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Biographical entry Brodie, Sir Benjamin Collins (1783 - 1862)

Baronet, 1834; M.R.C.S., Oct. 18th, 1805; F.R.C.S., Dec. 11th, 1843, one of the original 300 Fellows; Pres. Roy. Soc., 1858.

  • Image of Brodie, Sir Benjamin Collins
Born
1783
Died
21 October 1862
Occupation
Anatomist and General surgeon

Details

Was the fourth child of the Rev. Peter Bellinger Brodie, M.A., of Worcester College, Oxford, Rector of Winterslow, Wilts, by Sarah, daughter of Benjamin Collins, Banker and printer, of Milford, near Salisbury. The Brodies were originally a Morayshire clan, and the family was fortunate in relations. Dr. Denman, then the accoucheur, had married Brodie's aunt; Sir Richard Goff ['Goff' is crossed out, and the following added: Croft (Lady Croft & Mrs Baillie were Dr Denman's daughters)] had married a cousin; and Dr. Baillie, nephew of William and John Hunter, had married another cousin. Dr. Denman's son afterwards became Lord Chief Justice, and was well known as one of the advocates at the trial of Queen Caroline, whilst Peter Brodie, Benjamin's eldest brother, held a high position as a conveyancer.

In 1797 Brodie and his brothers raised a company of volunteers at a time when a French invasion was much dreaded. He was privately educated by his father, and at the age of eighteen went up to London, devoting himself from the first to the study of anatomy. Brodie joined the medical profession without any special liking or bent for it, and in after-days he said he thought those best succeeded in professions who joined them, not from any irresistible prepossession, but rather from some accidental circumstance inducing them to persevere in their selected course either as a matter of duty or because they had nothing better to do. He rose to be the first surgeon in England, holding for many years a position similar to that once occupied by Sir Astley Cooper. Brodie had always a philosophical turn of mind. He learnt much at first from Abernethy, who arrested his pupils' attention so that it never flagged, and what he told them in his emphatic way never could be forgotten. Brodie used to say "that he had always kept in mind the saying of William Scott [afterwards Lord Stowell] to his brother John [subsequently Lord Eldon], 'John, always keep the Lord Chancellorship in view, and you will be sure to get it in the end.'" And a similar aim and distinction were Brodie's.

In 1801 and 1802 he attended the lectures of James Wilson at the Hunterian School in Great Windmill Street, where he worked hard at dissection. It was about this time that he formed what proved a lifelong friendship with William Lawrence (q.v.). In 1803 Brodie became a pupil of Sir Everard Home at St. George's Hospital, and was successively appointed House Surgeon and Demonstrator to the Anatomical School, after which he was Home's assistant in his private operations and researches in comparative anatomy, and he did much work for him at the College Museum. "The latter employment," says Mr. Timothy Holmes (q.v.) in his Life of Brodie, "was of critical importance for Brodie in several ways - chiefly because it obliged him to work on scientific subjects, and thus prevented a too exclusive devotion to the pursuit of practical surgery. We cannot be wrong in attributing to this cause mainly his connection with the Royal Society, and the many-sidedness of his intellectual activities." At the College he came into contact with Clift, and, through Home, became an intimate in the learned coterie of Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, and the chief link between distinguished men of science of two centuries.

Brodie still diligently pursued his anatomical studies at the Windmill Street School, where he first demonstrated for, and then lectured conjointly with, James Wilson until 1812. In 1808, before he was twenty-five, he was elected Assistant Surgeon at St. George's, thus relieving Home of some part of his duties. Brodie remained in this position fourteen years, and his "regular attendance at the hospital was an immense improvement, in the interests both of the patients and the students, on the practice obtaining in the metropolitan hospitals of that day".

All through life Brodie was consumed with the rage for work which his father had originally instilled into him. So devoted was he to every phase of his duties that he found no time to travel, only once visiting France for a month and often going without a summer holiday. His very recreations were arduously intellectual. Thus he took a leading part in the life of various learned societies - the Academical Society, banished to London from Oxford in the French revolutionary epoch, the Society for the Promotion of Medical and Chirurgical Knowledge, the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society, of which he was President in 1839 and 1840. He contributed several valuable papers to the last-named society, and at its meetings he stimulated discussion, and had always something of interest to say. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1810, he soon communicated a paper "On the Influence of the Brain on the Action of the Heart and the Generation of Animal Heat", and another "On the Effects produced by certain Vegetable Poisons (Alcohol, Tobacco, Woorara)". The first paper, the subject of which he doubtless derived from John Hunter, formed the Croonian Lecture: the two papers taken together won him the Copley Medal in 1811, an honour never before bestowed on so young a man. In 1809 Brodie entered upon private practice, and in 1822 became full Surgeon at St. George's Hospital, from which time forward his career was one of ever-increasing success.

He became a Member in 1805, a Fellow in 1843, and from 1819 to 1823 he was Professor of Anatomy, Physiology, and Surgery at the College. He lectured upon the Organs of Digestion, Respiration, and Circulation, and on the Nervous System, the most interesting of his discourses being upon "Death from Drowning", a subject which Hunter had investigated without hitting upon the scientific explanation of that form of asphyxia eventually brought out by Brodie.

While Professor at the College, Brodie was summoned to attend George IV, and with Sir Astley Cooper, who was the operator, and a formidable array of medical men of that time, assisted at an operation for the removal of a small sebaceous cyst from the king's scalp. He became Surgeon to George IV, and attended him during his last illness, when he went every night to Windsor, slept there, and returned to London in the morning. "His habit", says Mr. Timothy Holmes, "was to go into the king's room at about six o'clock, and sit talking with him for an hour or two before leaving for town." The king became warmly attached to him. He was Surgeon to William IV, and in 1834, when he was made a Baronet, he was appointed Serjeant-Surgeon. In this capacity he became examiner by prescriptive right in the College, a privilege abolished by the Charter of 1843, which Brodie was largely instrumental in obtaining. He was a Member of Council from 1829-1862, Hunterian Orator in 1837, Vice-President in 1842 and 1843, and President in 1844. He retired from St. George's Hospital in 1840, but for some time continued his activity at the College, which owes to him the institution of the Order of Fellows. The object of this institution, he maintained, was to ensure the introduction into the profession of a certain number of young men who might be qualified to maintain its scientific character, and would be fully equal to its higher duties as hospital surgeons, teachers, and improvers of physiological, pathological, and surgical science afterwards. The Fellowship may be said to have been largely instrumental in raising the college to what it now is - "the exemplar of surgical education to the whole kingdom".

Brodie was the first President of the General Medical Council, having been elected in 1858. Within a week after receiving this honour he became President of the Royal Society, an office which he filled with great dignity and wisdom till 1861. He died, nearly blind following double cataract for the relief of which he had been operated upon by Sir William Bowman (q.v.), at Broome Park, Betchworth, Surrey, on Oct. 21st, 1862. Of the immediate cause of his death, Holmes says: "It seems that nearly thirty years [see BLOXHAM, THOMAS] previously he had suffered from a dislocation of the right shoulder. I am not aware that he ever made any complaint of the part after the dislocation had been reduced, but it was in this same joint that in July he began to complain of pain accompanied by much prostration; and this was succeeded in September by the appearance of a tumour, doubtless of a malignant nature, in the neighbourhood of the shoulder." It thus happened that he who had spent his life treating diseased joints died of a joint disease.

He married in 1816 Anne, the third daughter of Serjeant Sellon by his wife Charlotte Dickinson, his brother-in-law being Monsieur Regnault, the French physicist. Three children survived to maturity: Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie F.R.S. (1817-1880), who became Professor of Chemistry at Oxford; a daughter who married the Rev. E. Hoare; and another son, the Rev. W. Brodie. [His granddaughter Mary Isabel married Sir Herbert Warren K.C.V.O. President of Magdalen College Oxford - 1885-1928]

Brodie was distinguished as a surgeon with the bent of a physician. He was not a great operating surgeon, nor did he regard operations as the highest aim of surgery. His power of diagnosis was great, and he was a distinguished teacher with an elegant and clear deliverance. He attained high success by the legitimate influence of a lofty order of intellect, by his great stores of surgical knowledge, and the sound decided opinions he based upon them. He was single-minded and upright in character and free from all affectations. He knew his duty and did it well. He lived for a great end, the lessening of human suffering, and for that he felt no labour was too great, no patience too long. As a scientific man his object was truth pursued for its own sake, and without regard to future reward. He recognized the great traditions of wisdom, benevolence, and self-denial as the everlasting bases on which true medicine and surgery rest, and he was in truth a master of medicine.

Of Brodie's manner as a lecturer, Sir Henry Acland says: "None who heard him can forget the graphic yet artless manner in which, sitting at his ease, he used to describe minutely what he had himself seen and done under circumstances of difficulty, and what under like circumstances he would again do or would avoid. His instruction was illustrated by the valuable pathological dissections which during many years he had amassed, and which he gave during his lifetime to his hospital."

Mr. Timothy Holmes says: "It was Brodie who popularized the method of lithotrity in England, and by so doing chiefly contributed to the ready reception of an operation which has robbed what was one of the deadliest diseases that afflict humanity of nearly all its terror. This will remain to all time one of Brodie's greatest claims to public gratitude."

Brodie used to tell that he once prescribed for a fat butler, suffering from too much good living and lack of exercise. Sir Benjamin told him "he must be very moderate in what he ate and drank, careful not to eat much at a time or late at night. Above all, no spirituous liquors could be allowed, malt liquor especially being poison to his complaint." Whilst these directions were being given the butler's face grew longer and longer, and at the end he exclaimed, "And pray, Sir Benjamin, who is going to compensate me for the loss of all these things?"

Brodie's personal appearance is admirably portrayed in the picture by Watts. He was not, perhaps, strictly handsome, but no one can deny that the features are striking. A fine forehead, keen grey eyes, a mobile and sensitive mouth, and facial muscles which followed all the movements of one of the most active minds, lent to the countenance a charm and an expressiveness to which no stranger could be insensible. His frame was slight and small; but there was nothing of weakness about it. Those who knew him only as a public man would little suspect the playful humour which sparkled by his fireside - the fund of anecdotes, the harmless wit, the simple pleasures of his country walk.

The following is a list of portraits of Brodie: (1) A bust by H. Weekes, R.A., in the Royal College of Surgeons. (2) A portrait in middle life, which appeared in the Medical Circular (1852, I, 817). The copy in the College is accompanied by a strikingly picturesque and vivid appreciation of Brodie as a teacher making his round of the wards. (3) A half-length by G. F. Watts, R.A., painted in 1860, which is reproduced in Timothy Holmes's Life of Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, 1897. (4) A medal presented to Sir Benjamin Brodie in 1840 when he retired from office as Surgeon to St. George's Hospital. There is a bronze replica in the Board Room at St. George's Hospital, and an illustration of it in the British Journal of Surgery (1918-19, vi, facing p.158).

PUBLICATIONS: -
As an author Brodie achieved fame by his treatise on Diseases of the Joints, 1818, which went through five editions and was translated into foreign languages. He wrote also on local nervous affections, diseases of the urinary organs, the surgery of the breast, lighting-stroke, besides an important work, published anonymously in 1854, under the title of Psychological Enquiries

[Times 21 Jan 1938. BRODIE - On Jan. 20, 1938. at Brockham Warren, Betchworth, Surrey, of pneumonia, SIR BENJAMIN VINCENT SELLON BRODIE, Bt., M.A. (Oxon), D.L., J.P., aged 75. Funeral at Betchworth Church, 3 p.m. Monday, Jan. 24.
SIR BENJAMIN BRODIE. Sir Benjamin Vincent Sellon Brodie, Bt.,. died at his home, Brockham Warren, Dorking, yesterday at the age of 75. He succeeded as third baronet on the death of his father in 1880. Educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, and a barrister at Lincoln's Inn, he was a county councillor and then a county alderman for Surrey, High Sheriff in 1912, and a member of the Surrey Education Committee. He owned about 1,000 acres in Surrey. Sir Benjamin married in 1887 Caroline, daughter of the late Captain J. R. Woodriff, R.N., his Majesty's Serjeant-at-Arms, and they had one son and two daughters. Lady Brodie died in 1895. The heir is Captain Benjamin Colin (amended to Collins) Brodie, who was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford. He served throughout the War with the Surrey Yeomanry and the 4th Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders, winning the M.C. and bar. Later he became a captain in the Army Educational Corps. He is married and has two sons and one daughter.]

[SIR BENJAMIN BRODIE Captain Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, MC, the fourth baronet, died on Monday. He served with the Surrey Yeomanry at Gallipoli, with the Gordon Highlanders and the 1st Highland Brigade, British Army of the Rhine, in the First World War. He was joint headmaster of Holyrood School, Bognor Regis, from 1927 to 1940. He was twice chairman of the governors of Tonbridge School; and from 1945 to 1960 of Judd School, Tonbridge. He was twice Master of the Skinners' Company. Brodie succeeded his father in 1938 and the heir to the baronetcy is Brodie's son, Benjamin David Ross Brodie.]

Sources used to compile this entry: [Autobiography of the late Sir Benjamin C. Brodie, Bart., 12mo, 2nd ed., London, 1865. The Works of the late Sir Benjamin Brodie with an Autobiography collected and arranged by Charles Hawkins, F.R.C.S. Eng., 8vo, 3 volumes, London, 1865. Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie, by Timothy Holmes, M.A., F.R.C.S. Eng. (Masters of Medicine Series), 8vo, London, 1897. MacCormac's Address of Welcome, 1900, 97. "Sir Benjamin Brodie," Brit. Jour. Surg., 1918-19, vi, 157. Additional information kindly given by Sir Benjamin Vincent Sellon Brodie, Bart. R. R. James's School of Anatomy and Medicine adjoining St. George's Hospital, London, privately printed, 1928].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England