Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Banks, John Thomas

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BANKS, Sir JOHN THOMAS (1815?–1908), physician, was grandson of Percival Banks, surgeon in good practice in Ennis, co. Clare, who came of an English family settled in Ardee, co. Louth, in comfortable circumstances, from the middle of the seventeenth century. His father, also Percival Banks (d. 1848), the youngest of twenty-four children, after much foreign travel, and both naval and military service, succeeded to his father's practice at Ennis, and was later surgeon to the co. Clare Infirmary. John was the second son. His mother, Mary, was sister of Capt. Thomas Ramsay of the 89th regiment. The elder son, Percival Weldon Banks (d. 1850), a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and a barrister of Gray's Inn, took to literature in London, writing as 'Morgan Rattler' in 'Fraser's Magazine' and elsewhere.

John was born in London on 14 Oct., probably in 1815. The year is doubtful, but on entering Trinity College on 6 Feb. 1833 he gave his age as seventeen (MS. Entrance Boole, Trinity College, Dublin). According to his insurance policy, however, he was ninety-five at the time of his death ; if this be correct, he was born in 1812. After attending the grammar school of Ennis he began his medical studies in the school of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland as a pupil of (Sir) Henry Marsh [q. v.], professor of the practice of medicine there. Banks obtained the licence of the college in 1836.

Meanwhile he had in 1833 entered Trinity College, where in 1837 he graduated B.A. and M.B., and in 1843 proceeded M.D. In 1841 he became a licentiate, and in 1844 a fellow, of the King's and Queen's (now Royal) College of Physicians in Ireland. Professional promotion was rapid. In 1842 he was appointed lecturer in medicine in the Carmichael School of Medicine in Dublin, and in 1843 physician to the House of Industry Hospital ; this position he held till his death. In 1847 and 1848 he was censor of the College of Physicians in Ireland. In 1849 he was elected king's professor of the practice of medicine in the school of physic, Trinity College, a post which carried with it duties as physician to Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital. He resigned both these appointments in 1868, but he was afterwards consulting physician to the hospital. In 1851 he became assistant physician, and in 1854 physician, to the Richmond Lunatic Asylum. Among the many Dublin charities at which Banks filled the position of consulting physician in his later years was the Royal City of Dublin Hospital.

Banks was president of the College of Physicians 1869-71. From 1880 to 1898 he was regius professor of physic in the University of Dublin, and from 1880 to his death physician in Ireland successively to Queen Victoria and to King Edward VII. In 1861 Banks became president of the Dublin Pathological Society, and in 1882, when the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland was formed, Banks was chosen its first president. In 1887 the British Medical Association met in Dublin, with Banks in the office of president.

For many years Banks enjoyed a large practice, and his professional and social position alike made him the virtual head of the medical profession of Dublin and Ireland. Papers which he wrote in his younger days gave a promise of valuable scientific work, which he failed to fulfil. But his article on 'Typhus Fever' in Quain's 'Dictionary of Medicine' (1882) was long regarded as an authority. He was recognised as an expert in mental disease, and he so effectually urged the importance of psychological study for medical students and physicians, that to his influence may be partly assigned the inclusion of mental disease in the medical curriculum. In 1868 he published (Dublin Journal of Medical Science, vol. xxxi.) a note on the writ 'De Lunatico Inquirendo' in the case of Dean Swift, which had fallen into his hands.

Banks was always interested in medical education. He represented from 1880 to 1898 at first the Queen's University and then the new Royal University (of both of which he was a senator) on the General Medical Council, where he pleaded for a high standard of general preliminary education. He urged the lengthening of the medical curriculum from four to five years, and he added a medal and a second prize to the medical travelling prize in the school of physic, Trinity College. Banks' s culture, old-fashioned courtesy, and handsome person gave him a high place in social life, and his social engagements probably impaired his devotion to scientific research. He numbered among his friends the leading professional men of Dublin. He was a polished and convincing speaker, an admirable talker, and a writer of clear, scholarly English. In 1883 Banks declined the offer of a knighthood (cf. comment in Punch, 28 July 1883), but in 1889 he accepted the honour of K.C.B. He was made hon. D.Sc. of the Royal University (1882) and hon. LL.D. of Glasgow (1888). Connected by marriage and property with the co. Monaghan, he was a magistrate and deputy-lieutenant of that county, and served as high sheriff in 1891. Banks, whose eye-sight failed in later life without impairing his social activity, died on 16 July 1908 at his residence, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin.

Banks married in 1848 Alice (d. 1899), youngest daughter of Captain Wood Wright of Golagh, co. Monaghan. Their only child, Mary, in 1873 married the Hon. Willoughby Burrell, son of the fourth Baron Gwydyr, and died in 1898, leaving an only surviving child, Catharine Mary Sermonda, wife of John Henniker Heaton the younger.

A portrait by Miss Sara Purser, Hon. R.H.A., painted in 1888, hangs in the Royal College of Physicians, having been presented to the college by the Dublin branch of the British Medical Association. A portrait medal was engraved by Mr. Oliver Sheppard, R.H.A., in 1906 for award to the winner of the travelling medical prize at Trinity, and a medallion from the same design is in the medical school of Trinity College.

[Irish Times, 17 July 1908; Medical Press and Circular (notice by Sir F. R. Cruise), 29 July 1908; Cameron's Hist. of Royal Coll. of Surgeons in Ireland; Todd's Cat. of Graduates in Dublin University; private sources.]

R. J. R.