South, John Flint (DNB00)

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SOUTH, JOHN FLINT (1797–1882), surgeon, eldest son by his second wife of James South, a druggist in Southwark, was born on 5 July 1797. Sir James South [q. v.], the astronomer, was his half-brother. His father, when Pitt was dying, posted, on 23 Jan. 1806, to Putney with a phial of hartshorn oil, a spoonful of which he insisted on pouring down the throat of the dying man, saying that he had known it restore people even in their last agony. John was put to school in October 1805 with Samuel Hemming, D.D., at Hampton in Middlesex, where he remained until June 1813, making such good progress in Latin that in after life he was selected to examine the articled pupils in that language before they were apprenticed to the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

He began to attend the practice of St. Thomas's Hospital within a few weeks of leaving school, and on 18 Feb. 1814 he was apprenticed, for the usual sum of 500l., as an outdoor pupil, to Henry Cline the younger [q. v.], then a surgeon to St. Thomas's Hospital. He attended Sir Astley Cooper's lectures on anatomy, and made the acquaintance in 1813 of Joseph Henry Green [q. v.], a fellow-apprentice, whose support was afterwards of the greatest service to him. South was admitted a member of the College of Surgeons of England on 6 Aug. 1819, six months before he had completed his indentures. He then acted for some months as prosector to the lecturers on anatomy at St. Thomas's Hospital, and on 14 Dec. 1820 he was appointed conservator of the museum and assistant demonstrator of anatomy there for a term of three years, at a salary of 100l. a year. He was elected a joint demonstrator of anatomy with Bransby Cooper in February 1823, an election which gave rise to considerable controversy between Sir Astley Cooper and J. H. Green. He continued in this post for some years, and was afterwards made lecturer on anatomy. An attack of illness in 1841 led him to resign his lectureship, and he removed to Blackheath Park, where he lived for the remainder of his life.

He was elected a member of the council of the College of Surgeons on 3 March 1841, and on 28 July in the same year he was appointed full surgeon to St. Thomas's Hospital, in the room of Benjamin Travers [q. v.], a post he resigned in April 1863. He was made surgeon to the Female Orphan Asylum in 1843, and on 27 Sept. 1843 he was nominated one of the first fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He acted as professor of human anatomy and surgery in the college for 1845, and he was Hunterian orator in 1844. His oration made no mention of the man he was called upon to eulogise; he gave a retrospect of the history of medicine, beginning at so early a period that the time expired before he had arrived at the eighteenth century. The oration brought into prominence the historical side of his work, which he afterwards elaborated. He became a member of the court of examiners in 1849, president of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1851, and again in 1860. As a vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons he was instrumental in getting the body of John Hunter interred in Westminster Abbey on 28 March 1859. He resigned his official connection with the college in 1873.

The last twenty years of South's life were spent in gathering materials for a history of English surgery. The project was on too large a scale to enable him to make much progress. His work was edited by the present writer in 1886, under the title of ‘Memorials of the Craft of Surgery.’ In 1852 South made a journey to Sweden, and took some trouble to introduce into that country the vegetable marrow. As a reward the Swedish Horticultural Society at Stockholm, at the instigation of his friend Retzius, awarded to him its Linnæan medal of bronze. He died at Blackheath Park on 8 Jan. 1882, and is buried in Charlton cemetery.

South was twice married; first, in 1832, to Mrs. John Wrench, the second daughter of Thomas Lett of Dulwich House. After her death, in 1864, he married, in the following year, Emma, daughter of John Louis Lemmé of Antwerp and London, the niece of his lifelong friend, J. H. Green. Children of both marriages survive.

South was a man of varied attainments who had many interests outside his professional work. He was deeply religious, and he threw himself with zeal into church work, especially in connection with Sunday schools. In 1831 he was a prime mover in establishing the Surrey Zoological and Botanical Society. Throughout his long life, from the time he was a schoolboy, he kept a diary.

Mrs. South possesses an excellent bust, executed by H. Weeks, R.A., in 1872. A steel engraving is prefixed to the ‘Memorials,’ collected by the Rev. C. Lett Feltoe, M.A., London, 1884.

Besides various tracts on surgical and religious subjects and the articles on the ‘Zoology of the Invertebrata’ in the ‘Encyclopædia Metropolitana,’ South wrote:

  1. ‘A Short Description of the Bones,’ &c., 1825, 32mo; 2nd edit. London, 1828, 16mo; 3rd edit. 1837.
  2. ‘Household Surgery,’ London, 1847, 12mo; 2nd edit. 1850; 3rd edit. 1851; 4th edit. 1851; 5th edit. (called in error 4th edit.), 1880.
  3. ‘Memorials of the Craft of Surgery,’ edited by D'Arcy Power, with an introduction by Sir James Paget, 8vo, London, 1886.

He translated (i.) Otto's ‘Compendium of Human and Comparative Pathological Anatomy,’ London, 1831, 8vo; (ii.) Von Chelius's ‘System of Surgery,’ 2 vols., London, 1847, 8vo. He interwove with this work a very large mass of his own surgical experience. He also edited the St. Thomas's ‘Hospital Reports’ for 1836, and assisted J. H. Green in preparing the second and third editions of ‘The Dissector's Manual.’

[Information kindly supplied by Mrs. South from manuscript diaries in her possession; Feltoe's Memorials; Green's Letter to Sir Astley Cooper on the Establishment of an Anatomical and Surgical School at Guy's Hospital, London, 8vo, 1825; Stanhope's Life of Pitt, ed. 1862, vol. iv., ch. 43, p. 381.]

D’A. P.