Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rees, George Owen

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REES, GEORGE OWEN (1813–1889), physician, born at Smyrna in November 1813, was son of Josiah Rees, who was a Levantine merchant and British consul at Smyrna. His mother was an Italian and a Roman catholic. Thomas Rees (1777–1864) [q. v.] was his uncle, and Josiah Rees [q. v.] his grandfather. He was educated at a private school at Clapham, and acquired a fair knowledge of French, German, and Italian. In 1829 he entered Guy's Hospital, being apprenticed to Richard Stocker, the apothecary to the hospital, and he afterwards, in 1836, studied at Paris. In the session of 1836–7 he was enrolled at Glasgow University as a student in the classes of botany (under Sir W. Hooker) and surgery (under Professor John Burns). He graduated M.D. at Glasgow on 27 April 1836, and at once commenced practice in London. He first resided in Guilford Street, Russell Square, subsequently in Cork Street, and finally at 26 Albemarle Street, Piccadilly.

Through the influence of his friend, Sir Benjamin Brodie, he secured one of his earliest appointments of professional importance in London, that of medical officer to Pentonville prison, the first appointment of the kind made to that institution. In 1842 he was appointed physician to the Northern Dispensary, and in 1843 assistant physician to Guy's Hospital. He became full physician at Guy's in 1856, and after thirty years' service on the staff there he retired on 26 Feb. 1873, and became consulting physician. He was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London, in 1844, and afterwards held in the college the offices of censor (1852–3), senior censor (1863–4), and councillor (1855–64–71). At Guy's he was for many years lecturer on the practice of medicine. He was Gulstonian lecturer at the Royal College of Physicians in 1845, when he lectured ‘On the Blood: principally in regard to its Physical and Pathological Attributes;’ Croonian lecturer in 1856–8, when he chose for his subjects ‘Calculous Disease and its Consequences’ and ‘Frequent Micturition;’ and Harveian orator in 1869. He became the first Lettsomian lecturer at the Medical Society of London in 1850, and in 1851 he delivered a course on ‘Some of the Pathological Conditions of the Urine.’

In later life he was consulting physician to the Queen Charlotte Lying-in Hospital and physician-extraordinary to the queen. He was constantly associated with Dr. Alfred Taylor in important criminal investigations—notably in the famous trial of William Palmer [q. v.], the Rugeley poisoner, in 1856. He also joined Taylor in editing Pereira's large work on materia medica [see Pereira, Jonathan]. His patients were among the better class, and usually sufferers from kidney disease or gout, for the treatment of which disorders he had gained considerable repute. He proposed the treatment of acute rheumatism by lemon-juice. A paralytic stroke in 1886 greatly disabled him, and he died of apoplexy at Mayfield, Watford, on 27 May 1889. He was buried in Abney Park cemetery.

Rees, who was unmarried, was small in stature and slightly built but athletic. He deserves to be known in medical history as one of the first men to turn his attention to the chemistry of the urine. At an early period in his career he had attracted the attention of Dr. Richard Bright [q. v.], and assisted Bright chiefly in the analysis of urinary calculi and of the secretions in diseases of the kidney. He made quantitative analyses of the albumen and urea in the urine, and proved the presence of the latter in the blood. His papers on this subject are to be found in the ‘Medical Gazette’ for 1833. In Guy's Hospital ‘Reports’ he wrote on the analysis of the blood and urine (vol. i.); showed in 1838 how sugar could be obtained from diabetic blood, where its presence had previously been doubted, and gave accounts of an analysis of a milky ascites which he pronounced to be chyle, and of an analysis of the bones in mollities ossium. In 1841 he made, in conjunction with Samuel Lane, some very important observations on the corpuscle of the blood, proving that it was a flattened capsule containing a coloured fluid, and indicating the changes which it underwent on the application of reagents, such as saline fluids and syrup. He subsequently made observations on the nucleus of the corpuscle in different animals, and showed the similarity of the white corpuscle to those of lymph and pus. By the advice of his friend Dr. Roget, foreign secretary to the Royal Society, he communicated two papers to the Royal Society—one, in 1842, entitled ‘On the Chemical Analysis of the Contents of the Thoracic Duct in the Human Subject,’ and a second paper, in June 1847, ‘On the Function of the Red Corpuscles of the Blood, and on the Process of Arterialisation.’ He was elected a fellow of the society in 1843.

His published works include, besides those previously mentioned: 1. ‘On the Analysis of the Blood and Urine in Health and Disease,’ 1836; 2nd edit. 1845. 2. ‘Observations on the Diagnosis of Bright's Disease’ (‘Medical Gazette,’ 1845). 3. ‘On a Remarkable Case of Paraplegia’ (‘Medical Gazette,’ 1845). 4. Articles on ‘Lymph, Chyle, and Milk,’ in Todd and Bowman's ‘Cyclopædia of Anatomy and Physiology.’

[British Medical Journal, 1889; Lancet, 1889; Churchill's Medical Directory; Proceedings of the Royal Society of London; A Biographical History of Guy's Hospital, by Samuel Wilks, M.D., and G. T. Bettany, M.A.; Records of the University of Glasgow and of the Royal College of Physicians of London.]

W. W. W.