Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Toynbee, Joseph

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TOYNBEE, JOSEPH (1815–1866), aural surgeon, second son of George Toynbee, a landowner and a large tenant-farmer in Lincolnshire, was born at Heckington in that county on 30 Dec. 1815. He was educated at King's Lynn grammar school, and at the age of seventeen he was apprenticed to William Wade of the Westminster general dispensary in Gerrard Street, Soho. He studied anatomy under George Derby Dermott at the Little Windmill Street school of medicine, and from him he learnt to be an enthusiastic dissector. He then attended the practice of St. George's and University College Hospitals, and was admitted a member of the College of Surgeons of England in 1838. Aural studies powerfully attracted him even during his student life, for as early as 1836 several of his letters, under the initials ‘J. T.,’ appeared in the ‘Lancet.’ In 1838 he assisted (Sir) Richard Owen (1804–1892) [q. v.], who was then conservator of the Hunterian Museum at the College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and he was soon afterwards elected one of the surgeons to the St. James's and St. George's Dispensary, where he established a most useful Samaritan fund. He was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society in 1842 for his researches demonstrating the non-vascularity of articular cartilage and of certain other tissues in the body, and in 1843 he was nominated among the first of the newly established order of fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Toynbee lived in Argyll Place during the time that he was surgeon to the St. James's and St. George's Dispensary, and he there began the practice of his speciality as an aural surgeon. His practice soon became very large, and he afterwards moved into Savile Row. Upon the establishment of St. Mary's Hospital in 1852 he was elected aural surgeon to the charity and lecturer on diseases of the ear in its medical school, appointments which he resigned in 1864.

Toynbee raised aural surgery from a neglected condition of quackery to a recognised position as a legitimate branch of surgery. As a philanthropist the English public owe him a debt of gratitude, for he ardently advocated the improvement of working men's dwellings and surroundings at a time when the duties of the government in regard to public health were hardly beginning to be appreciated. His benevolent efforts centred in Wimbledon, where he took a country house in 1854. Here he was indefatigable in forming a village club as well as a local museum. He published valuable ‘Hints on the Formation of Local Museums’ (1863) as well as ‘Wimbledon Museum Notes,’ and his enthusiastic advocacy was of great value in furthering the establishment of similar clubs and museums in various parts of the kingdom.

Toynbee died on 7 July 1866 from the accidental inhalation of chloroform, with which he was making experiments to discover a means for mitigating the intense suffering attendant upon certain inflammatory conditions of the middle ear. He was at the time of his death aural surgeon to the Earlswood Asylum for Idiots, consulting aural surgeon to the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, president of the Quekett Microscopical Society, and treasurer of the Medical Benevolent Fund, an office which he had filled since 1857. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's, Wimbledon.

The Toynbee collection, illustrating various diseases of the ear, is the property of the Royal College of Surgeons, and it is at present exhibited in the gallery of the western museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields. This collection was the result of minute dissection extending over twenty years, during which time he is said to have dissected about two thousand human ears. Many of these were derived from his patients in the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, whose condition he had examined previously to their death.

He married, in August 1846, Harriet, daughter of Nathaniel Holmes, esq., and by her had nine children. His second son, Arnold Toynbee [q. v.], is separately noticed.

Toynbee published:

  1. ‘The Diseases of the Ear: their Nature, Diagnosis, and Treatment,’ London, 8vo, 1860; 8vo, Philadelphia, 1860, and translated into German, Würzburg, 1863; a new edition with a supplement by James Hinton, 8vo, London, 1868. This is Toynbee's chief work. It placed the subject of aural surgery upon a firm basis, and will always remain of interest by reason of the details of cases and the methods of treatment which it contains.
  2. ‘On the Use of Artificial Membrana Tympani in Cases of Deafness,’ London, 8vo, 1853; 6th edit. 1857.
  3. ‘A Descriptive Catalogue of Preparations illustrative of the Diseases of the Ear in the Museum of Joseph Toynbee,’ 8vo, London, 1857.

[An appreciative notice by Professor Von Troltsch in the Archiv f. Ohrenheilkunde, 1867, iii. 230; Memoir by G. T. Bettany in Eminent Doctors, 2nd edit. ii. 272; further information kindly contributed to the writer by William Toynbee, esq., his eldest son.]

D’A. P.