Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gamgee, Joseph Sampson

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1152721Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 20 — Gamgee, Joseph Sampson1889George Thomas Bettany

GAMGEE, JOSEPH SAMPSON (1828–1886), surgeon, eldest son of Joseph Gamgee, veterinary surgeon, now of Edinburgh, was born on 17 April 1828 at Leghorn, where his father was then residing. In 1829 the family removed to Florence, where young Gamgee was educated first at a private school, and afterwards at the public school. In 1847 he went to London, and entered as a student at the Royal Veterinary College, his father desiring him to follow his own profession. An introduction to Moncreiff Arnott, professor of surgery at University College, who gave him admission to his classes, followed by admission in 1848–9 to Professor Sharpey's and Dr. C. J. B. Williams's lectures, led the latter, who was pleased with his work, to suggest his joining the medical profession. This he did, first obtaining a veterinary diploma. In the University College medical school Gamgee was a most successful student, gaining several gold medals, and the Liston prize for surgery in 1853. In 1854 he became M.R.C.S. Engl., and early in 1855 was appointed surgeon to the British Italian Legion and had charge of the hospital at Malta during the Crimean war.

In 1857 Gamgee was appointed surgeon to the Queen's Hospital, Birmingham, and his services to the hospital and the medical school connected with it were of the highest value for many years. The structural arrangements of the hospital were largely improved and its funds benefited by his exertions. In 1873 he was mainly instrumental in starting the ‘Hospital Saturday’ collections in Birmingham, especially in factories and workshops, and his services were recognised by a presentation of four hundred guineas and an address by residents of Birmingham. This was but a sample of his services in matters of public health and medical reform. He was at various times president of the Birmingham and Midland branch of the British Medical Association and of the Birmingham Medical Institute. He was strongly opposed to indiscriminate hospital relief, and advocated thorough reorganisation of hospital out-patient departments. He vigorously supported the claims of the members of the Royal College of Surgeons to direct representation on its council, and of the members of the profession to direct representation on the general medical council. During the Franco-German war (1870–1) he was secretary of the Birmingham Society for Aid to the Wounded, and turned his surgery into an ambulance depôt. In 1881, after a severe attack of hæmaturia, he retired from active hospital work, and was appointed consulting surgeon; but he continued to carry on a considerable practice. About the end of September 1886, while staying at Dartmouth, he slipped and fell, fracturing the neck of the femur. Later this injury was followed by uræmic poisoning, of which he died on 18 Sept., in his fifty-ninth year. He married in 1860 Miss Marion Parker, by whom he had seven children, of whom two sons and two daughters survived him. Mrs. Gamgee wrote all his works from his dictation, and materially aided in his literary work.

Gamgee was a surgeon of great practical skill and marked individuality. He was a strenuous advocate of the treatment of wounds by dry and infrequent dressing, and by rest and immobility, and he was an opponent of the extremes of Listerism. In 1853, at Florence, he had met the eminent Belgian surgeon, Baron Sentin, who had introduced the treatment of fractures by starched apparatus and bandages, and this treatment was the subject of his Liston prize essay and of his lifelong teaching. Several of his surgical appliances were largely adopted, especially by the army medical department, and his cotton wool absorbent pads, gauze tissue, and his millboard and paper splints are very widely used. The use of cotton wool was first suggested to him by reading Mathias Mayor's ‘La Chirurgie Simplifiée,’ Brussels, 1842; but its improved manufacture in an antiseptic condition was largely due to his suggestions. He was a brilliant operator, an excellent teacher, and a thoughtful and acute surgical attendant. His command of several continental languages gave him an extensive acquaintance with continental medical men and literature. For many years he was a frequent contributor to the ‘Lancet.’ A dramatic, fluent, and enthusiastic speaker, he had great influence on general and profesprofessional audiences. A conservative and churchman, he was tolerant and liberal-minded, and was much valued as a friend. He was most helpful to younger practitioners, and a great benefactor to the poor.

Gamgee wrote, besides several pamphlets:

  1. ‘On the Advantages of the Starched Apparatus in the Treatment of Fractures and Diseases of the Joints,’ 1853.
  2. ‘Reflections on Petit's Operation, and on Purgatives after Herniotomy,’ 1855.
  3. ‘Researches in Pathological Anatomy and Clinical Surgery,’ 1856.
  4. ‘Medical Reform, a Social Question,’ two letters to Viscount Palmerston, 1857.
  5. ‘History of a successful case of Amputation at the Hip Joint,’ 1865.
  6. ‘Hospital Reform,’ a speech, 1868.
  7. ‘Medical Reform,’ 1870.
  8. ‘Lecture on Ovariotomy,’ 1871.
  9. ‘On the Treatment of Wounds; Clinical Lectures,’ 1878. A second edition of his works on fractures and wounds, consolidated and improved, appeared in 1883, entitled ‘On the Treatment of Wounds and Fractures.’
  10. ‘On Absorbent and Antiseptic Surgical Dressings,’ 1880.
  11. ‘The Influence of Vivisection on Human Surgery,’ 1882.

[Birmingham Daily Gazette and Daily Post, 20 and 23 Sept. 1886; Lancet, 25 Sept. 1886, pp. 590, 607, 2 Oct. 1886, p. 658; Brit. Medical Journal, 25 Sept. 1886; information from Mr. Joseph Gamgee and Mrs. J. S. Gamgee.]

G. T. B.