Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Hulke, John Whitaker

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HULKE, JOHN WHITAKER (1830–1895), surgeon, born on 6 Nov. 1830, was fourth son of William Hulke, surgeon, living at Deal in Kent. He was from 1843 to 1845 educated at the Moravian College, Neuwied. Here he gained his intimate knowledge of the German language and the groundwork of his acquaintance with natural history; here, too, in the Eifel district, his interest in geology was first awakened. Returning to England he attended King's College school during 1846-7, and in 1849 he entered the medical department of King's College, London. He served as a dresser to Sir William Bowman [q. v. Suppl.] at King's College Hospital, and he was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 16 July 1852. He then returned to Deal, where he acted as assistant to his father during his attendance on the fatal illness of the Duke of Wellington in September 1852, and he afterwards served the office of house-surgeon to Sir William Fergusson [q. v.] at King's College Hospital.

In 1855 Hulke was attached to the medical staff of the general hospital in the Crimea, and in March of that year he was doing duty in the English hospital at Smyrna. In September he left Smyrna for the camp before Sebastopol, where he spent the winter of 1855-6. He then returned to England, and after examination was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons on 23 May 1857. He acted for a short time as tutor at King's College Hospital, where he was elected assistant surgeon in 1857 for a term of five years. In 1862 he was appointed assistant surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital, becoming full surgeon in 1870. In 1858 he was elected assistant surgeon at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, Moorfields, where he became full surgeon in 1868 and consulting surgeon in 1890.

At the Royal College of Surgeons of England Hulke filled in succession every office open to him, and died during his second year as president. Winning the Jacksonian prize in 1859 with an essay upon the morbid changes of the retina, he was appointed Arris and Gale lecturer upon anatomy and physiology (1868-71), an examiner on the board of anatomy and physiology (1876-80), on the court (1880-89), and on the dental board (1883-9). He served as a member of the council from 1881 to 1890, a vice-president in 1888 and 1891, Bradshaw lecturer in 1891, president from 1893 to 1895, and his Hunterian oration was read for him on 14 Feb. 1895, while he lay dying of pneumonia.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1867, his claim being based exclusively on researches relating to the anatomy and physiology of the retina in man and the lower animals, particularly the reptiles. He served on the council of the Royal Society in 1879-80 and again in 1888-9. Elected a member of the Geological Society in 1868, he became president from 1882 to 1884, and in 1887 he was presented with the Wollaston medal, the greatest honour it is in the power of the society to bestow. In 1891 he was appointed foreign secretary, a position he held until he died.

In February 1862 he was elected an honorary fellow of King's College, and in 1878 he became a corresponding member of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and in 1884 an honorary member of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. He was president of the Pathological Society of London from 1883 to 1885, president of the Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom in 1886-7, and president of the Clinical Society in 1893-4.

He died in London on 19 Feb. 1895, and is buried in the cemetery at Deal. He married, 1 Oct. 1858, Julia, daughter of Samuel Ridley, but they had no children. Hulke's name is not associated with any brilliant departure in surgery, but he was wise and quick to see what surgical movements would stand the test of time; an early supporter of aseptic methods, and, to a certain extent, a pioneer in cerebral surgery. He was highly skilled too in the special branch of ophthalmic surgery; he was an excellent pathologist, and his Hunterian oration showed him to be a first-rate botanist. A natural talent, aided by opportunity, enabled him to make important additions to palaeontology, more especially in connection with the great extinct land reptiles (Dinosauria) of the secondary period. His investigations were made in the Kimmeridge clay of the Dorset cliffs and upon the Wealden reptiles of the cliffs of Brook and its neighbourhood in the Isle of Wight.

[Personal knowledge; private information; British Medical Journal, 1895, ii. 451; Proceedings of the Royal Society, vol. lviii. 1895.]

D’A. P.