Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sibson, Francis

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SIBSON, FRANCIS, M.D. (1814–1876), physician, third son of Francis and Jane Sibson, was born 21 May 1814, in the parish of Cross Canonby, Cumberland. Thomas Sibson [q. v.] was his younger brother. His parents moved to Edinburgh in 1819, and he was baptised there on the same day with his four brothers in 1819. After school education he was in 1828 apprenticed to John Lizars [q. v.], surgeon, and on 21 Dec. 1831 he received his diploma from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. He served in the wards formed for the treatment of cholera patients in 1832 and 1833 at Leith, Newhaven, and Edinburgh. He then settled in general practice at Cockermouth, but soon left and continued his studies at Guy's Hospital, where he became a friend and pupil of Thomas Hodgkin [q. v.] In 1835 he was appointed resident surgeon and apothecary to the Nottingham General Hospital, and held the office for thirteen years. In 1840 he came to know of Charles Waterton, who became a lifelong friend (cf. Waterton, Autobiography). In the same year he published his first medical work in the ‘Medical Gazette,’ a paper on ‘A Flexible Stethoscope.’ In 1844 he published a paper on the subject with which his name is now chiefly associated, ‘On Changes induced in the Situation and Structure of the Internal Organs under varying Circumstances of Health and Disease.’ It attracted much attention and added to his increasing reputation. In 1846 he published in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ a paper on the ‘Mechanism of Respiration,’ in 1847 observations on the ‘Fever of Nottingham,’ in 1848 notes on ether, chloroform, and narcotic poisons, and afterwards a second paper ‘On the Blowhole of the Porpoise.’ He joined the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association in 1843, continued to be an active member when it became the British Medical Association, and delivered before it at Newcastle-on-Tyne an address on the treatment of rheumatism and gout. He treated rheumatic fever by absolute rest in bed, without administering any drug, and applied a similar method to gout with the addition of prescriptions of iodide of potassium and iron, and, in the acute stage, of colchicum.

Sibson left Nottingham in 1848, graduated M.B. and M.D. in the university of London in that year, obtaining honours at both examinations. In 1849 he became a member of the College of Physicians, and was elected a fellow in 1853. He was elected F.R.S. in 1849. He took a house in Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, began practice as a physician, and there gave in the winter of 1849–50 a course of demonstrations of visceral anatomy which was well attended. He was appointed physician to St. Mary's Hospital when that institution was opened in 1851, and when its medical school was formed he became one of the lecturers on the principles and practice of medicine. In 1854 he delivered the Gulstonian lectures at the College of Physicians, and afterwards the Croonian and Lumleian lectures. He was one of the curators of its museum, and in 1874 was elected a censor. In 1865 he was elected a member of the senate of the university of London. He attended its meetings regularly, and opposed the admission of women to its degrees. Between 1855 and 1869 he published in sections his folio ‘Medical Anatomy, or Illustrations of the relative Position and Movements of the Internal Organs,’ illustrated by coloured plates, a laborious and useful work of reference. He enjoyed a considerable practice as a physician until his sudden death at Geneva on 7 Sept. 1876, while on his holiday. He was buried in Acton churchyard.

He married, in 1858, Sarah Mary, daughter of Peter Aimé Ouvry, but had no offspring. Sibson was a man of continuous industry, and his numerous papers contain elaborate series of observations. All those of permanent importance, including several contributed to the ‘System of Medicine’ of Sir John Russell Reynolds [q. v.], were reprinted in 1881 in four volumes, as the ‘Collected Works of Francis Sibson,’ edited by Dr. William Miller Ord. He was fond of works of art, especially admired Flaxman, and had a fine collection of old Wedgwood ware. In his holidays he enjoyed mountain-climbing, and was a member of the Alpine Club.

[Memoir by Dr. W. M. Ord, prefixed to Collected Works, 1881; personal knowledge.]

N. M.