Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Turner, Thomas (1793-1873)

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TURNER, THOMAS (1793–1873), surgeon, youngest child of Edmund Turner, banker, of Truro, and of Joanna, his wife, daughter of Richard Ferris, was born at Truro on 13 Aug. 1793. He was educated at the grammar school of his native town during the head-mastership of Cornelius Cardew, and was afterwards apprenticed to Nehemiah Duck, one of the surgeons to St. Peter's Hospital, Bristol. Turner left Bristol at the end of his apprenticeship for London, where, in the autumn of 1815, he entered as a student under (Sir) Astley Paston Cooper [q. v.] at the united borough hospitals of Guy and St. Thomas. He was admitted a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries and a member of the College of Surgeons of England in 1816, and proceeded to Paris, where he spent a year. He became a member of several French societies, and seems to have wished to take the degree of doctor of medicine at Paris; but in 1817 he was appointed house surgeon at the infirmary of Manchester. He held the post until September 1820, when illness forced him to resign. After a short holiday, which he devoted to visiting the medical school at Edinburgh, he settled in Manchester, occupying a house in Piccadilly. He was almost immediately appointed secretary to the Manchester Natural History Society, and he was also elected a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, where he was brought much into contact with John Dalton (1766–1844) [q. v.]; on 18 April 1823 he was elected one of the six councillors of the society.

On 1 Nov. 1822 he delivered in the rooms of the Literary and Philosophical Society the first of a series of lectures upon the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the human body. The lectures were highly appreciated. Several similar courses were afterwards given, and in 1824 Turner delivered an address in which he developed the plan of establishing in Manchester a school of medicine and surgery. The suggestion was well received, and in October 1824 a suitable building was engaged and opened in Pine Street, where Dalton gave a course of lectures on pharmaceutical chemistry. A medico-chirurgical society for students was also established, and in 1825 the school was thoroughly organised. Thus arose the first of the great provincial schools of medicine in England. Detached courses of lectures had indeed been given to medical students in Bristol, Liverpool, and Manchester before 1825, but they had never been recognised by the examining bodies of the country, and all students had been compelled to spend a part of their time either in London or in Edinburgh before they could obtain a license to practise. The Edinburgh College of Surgeons recognised the course of instruction given at Manchester in February 1825; the English college was more tardy, but by Astley Cooper's instrumentality and Turner's perseverance a reluctant consent was at length obtained. Sir James McGrigor (1771–1858) [q. v.], on behalf of the medical department of the navy and army, recognised the course 20 Aug. 1827.

Turner was appointed surgeon to the Deaf and Dumb Institution in 1825. He removed shortly after his marriage in 1826 from Piccadilly to a house in the upper part of King Street, and in the autumn of 1830 to Mosley Street, where he lived the rest of his life. In August 1830 he was elected a surgeon to the Royal Infirmary at Manchester, and he soon acquired an important practice. On 31 July 1832 he laid the foundation of a new and larger lecture-theatre, which was duly opened in the following October. The school progressed steadily under Turner's control, and the succeeding few years witnessed the dissolution of the Mount Street and Marston Street schools of medicine and the increasing growth of the Pine Street school, at which he was the moving spirit. The medical school in Chatham Street entered into an agreement with the Pine Street school in 1859, and the Royal School of Medicine thus came into existence, while in 1872 the Royal school of medicine was amalgamated with the Owens College as its medical faculty. Turner was invited to give the inaugural address, and a sum of money was set apart under the name of the ‘Turner Medical Prize’ in commemoration of his services.

In 1843 Turner was appointed honorary professor of physiology at the Manchester Royal Institution, where, with the exception of two years, he delivered annually a course of lectures until 1873. He was nominated a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1843, and he served on its council from 1865 to 1873. He was much occupied from 1852 with the Sanitary Association of Manchester and Salford in endeavouring to improve the intellectual, moral, and social condition of the factory hands. He died in Manchester on Wednesday, 17 Dec. 1873, and was buried in the churchyard of Marton, near Skipton-in-Craven. On 3 March 1826 he married Anna, daughter of James Clarke, esq., of Medham, near Newport, Isle of Wight.

Turner assisted greatly in breaking up that monopoly of medical education possessed by the London medical schools at the beginning of this century. He showed that the large provincial towns were as capable of affording a first-rate medical education to their students as was the metropolis. Turner likewise recognised the fundamental principle of state medicine, that improvement in sanitary surroundings necessarily implies improvement in the moral atmosphere of the inhabitants.

Turner published:

  1. ‘Outlines of a System of Medico-Chirurgical Education,’ London and Manchester, 1824, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1826.
  2. ‘An Address to the Inhabitants of Lancashire, &c., on the Present State of the Medical Profession,’ London, 1825, 8vo.
  3. ‘A Practical Treatise on the Arterial System,’ London, 1825, 8vo.
  4. ‘Outlines of a Course of Lectures on the Laws of Animal Life,’ Manchester, 1825, 8vo.
  5. ‘Outlines of a Course of Lectures on the Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology of the Human Body,’ Manchester, 1833, 8vo.
  6. ‘Anatomico-Chirurgical Observations on Dislocations of the Astragalus,’ Worcester, 1843, 8vo.

[Memoir of Thomas Turner, esq., by a Relative, London, 1875, 8vo; additional information kindly given by the late Ed. Lund, esq., consulting surgeon to the Manchester Royal Infirmary.]

D’A. P.