Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Taylor, Alfred Swaine

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TAYLOR, ALFRED SWAINE (1806–1880), medical jurist, born at Northfleet, Kent, on 11 Dec. 1806, was the eldest son of Thomas Taylor of Northfleet, a captain in the East India Company's maritime service, by his first wife, Susan Mary, daughter of Charles Badger, manufacturer of gun-flints, a member of an old Kentish family. After being privately educated at Dr. Benson's school, Albemarle House, Hounslow, he was apprenticed in June 1822 to Mr. D. Macrae, a medical practitioner at Lenham, near Maidstone, and in October 1823 he was entered as a student at the then united hospitals of Guy and St. Thomas. He spent the summer of 1825 in Paris, and on returning to London received the anatomical prize at St. Thomas's. On the separation of the hospitals he attached himself to Guy's, studying under Sir Astley Cooper and Joseph Henry Green until 1828, when he received the diploma of the Apothecaries' Society and went abroad to study in the medical schools. In Paris he attended the lectures of Orfila, Dupuytren, and Gay-Lussac; he then spent some time in Auvergne, where he prepared a note on the geology of the Puy de Dôme (published in the ‘London Medical and Physical Journal’ for June 1833); and, having visited Montpellier, reached Naples by sea after a perilous voyage. After a stay of nine months in Naples, where he wrote two papers in Italian on physiological subjects for the ‘Giornale Medico Napolitano,’ February, 1829, he made a journey on foot of 2,700 miles through Italy, Switzerland, the Tyrol, and Germany, visiting the medical schools of Rome, Florence, Bologna, Milan, Heidelberg, Leyden, Amsterdam, and Brussels. On reaching London in 1829 Taylor passed another winter at Guy's Hospital, and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in the following March (1830). During a third visit to Paris at the time of the revolution in the summer of 1830, he had the opportunity (at that time a rare one to British students) of seeing gunshot wounds and their treatment on a large scale by Manec and Lisfranc at La Pitié. In 1831, at the age of twenty-five, Taylor accepted the professorship of medical jurisprudence at Guy's Hospital, then first created, and he held the office till 1877. His inaugural course of lectures on medical jurisprudence was the first delivered in this country, and was attended by many leading members of the bar and by some judges. In 1832 he was appointed joint-lecturer on chemistry at Guy's with Arthur Aikin; from 1851 until his resignation in 1870 he held the chair alone.

Taylor's services were for a long period in much demand as a witness in criminal investigations. One of the first cases of general interest in which he was concerned was that of Tawell, a quaker, who was accused of poisoning by prussic acid, in which Sir Fitzroy Kelly (afterwards chief baron), counsel for the prisoner, set up a defence that death was caused by prussic acid contained in the pips of the apples which the victim had eaten. In 1856 he was engaged in the case of William Palmer [q. v.], the Rugeley poisoner, a case which first called public attention to the incentive to murder offered by life insurance. Taylor was for many years consulted by the treasury in cases of suspected murder by poison, and in other cases to which medical knowledge was specially applicable. His wide experience of courts of law dissatisfied him with the system of engaging medical scientific witnesses for and against an accused person. He advocated the adoption of a system of experts or assessors whose independent position would relieve them of all taint of partisanship.

In his books on medical jurisprudence and on poisons (see below), which are standard works throughout the world, he codified the legal precedents, judicial rulings, and anatomical and chemical data that bore on his special subject of study. In recognition of the value of his ‘Medical Jurisprudence’ he was awarded the Swiney prize of the Society of Arts in 1859.

In 1839 Taylor began to interest himself in the discovery of ‘photogenic drawing’ by William Henry Fox Talbot [q. v.] He suggested the use of hyposulphate of lime as a ‘fixer,’ and devised other valuable improvements in Talbot's processes which he described in ‘The Art of Photogenic Drawing,’ 1840. Taylor was from 1844 to 1851 editor of the ‘London Medical Gazette’ prior to its fusion with the ‘Medical Times,’ and to his labours and industry the paper owed much of its repute. In his later years he contributed editorial articles on current medico-legal cases to the ‘British Medical Journal.’ In 1852 he received the honorary degree of M.D. from the university of St. Andrews. In the following year he was elected a fellow of the College of Physicians, of which he had become a member in 1848, and where he subsequently filled the office of examiner. In 1845 he was elected fellow of the Royal Society.

He died from heart disease on 27 May 1880 at his residence, 15 St. James's Terrace, Regent's Park. In July 1834 he married Caroline, only daughter of John Cancellor, esq., a London stockbroker. By her he had an only daughter, Edith, who married, in 1865, F. J. Methold, esq., of Thorne Court, Bury St. Edmunds.

Taylor's portrait is among those of ‘the fathers of photography’ in the South Kensington Museum.

Taylor published, apart from contributions to medical journals and to the Guy's Hospital ‘Reports:’ 1. ‘Elements of Medical Jurisprudence,’ vol. i. London, 1836, 8vo. This formed the basis of ‘A Manual of Medical Jurisprudence,’ London, 1844; 2nd edit. 1846; 3rd 1849; 4th 1852; 5th 1854; 6th 1858; 7th 1861; 8th 1866; 9th 1874; 10th 1879; and of ‘The Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence,’ London, 1865, 8vo; 2nd edit. 2 vols. 1873, 8vo; 3rd edit. by T. Stevenson, 2 vols. 1883; 4th edit. by T. Stevenson. 1894. 2. ‘On the Art of Photogenic Drawing,’ London, 1840, 8vo. 3. ‘A Thermometrical Table on the Scales of Fahrenheit, Centigrade, and Reaumur, compressing the most remarkable Phenomena connected with Temperature,’ &c. London, 1845, 8vo and folio. 4. ‘On the Temperature of the Earth and Sea in reference to the Theory of Central Heat,’ 1846, 8vo. 5. ‘Poisons in relation to Medical Jurisprudence and Medicine,’ 1848, 16mo; 2nd edit. 1859; 3rd 1875. 6. ‘On Poisoning by Strychnia; with Comments on the Medical Evidence at the Trial of W. Palmer for the Murder of J. Cook,’ London, 1856, 8vo. 7. ‘On Chemistry’ (in conjunction with Professor Brande), 1863, 8vo.

Taylor also edited Arnott's ‘Elements of Physics,’ 1876, 8vo; and (with G. O. Rees) Pereira's ‘Elements of Materia Medica,’ 3rd and 4th edits. 1849, 8vo.

[British Medical Journal, 1880; Medical Times and Gazette, 1880; Churchill's Medical Directory; Cat. Brit. Mus. Libr.; Wilks and Bettany's Biographical History of Guy's Hospital; Werge's Evolution of Photography, 1890, pp. 104–6; information supplied by his daughter.]

W. W. W.