Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brodie, Benjamin Collins (1783-1862)

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BRODIE, Sir BENJAMIN COLLINS, the elder (1783–1862), sergeant-surgeon to the queen, was born at Winterslow in Wiltshire, in 1783. He was fourth child of Peter Bellinger Brodie, rector of the parish, who had been educated at Charterhouse and Worcester College, Oxford. His mother was daughter of Mr. Benjamin Collins, a banker at Salisbury. From his father, who was well versed in general literature, and a good Greek and Latin scholar, Brodie received his early education. In 1797, when the country was alarmed by the prospect of a French invasion, Brodie and two brothers raised a company of volunteers. At the age of eighteen he went up to London, to enter upon the medical profession. There he devoted himself at once to the study of anatomy, attending first the lectures of Abernethy, and in 1801 and 1802 those of Wilson at the Hunterian school in Great Windmill Street, working hard in the dissecting-room. He learned pharmacy in the shop of Mr. Clifton of Leicester Square, one of the licentiates of the Apothecaries' Company. At this time Brodie formed a friendship with William Lawrence, the celebrated surgeon, which was continued through life, and he was joint secretary with Sir Henry Ellis of an 'Academical Society,' to which many eminent writers belonged. The society had been removed from Oxford to London, and was dissolved early in the present century.

In the spring of 1803 Brodie entered at St. George's Hospital as a pupil under Sir Everard Home, and was appointed house-surgeon in 1805, and afterwards demonstrator to the anatomical school. When his term of office had expired, he assisted Home in his private operations, and in his researches on comparative anatomy. He diligently pursued for some years the study of anatomy, demonstrating in the Windmill Street school, and lecturing conjointly with Wilson until the year 1812. He was elected assistant-surgeon to St. George's Hospital in 1808, an appointment which he held for fourteen years, and in the next year entered upon private practice, taking a house in Sackville Street for the purpose. In 1808 he was elected a member of the Society for the Promotion of Medical and Chirurgical Knowledge, a society limited to twelve members, founded by Dr. John Hunter and Dr. Fordyce in 1793, and dissolved in 1818. At this period he contributed his first paper - the results of original physiological inquiries - to the 'Philosophical Transactions,' and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1810. During the winter of 1810-11 he communicated to the society two papers, one 'On the Influence of the Brain on the Action of the Heart and the Generation of Animal Heat ;' the other 'On the Effects produced by certain Vegetable Poisons (Alcohol, Tobacco, Woorara, &c.),' the first of which formed the Croonian lecture. So favourable was the impression he produced that the council awarded him the Copley medal in 1811, when he was twenty-eight years of age. His unremitting devotion to the work of his profession, without holiday for the period of ten years, now told seriously upon his health, but change of air and rest enabled him to resume his duties. His interest when he was house-surgeon having been excited by a case of spontaneous dislocation of the hip, he was led to study other cases of disease of the joints, and in 1813 he contributed a paper to the 'Medico-Chirurgical Transactions,' which formed the basis of his treatise on 'Diseases of the Joints,' published in 1818. This work went through five editions, and translations of it appeared in other countries. He again delivered the Croonian lecture at the Royal Society on the action of the muscles in general and of the heart in particular, and at this time performed the experiment of passing a ligature round the choledoch duct, the results of which were given in Brande's 'Journal.' In a paper on 'Varicose Veins of the Leg,' published in the seventh volume of the 'Medico-Chirurgical Transactions,' he described the first subcutaneous operation on record.

He married in 1816 the daughter of Serjeant Sellon, a lawyer of repute, and as practice steadily increased he removed in 1819 to Savile Row. In the same year he was appointed professor of comparative anatomy and physiology at the Royal College of Surgeons, and delivered four courses of lectures. While he held this office he was summoned to attend George IV, and assisted at an operation for the removal of a tumour of the scalp from which the king suffered. He was elected surgeon to St. George's Hospital in 1822, and his time was now busily employed with his hospital duties and lectures and an increasing and lucrative practice. In his attendance upon the king during the illness which terminated fatally he used to be at Windsor at six o'clock in the morning, staying to converse with the king, with whom Brodie was a favourite. When William IV succeeded to the throne, Brodie was promptly made sergeant-surgeon (1832), and two years afterwards a baronet. His lectures on diseases of the urinary organs were published in 1832, and those illustrative of local nervous affections in 1837. The numerous papers which he wrote from time to time will be found in his 'Collected Works.' In 1837 he travelled abroad in France for the first time.

In 1854 he published anonymously 'Psychological Inquiries,' essays in conversational form, intended to illustrate the mutual relations of the physical organisation and the mental faculties. In 1862 a second series followed, to which he put his name. He was elected president of the Royal Society in 1858, and this office he resigned in 1861, when he found that failing eyesight interfered with the discharge of the duties. He was president of the Royal College of Surgeons (1844), having been for many years examiner and member of the council, and having introduced important improvements into the system of examinations. He was also president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical, and of other learned societies. The estimation in which he was universally held is shown by his connection with the Institute of France, the Academy of Medicine of Paris, the Royal Academy of Sciences of Stockholm, and the National Institution of Washington, and the university of Oxford conferred upon him the degree of D.C.L. He died at Broome Park, Surrey, in the eightieth year of his age, from a painful disease of the shoulder, 21 Oct. 1862. His wife had died two years previously. As a surgeon Brodie was a successful operator, distinguished for coolness and knowledge, a steady hand, and a quick eye; but the prevention of disease was in his opinion higher than operative surgery, and his strength was diagnosis. An accurate observer, his memory was very retentive, and he was never at a loss for some previous case which threw light upon the knotty points in a consultation. Unflinching against quackery, he was instrumental in bringing St. John Long to justice, and his precise evidence in the witness-box was effective against the poisoner Palmer. His life was spent in active work, and he devoted it to the arrest of disease.

[Autobiography in Collected Works, ed. Hawkins, 1865; Biography by H. W. Acland; Lancet, 1862; British Medical Journal, 1862.]

R. E. T.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.37
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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379 ii 14 f.e. Brodie, Sir Benjamin C.: after examinations insert He was elected first president of the General Medical Council 23 Nov. 1858