Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Saunders, Edwin

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SAUNDERS, Sir EDWIN (1814–1901), dentist, born in London on 12 March 1814, was son of Simon Saunders, senior partner in the firm of Saunders & Ottley, publishers, in Brook Street, London. From an early age he showed aptitude for mechanical contrivances, and from the age of twelve to fourteen he experimented in methods of superseding steam by hydraulic power for the propulsion of vessels. He also invented a sweeping machine for use in city streets, not unlike those now in use. A native bent for civil engineering was not encouraged owing to the uncertain prospects of the profession. The mechanical opportunities which dentistry affords attracted him, and he was articled as a pupil to Mr. Lemaile, a dentist in the Borough. At the end of three years he was thoroughly grounded in dental mechanics, and gave a course of lectures on elementary mechanics and anatomy at a mechanics' institute. Frederick Tyrrell [q. v.], surgeon to St. Thomas's Hospital, who happened to be present at one lecture, was so impressed that, after consultation with his colleagues, he invited Saunders to lecture at St. Thomas's Hospital. Saunders appears to have lectured here unofficially from 1837, but having obtained the diploma of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1839 he was in that year appointed dental surgeon and lecturer on dental surgery to St. Thomas's Hospital, a post he occupied until 1854. In 1855 he was elected F.R.C.S. He was also dentist from 1834 to the Blenheim Street Infirmary and Free Dispensary, and in 1840 he started, in conjunction with Mr. Harrison and Mr. Snell, a small institution for the treatment of the teeth of the poor. It was the first charity of its kind, and lasted about twelve years.

Whilst working at the subject of cleft palate, Saunders came to know Alexander Nasmyth, who had a large dental practice in London, and after 1846, when Nasmyth was incapacitated by an attack of paralysis, Saunders bought Nasmyth's practice, which he carried on at Nasmyth's house, 13a George Street, Hanover Square, until he retired to Wimbledon. He succeeded Nasmyth in 1846 as dentist to Queen Victoria, the Prince Consort, and the other members of the Royal family.

Saunders held that dentistry was a part of medicine. A good organiser and a man of considerable scientific attainments, he was amongst the first to attempt the formation into a compact profession of the heterogeneous collection of men who practised dentistry. In 1856 he, with others, petitioned the Royal College of Surgeons of England to grant a diploma in dental surgery, but it was not until after many negotiations that the college obtained powers, on 8 Sept. 1859, to examine candidates and grant a diploma in dentistry. The Odontological Society was founded at Saunders's house in 1857 to unite those who practised dental surgery. Saunders was the first treasurer, and was president in 1864 and 1879. Saunders was trustee of the first dental hospital and school established in London, in Soho Square in 1859. The institution prospered, and in 1874 the Dental Hospital in Leicester Square was opened, being handed over to the managing committee free of debt. Saunders rendered to the new hospital important services, which his colleagues and friends commemorated by founding in the school the Saunders scholarship. Saunders was president of the dental section at the meeting of the International Medical Congress which met in London in 1881, and in the same year was president of the metropolitan counties branch of the British Medical Association. In 1883 he was knighted, being the first dentist to receive that honour. In 1886 he was president of the British Dental Association. He died at Fairlawn, Wimbledon Common, on 15 March 1901, and was buried at the Putney cemetery. In 1848 he married Marian, eldest daughter of Edmund William Burgess, with whom he celebrated his golden wedding in 1898.

Saunders was author of: 1. 'Advice on the Care of the Teeth,' 1837. 2. 'The Teeth as a Test of Age considered in reference to the Factory Children. Addressed to the Members of both Houses of Parliament,' 1837; this work was adopted by the inspectors of factories and led to the detection of much fraud.

[Journal of Brit. Dental Assoc, vol. xxii. new ser., 1901, p. 200; Medico-Chirurgical Trans., vol. Lxxxv. 1902, p. cii; private information.]

D’A. P.