Fayrer, Joseph (DNB12)

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FAYRER, Sir JOSEPH (1824–1907), surgeon-general and author, born at Plymouth on 6 Dec. 1824, was second son of the six sons and two daughters of commander Robert John Fayrer, R.N. (1788-1849), by his wife Agnes (d. 1861), daughter of Richard Wilkinson.

His father, on retiring from active service in the navy, commanded steam-packets between Portpatrick and Donaghadee, and Liverpool and New York, and was thus a pioneer of ocean steam navigation; in 1843 he commanded H.M.S. Tenedos as a stationary convict-ship at Bermuda. In Joseph's youth the family lived successively at Haverbrack, Westmoreland, where Joseph made the acquaintance of Wordsworth, Hartley Coleridge, and John Wilson (Christopher North); at Dalrymple, where he was a pupil of the Rev. R. Wallace (1835-6), and at Liverpool, where he studied natural science at a day school. In 1840, after a brief study of engineering, he made a voyage to West Indies and South America as midshipman of the Thames in the new West Indian mail steam-packet service. In 1843 he accompanied his father to Bermuda, where an outbreak of yellow fever inclined him to the profession of medicine. Entering the Charing Cross Hospital in October 1844, where his fellow pupils included (Sir) William Guyer Hunter [q. v. Suppl. II] and Thomas Henry Huxley, he was appointed at the end of his second year house surgeon at the Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital. In July 1847 he was admitted M.R.C.S. England, becoming F.R.C.S. in 1878. On 4 Aug. 1847 he received a commission in the royal naval medical service, but soon resigned it to travel with Lord Mount-Edgcumbe through France, Germany, and Italy. While at Palermo the Sicilian revolution broke out, and Fayrer, with his friend Dr. Valentine Mott, son of the well-known American surgeon, obtained his first experience of gunshot wounds. At Rome, where he arrived in April 1848, he studied at the university, and in 1849 obtained there the degree of M.D.

On 29 June 1850 Fayrer left England for Calcutta, to become assistant surgeon in Bengal. His connection with the Indian medical service lasted for forty-five years. On the outward voyage Fayrer had medical charge of a batch of recruits who proved insubordinate; but when the commanding officer handed them over to Fayrer, he promptly put the ringleader in irons and restored quiet. Arriving at Fort William on 9 Oct. 1850, he spent two years at Chinsura, Cherrapunji in the Khasi Hills, and Dacca. His successful service as a field assistant-surgeon with the Burma field force in the Pegu war of 1852 led Lord Dalhousie to appoint him, in July 1853, residency surgeon at Lucknow.

At Lucknow he received on 8 Sept. 1854 the additional appointment of honorary assistant resident, involving political duties. On 20 March 1856 he was appointed civil surgeon of Lucknow and superintendent of charitable institutions. On the annexation of Oudh, Fayrer was placed in charge of the deposed king's stud of horses, elephants, camels, and wild animals.

During the Mutiny Fayrer's house was used both as hospital and fortress, and he himself played a prominent part through the siege from 30 June until the final relief on 17 Nov. 1857 (cf. his Recollections). In March 1858 he left for England on furlough, and studying in Edinburgh, was admitted M.D. in March 1859. On 29 April, on returning to India, he became professor of surgery at the Medical College, Calcutta. In January 1867 he was made president of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, which he had joined in January 1861, and in that capacity proposed a scheme for a Zoological society and gardens in Calcutta, which was finally carried out in 1875, when the gardens were opened by King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales.

In 1868 he was made C.S.I., and in 1869 surgeon in Calcutta to Lord Mayo, the new viceroy. On 1 Jan. 1870 he accompanied the Duke of Edinburgh on his travels through N.W. India. Owing to failing health he came home in March 1872. On his arrival he was elected F.R.C.P. London, and with (Sir) Lauder Brunton resumed his important researches on snake venoms which he had begun in India in 1867 and which he embodied in a great treatise, published in 1872. He joined the medical board of the India ofiice in Feb. 1873 and was made president on 8 Dec., when he retired from the active list of the Indian army as a deputy surgeon-general. He continued president at the India office till January 1895, when he retired with the rank of surgeon-general and was awarded a good service pension in addition to his super-annuation allowance.

Meanwhile, in 1875 Fayrer was selected to accompany Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, on his tour through India. The expedition left Brindisi on 16 October and returned to Portsmouth on 5 May 1876. On 7 March 1876, at Allahabad, Fayrer was made K.C.S.I. On his return he was gazetted honorary physician to the prince. With the prince he formed a cordial intimacy which lasted for life. He privately printed in 1876 'Notes' on the two royal visits to India.

On 19 April 1877 he was elected F.R.S., and joined the council in 1895. He was made honorary LL.D. of Edinburgh (July 1878) and of St. Andrews (1890). In 1879, as president of the Epidemiological Society, he gave an address on 'The Progress of Epidemiology in India' (1880). In 1881 he delivered the Lettsomian lecture before the Medical Society of London on 'Tropical Diseases' (published with papers on like subjects in that year), and in 1882 the Croonian lectures of the Royal College of Physicians on 'The Climate and some of the Fevers of India' (1882). He represented the government of India at the intercolonial congress at Amsterdam (with Dr. T. R. Lewis), and at the international sanitary congress at Rome (May-June 1885). He also represented both the Royal College of Physicians of London and the University of Edinburgh at the tercentenary of Galileo at Padua (Dec. 1892), when he made a speech in Italian and received the honorary degree of doctor of philosophy. On 11 January 1896 he was made a baronet. The remainder of his life was passed chiefly at Falmouth, where he died on 21 May 1907.

He married on 4 Oct. 1855, at Lucknow, Bethia Mary, eldest daughter of Brigadier-general Andrew Spens, who was in command of the troops there; by her he had six sons and two daughters. His eldest son, Robert Andrew, born on 27 June 1856, died on 28 Dec. 1904. He was succeeded as second baronet by his eldest surviving son, Joseph, who joined the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Despite official and professional calls upon his energies, Fayrer was a prolific writer on Indian climatology, the pathology of Indian diseases, sanitation, and above all on venomous snakes. His great work on 'The Thanatophidia of India, the best book on the subject, published in folio in 1872 by government, was illustrated with admirable coloured plates from the life by native members of the Calcutta School of Art (2nd edit. 1874). The book embodies all Fayrer's experiments and researches, accounts of which were forwarded from India to Dr. F. C. Webb, who put them into literary shape. To Fayrer's inquiries is due the efficacious permanganate treatment of venomous snake-bites. But his main conclusions were that there is no absolute antidote, and that safety is only to be attained when the bite is in such a position as to make the application of a ligature between it and the heart possible, together with the use of the actual cautery. These opinions were somewhat modified after some later experiments by Fayrer, Brunton, and Rogers {Proc. Boy. Soc., 1904, lxxiii. 323); it was there shown that recovery might be expected if a ligature were applied within half a minute or even a longer period after a bite, the site of the injury being then incised and solid permanganate of potassium rubbed in.

Of his other writings not already mentioned the following are the most important:

  1. 'Clinical Observations in Surgery,' Calcutta, 1863.
  2. 'Clinical Surgery in India,' 1866.
  3. 'Osteomyelitis and Septicaemia and the Nature of Visceral Abscess,' 1867.
  4. 'Fibrinous Coagula in the Heart and Pulmonary Artery as a Cause of Death after Surgical Operations,' 1867.
  5. 'Clinical and Pathological Observations in India,' 1873.
  6. 'On the Preservation of Health in India,' 1880 (new edit. 1894).
  7. 'Epidemiology of Cholera, 1888.
  8. 'Sir James Ranald Martin,' 1897.
  9. 'Recollections of My Life,' 1900.

To 'Quain's Dictionary of Medicine' (1882) he contributed articles on 'Effects of Venom' and 'Venomous Animals,' and to 'Allbutt's System of Medicine' (1894) those on 'Sunstroke,' 'Climate,' and 'Fevers of India.'

Fayrer's portrait by Mr. Sydney P. Hall, in the Royal Medical College at Netley, was unveiled by Lord Wolseley.

[Lancet, 1 June 1907; Proc. Roy. Soc, B 80, 1908; Favrer's Recollections of My Life, 1900.]

H. P. C.