an undergraduate at Oxford.

Acland was a man of wide sympathies and great versatility, who, by the accidents of time and position, was able to exercise a unique influence on the teaching of medicine and science at Oxford. Entering the university as a teacher while he was still a young man, he found it almost mediaeval in the character of its medical studies and methods. He lived to see the faculty of medicine flourishing, in good repute, and equipped with the latest means of scientific investigation. But he was strongly opposed to the idea of making Oxford merely a medical school in the strictly medical sense. He wished to give every medical graduate of Oxford an opportunity of gaining the wide culture for which the university has long been famed. He maintained that it was the function of the university to give a liberal education in 'arts,' and that all the sciences ancillary to medicine could be well and profitably taught within its walls. He was of opinion, however, that purely professional medical studies could be pursued to greater advantage in the metropolis and other large centres of population than in Oxford. Impressed with these views, and convinced that the whole question of the teaching of natural science in Oxford depended upon their adoption, he strove hard to introduce biology and chemistry into the ordinary curriculum. In this effort he was brilliantly successful in the face of the most determined opposition, and especial credit must be given to him for this success, because others, perhaps equally farsighted, had given up the endeavour in despair and without a struggle in the belief that the project was impossible. To accomplish his end Acland had the good fortune to gather round him such firm friends and strong allies as Dean Liddell, Canon Pusey, Dean Church, Bishop Jacobson, Dean Stanley, and many others, by whose aid success was at last achieved.

During the early years of his tenure of the regius professorship the university was roused from the apathy into which it had fallen as to both the study of modern science, and the teaching of medicine, and Acland devoted the best years of his life to establish on a sound basis a great institution which should encourage research and study in every branch of natural science, especially in relation to the practice of medicine. This institution is now known as the Oxford Museum. In his efforts to bring his scheme to fruition he had the sympathy and aid of his friend Ruskin, who assisted him to obtain, and even made some drawings for, the projected building; and Ruskin contributed to a sketch of the museum's objects, which Acland published under the title of 'The Oxford Museum' in 1859. The foundation-stone of the building was laid on 20 June 1855, and it was opened in 1861. It forms a nucleus which, it is hoped, will ultimately be the centre of a cluster of buildings equipped for the study of the whole realm of nature. In 1862, at Acland's suggestion and on the advice of Sidney Herbert and W. E. Gladstone, the Radcliffe trustees allowed the collections of scientific and medical books which formed the Radcliffe library to be moved from the Radcliffe Camera to the new museum, at the same time increasing the annual grant for the purchase of books. The museum was thus put into possession of a first-rate scientific library.

Acland devoted much time and thought to the subject of state medicine, for he saw early its relation to the morality and well-being not only of this country but of the whole civilised world. In 1869 he served on a royal commission to investigate the sanitary laws in England and Wales, and he wrote at various times a considerable number of pamphlets to show the effect of sanitation upon the health of individuals, communities, and nations. He also did his best to improve the sanitary conditions of Oxford and of Marsh Gibbon, a village in which he was interested as a trustee.

Acland's services to medicine and medical education were accorded high honours. In 1883 he was made a companion of the Bath, being promoted K.C.B. in 1884, and in 1890 he was created a baronet. Among many other honorary distinctions Acland was both M.D. and LL.D. of Dublin, D.C.L. of Durham, a member of the medical and philosophical societies of Philadelphia, Christiania, Athens, New York, and Massachusetts, He was also a knight of the rose of Brazil, an order conferred upon him in recognition of his services in the investigation of cholera in 1856.

Acland died at his house in Broad Street on 16 Oct. 1900, and was buried in Holywell cemetery at Oxford on the 19th.

He married, on 14 July 1846, Sarah, the eldest daughter of William Cotton (1786-1866) [q. v.], by whom he had seven sons and one daughter. His eldest son, William Alison Dyke Acland, captain R.N., succeeded to the baronetcy. Mrs. Acland died on 25 Oct. 1878, and the Sarah Acland nursing home at Oxford was founded and endowed in her memory.

A half-length portrait in oils of Sir Henry Acland, painted by Mr. W. W. Ouless, R.A., was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1886; it is now in the possession of his son, Dr. Theodore Dyke Acland.

Acland published:

  1. 'The Plains of Troy. Hlustrated by a Panoramic Drawing taken on the spot, and a Map constructed after the latest Survey,' Oxford, 1839, 8vo and fol.
  2. 'Letter from a Student on some Moral Difficulties in his Studies,' London, 1841, 8vo.
  3. 'Feigned Insanity: how most usually simulated and how best detected,' London, 1844, 8vo.
  4. 'Remarks on the Extension of Education at the University of Oxford,' Oxford, 1848, 8vo.
  5. 'Synopsis of the Physiological Series in the Christ Church Museum, arranged for the use of Students after the plan of the Hunterian Collection,' Oxford, 1854, 4to; an interesting work, as it shows the influence exercised by his London and Edinburgh teachers modified by his Oxford surroundings.
  6. 'Memoir of the Cholera at Oxford in the year 1854, with considerations suggested by the Epidemic. Maps and Plans,' London, 1856, 4to.
  7. 'Notes on Drainage, with especial reference to the Sewers and Swamps of the Upper Thames,' London, 1857, 8vo.
  8. 'The Oxford Museum,' Oxford, 1859, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1860; 3rd edit. 1861; reprinted with additions in 1893. (The first and second editions and the reprint contain letters from Ruskin.)
  9. 'Biographical Sketch of Sir Benjamin Brodie,' London, 1864, 8vo.
  10. 'The Harveian Oration,' London, 1865, 8 vo.
  11. 'Medical Education: a Letter addressed to the authorities of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins University,' Baltimore, 1879, 8vo; the letter is valuable because it shows what debt the most modern university in the United States owes to its mother in England.
  12. 'William Stokes: a Sketch drawn for the New Sydenham Society,' London, 1882, 8vo.
  13. 'Health in the Village,' London, 1884, 8vo.
  14. 'Village Health and Village Life,' London, 1884, 8vo.

[Personal knowledge; Sir Henry Acland's Works; Biography in 'Contemporary Medical Men and their Professional Work' (Leicester, 1888, vol. i.); obituary notices in the Times, 17 Oct. 1900, the Lancet, 1900, ii. 1158, and the British MedicalJournal, 1900, ii. 1281; Collingwood's Life of John Ruskin, 1893; information kindly given by Dr. Theodore Dyke Acland.]

D’A. P.