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Biographical entry Vincent, John Painter (1776 - 1852)

Member of the Company of Surgeons, March 20th, 1800; MRCS, March 22nd, 1800; FRCS, Dec 11th, 1843, one of the original 300 Fellows.

Newbury, Berkshire, UK
17 July 1852
Sevenoaks, Kent, UK
General surgeon


Born at Newbury, Berkshire, where his father, Osman Vincent, was a silk merchant and banker, living at Donnington. Captain Richard Budd Vincent, CB (1770?-1831), was John's elder brother.

Vincent was apprenticed to William Long (d 1829), Surgeon to St Bartholomew's Hospital and the Bluecoat School, and as an apprentice he had occasion to attend Leigh Hunt, then a schoolboy. Hunt says of Long, "he was dark like a West Indian and I used to think him handsome, but the sight of Mr Long's probe was not so pleasant, I preferred to see it in the hands of Vincent". He was one of the last Members admitted by the Company of Surgeons on March 20th, 1800. Two days later, on March 22nd, 1800, the College Charter was granted and Vincent was again examined. There were thirty-nine candidates for the diploma, many of whom were 'referred'. John Smith Soden (qv) and Richard Spencer (qv) were amongst those who satisfied the examiners.

Vincent was elected Assistant Surgeon to St Bartholomew's Hospital on Aug 13th, 1807, on the resignation of his master, William Long, whose house he took in Lincoln's Inn Fields. At the election he received 154 votes and his opponent, William Wadd, obtained 56. He became Surgeon on Jan 29th, 1816, and resigned on Jan 21st, 1847, when he was elected a Governor.

At the Royal College of Surgeons Vincent was co-opted a Member of the Council in 1822 and held office till his death. He was a Member of the Court of Examiners from 1828-1851, Hunterian Orator in 1829, Vice-President in 1830, 1831, 1838, and 1839; and President in 1832 and 1840. He was not in favour of establishing an order of Fellows of the College.

He married: (1) On May 28th, 1812, Maria, daughter of Samuel Parke, of Kensington and Lysonby Lodge, near Melton Mowbray, by whom he had six children, of whom three sons survived him. She died in October, 1824, and he then married (2) Elizabeth Mary Williams, who outlived him. He died of paralysis after several years of ill health at Woodlands Manor, near Sevenoaks, Kent, on July 17th, 1852, and was buried in the church he had built at Woodlands.

A three-quarter-length portrait in oils, sitting, by E U Eddis hangs in the Great Hall at St Bartholomew's Hospital. It was painted by subscription for his pupils and represents Vincent as a frail-looking man. The likeness was said to be good. It was presented to the Hospital on Sept 10th, 1850, and an autographed engraving from it by Henry Cousins was issued to the subscribers.

Sir James Paget, writing from personal knowledge, said that he remembered him, "as a very practical surgeon, shrewd in diagnosis and always prudent and watchful, but apparently shy and reserved and not at all given to teaching even in the wards. He never taught in the school - never even, I think, gave a clinical lecture." Luther Holden (qv), writing in greater detail on Jan 11th, 1897, tells of his recollections in the following words:

"At last, after much delay, which I regret, here are a few items which I have gathered from the mouldy memories of my respected friend and teacher, John Painter Vincent. All that I tell you is limited to the estimation in which we students held him.

"We used to call him 'Old Vinco'. He was very popular with us - always kind, always ready to help a fellow in distress, a man of few, but always gentle, words. He lived in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and always walked to the Hospital. His walk bespoke a character about which there was no mistake. He came shuffling along with short steps, his hands never in his pockets, never behind him, but always clasped in front, as if ready to do handy work. He was very careful of his hands, and well he might be, for they were his best instruments, not that we thought him a good operator in the usual sense of the word. He 'operated' best without instruments. He had a natural dexterity and fine surgical touch. This was best seen when he 'set' a fracture or reduced a dislocation or when he was examining the nature of a tumour, but best of all when he was reducing a hernia. Many a time I have seen him reduce a hernia which had baffled his house surgeon and dressers. 'Old Vinco' would come down, grasp the hernia with his magic hands, give it a bit of a shake, and tuck it up, much to the disappointment of the 'boys', who wanted an operation. In this matter of 'legerdemain' we all agreed that he was far more dexterous than his colleagues. Unfortunately for us, Vincent did not explain to us how to do the trick, for he was a man of very few words, and never, so far as I know, gave a clinical lecture. He was certainly a conservative surgeon, disposed to avoid operations, unless obviously necessary. His highly educated surgical teaching was probably appreciated by his colleagues. In doubtful cases it was their wont to instruct their respective house surgeons to request Mr Vincent to give his opinion. In his time there were no special days, as now, for surgical consultations.

"As regards Vincent's personality, there is an admirable likeness of him in the Great Hall of St Bartholomew's Hospital. He was exceedingly modest, quiet, unobtrusive. I am not aware that he ever published much, if anything, but I believe there is a very good memoir of him by his son in our library. He wore a brown wig, which never altered in colour as he grew older. Eventually he died paralytic, after a very long confinement to bed, [still] Senior Surgeon to St Bartholomew's.

"The above is all that I can fairly remember of 'old Vinco'. Even this little has given me pleasure to recall. Do what you like with it."

"Always sincerely yours,

"Luther Holden."

The Hunterian Oration, 8vo, London, 1829.
Observations on Some of the Parts of Surgical Practice, 8vo, London, 1847.
An Address to the Council of the College of Surgeons, 1841.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Merits of Mr Vincent, by A Colling Brownless, MD, London, 1847. Dict. Nat. Biog., sub nomine et auct. ibi cit. Norman Moore's History of St Bartholomew's Hospital, ii, 659. MacCormac's Address of Welcome, 1900, 88. Additional information kindly given by his grandson, Captain R Dacre Vincent, of Limpsfield, Sussex (Lancet, 1852, 2, 91-2)].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England