Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leake, John (1729-1792)

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LEAKE, JOHN, M.D. (1729–1792), man-midwife, son of William Leake, a clergyman, was born at Ainstable, Cumberland, 8 June 1729. He was educated as a surgeon, but early turned his attention to midwifery, and in 1755 practised at Lisbon, where he made the observation that the great earthquake did not prevent many of his patients from the safe birth of their children at the proper time (Medical Instructions), i. 149). He graduated M.D., at Rheims 9 Aug. 1763, and became a licentiate of the College of Physicians of London 25 June 1766. His house was in Craven Street, Strand, and in a theatre attached to it he delivered an annual course of about twenty lectures on midwifery. His first, 'Syllabus of Lectures on the Theory and Practice of Midwifery,' was published in 1767, and in the same year his 'Dissertation on the Properties and Efficacy of the Lisbon Diet-drink and its Extract.' This is a discreditable production, in which the composition of the remedy is kept a secret, while its efficacy in more than thirty diseases is maintained. A journeyman bookbinder named Walter Leake took out a patent for a pill which came to be called Leake's pill, and, being supposed to have the same efficacy as the diet drink, injured its sale. The next step which he took for advancement was to buy a piece of land near the Surrey end of Westminster Bridge, obtain subscriptions to build a hospital upon it, and get himself appointed first physician to this, the Westminster Lying-in Hospital. 'Practical Observations on the Child-bed Fever,' published in 1774, were made in this hospital, and are of no interest except as illustrations of the fatal results of the clinical impurity of lying-in wards at that period. In 1773 he published in 4to 'A Lecture introductory to the Theory and Practice of Midwifery' and 'The Description and Use of a New Forceps.' It had three blades instead of two, and was condemned by Thomas Denman [q. v.], then the greatest authority on midwifery. Leake replied in 1774 in a 'Vindication of the Forceps against the Remarks of T. Denman, M.D.;' and in the same year published 'Practical Observations on the Acute Diseases incident to Women.' In 1777 he published in two volumes 'Medical Instructions to wards the Prevention and Cure of Chronic or Slow Diseases peculiar to Women.' Both these works are addressed to women and not to physicians, and contain much extraneous matter, such as long poetical quotations and (5th edit. i. 274) a full description of the author's ascent of Skiddaw, 23 July 1780. An 'Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Midwifery' was also published by him in 1777, and in 1792 'A Practical Essay' on Diseases of the Viscera.' Several of his works went through numerous editions. He died in London 8 Aug. 1792, and is buried in the north cloister of Westminster Abbey. His portrait, engraved by Bartolozzi from a painting by D. Gardiner, is prefixed to vol. i. of his book on 'Chronic Diseases of Women.'

[Works; Munk's Coll. of Phys. ii. 275.]

N. M.