Erichsen, John Eric (DNB01)

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ERICHSEN, Sir JOHN ERIC (1818–1896), surgeon, born at Copenhagen on 19 July 1818, was the eldest son of Eric Erichsen, banker, of Copenhagen, by his wife, who belonged to the Govett family of Somerset. Erichsen received his early education at the Mansion House, Hammersmith.

He obtained his medical education at University College, Gower Street, and was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 11 Jan. 1839. He then visited Paris, and after serving as house surgeon at University College Hospital he was appointed, 9 July 1844, joint lecturer on anatomy and physiology at the Westminster Hospital, became joint lecturer on anatomy, 19 Oct. 1846, and was 'paid off' when the site of the Westminster school of medicine was purchased for the Westminster improvements, 22 Aug. 1848. He acted in as secretary of the physiological section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and was afterwards appointed a member of a small committee to undertake an experimental inquiry into the mechanism and effects of asphyxia, and to suggest methods for its prevention and cure. He drew up a report, published in under the title 'An Essay on Asphyxia,' which was rewarded with the Fothergillian gold medal of the Royal Humane Society.

Erichsen was appointed in 1848 assistant surgeon to University College Hospital, in succession to John Phillips Potter [q. v.]; two years later he became full surgeon to the hospital, and professor of surgery in University College; his rapid rise was due to the various quarrels and resignations which followed the death of Robert Listen [q. v.] Erichsen retained the chair of surgery until 1866, when he was appointed Holme professor of clinical surgery. He resigned the office of surgeon in 1875, and was immediately appointed consulting surgeon.

Becoming by examination a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 17 April 1845, Erichsen served as a member of the council, 1869-85; as a member of the court of examiners, 1875-9; vice-president, 1878-9, and president in 1880. He was president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, 1879-81, and in 1881 he was president of the surgical section at the meeting in London of the International Medical Congress. As a liberal he contested unsuccessfully in 1885 the parliamentary representation of the united universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1876, and in 1884 the honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by the university of Edinburgh. In 1877 he was appointed the first inspector under the Vivisection Act, 39 & 40 Vict. cap. 77, and in the same year he was made surgeon-extraordinary to the queen. He was created a baronet in January 1895. But the honour which he chiefly prized was his election in 1887 to the important and dignified post of president of the council of University College, an office he occupied until his death at Folkestone on 23 Sept. 1896; he is buried in Hampstead cemetery. A bust by Mr. Hamo Thornycroft, R. A., presented to Erichsen on his retirement from the hospital, stands in the museum of University College with those of Listen, Quain, and Sharpey. A replica was left to the College of Surgeons by Sir John Erichsen, and stands in the hall of the college.

He married in 1842 Mary Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Captain Thomas Cole,R.N., who died in 1893. They had no children.

Erichsen's reputation rests less on his practice, which was sound, than on his authorship of a widely read text-book, which inculcated that surgery was a science to be studied rather than an art to be displayed. Early in his career he took up the subject of aneurysm, and contributed several articles dealing with its pathology and treatment; later in life he turned his attention to the ill-understood subject of the effects of railway accidents upon the nervous system.

In 1853 Erichsen published the first edition of the 'Science and Art of Surgery,' which appeared in one volume containing 950 pages and about 250 illustrations. The fifth edition was issued in 1869 in two volumes. The eighth and ninth editions were published with the help of Marcus Beck (1843–1893), while the tenth edition in 1895 was edited by Raymond Johnson. A copy of a pirated edition was issued by the American government to every medical officer in the federal army during the American civil war. It was translated into German by Dr. Thudichum of Halle; into Italian by Dr. Longhi of Milan, and into Spanish by Drs. Benavente and Ribera. Other works by Erichsen were: 2. 'A Practical Treatise on Diseases of the Scalp,' London, 1842, 8vo. 3. 'Observations on Aneurism,' London, 1844, 8vo. 4. 'On Railway and other Injuries of the Nervous System,' London, 1866, 8vo. 5. 'On Hospitalism, and the Causes of Death after Operation,' London, 1874, 12mo. 6. 'On Concussion of the Spine, Nervous Shock, and other obscure Injuries of the Nervous System in their Clinical and Medico-legal Aspects.'

[Obituary notices in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, 1897, vol. lxi.; Lancet, 1896, ii. 962; Brit. Med. Journ. 1896, ii. 885; Times, Sept. 1896; personal knowledge; additional information kindly given by Dr. R. G. Hebb and Christopher Heath, esq., F.R.C.S. Engl.]

D’A. P.