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Biographical entry Luke, James (1799 - 1881)

M.R.C.S., Sept. 6th, 1822; F.R.C.S., Dec. 11th, 1843, one of the original 300 Fellows; F.R.S., 1855.

  • Image of Luke, James
12 December 1799
Exeter, UK
15 August 1881
Fingest, Buckinghamshire, UK
Anatomist and General surgeon


Born at Exeter on Dec. 12th, 1799, the third son of James Luke, merchant and banker, by his wife, who had been a Miss Ponsford, of Drewsteignton. He entered Blundell's School at Tiverton in 1813 and remained there until 1816, when, on the death of his father, he came to London and was articled to John Goldwyer Andrews (q.v.), of the London Hospital. He attended the lectures of Abernethy and Sir Astley Cooper, and was appointed Demonstrator of Anatomy at the London Hospital in 1821; he became Lecturer on Anatomy in 1823 and on Surgery in 1825. He was elected Assistant Surgeon on Sept. 5th, 1827; Surgeon on Dec. 18th, 1833, and resigned on Aug. 13th, 1861, when he was elected Consulting Surgeon. During the whole of his active life in London he lived and practised at 37 Broad Street Buildings, E.C.

He retired to Maidenhead Thicket in 1864, moving in 1878 to Fingest, Bucks, where he lived as a country gentleman and employed himself in wood carving until his death on Aug. 15th, 1881. He was buried in the cemetery at Kensal Green. He married: (1) Ann, daughter of William Rayley, and by her had a family, all of whom he outlived; and (2) Irene, daughter of Arthur Willis, of Bifrons, Essex. She survived him with one son and two daughters. The son - Arthur George - became a distinguished civil engineer at Chepstow and died in 1911. One daughter, Irene, married Dr. Reginald Wall, of Bayswater, father of Cecil Wall, M.D., who became Physician to the London Hospital.

At the Royal College of Surgeons Luke was a Member of the Council from 1846-1866; a Vice-President in 1851, 1852, 1860, and 1861; President in 1853 and 1862; and Hunterian Orator in 1852. He was also a Member of the Court of Examiners from 1851-1868, Chairman of the Midwifery Board in 1852 and 1861, and of the Dental Board from 1865-1868. He was elected F.R.S. on June 7th, 1855. He was also Surgeon to the Marine Society, to St. Luke's Mental Hospital, and to the West of England Insurance Company.

Luke invented a suspensory apparatus for slinging fractures of the leg by means of a cradle, and described it in 1841. He also described in the same year a bedstead by which the patient could be raised without changing his position. Both inventions came into general use. He strongly advocated Petit's operation for strangulated hernia without opening the sac, and summed up his teaching in the words: "Make a small longitudinal incision over the seat of stricture, and a subsequent division of the stricture with as little disturbance of the tissues as possible, and the result will be cure not death." How much general improvement was necessary is shown by the fact that between the years 1816 and 1842 one half of all the cases operated upon for femoral fracture at W├╝rzburg died; in the hospitals at Paris between 1836 and 1840, 133 cases of strangulated hernia died out of 220 operated upon; at the London Hospital more than one-third died; and at St. Thomas's Hospital the proportion of deaths as recorded by J. Flint South (q.v.) was 1 in 2 1/2. Luke's method of relieving the constriction without opening the sac remained in vogue until the antiseptic period was well advanced.

James Luke stood six feet in height and was of an irascible temper. He was scrupulously careful as to the cleanliness of his instruments, a peculiarity which drew upon him the satire of his less careful colleagues. A rapid operator, he once amputated at the hip and removed the limb in twenty-seven seconds. He was especially interested in the treatment of cleft palate and was amongst the first to use an obturator.

The College possesses a Maguire lithograph of Luke in Stone's Medical Portrait Gallery, and a lithograph by G. B. Black dated 1861. A painting by Edward Hughes, and a miniature dated 1825, are in the possession of the family.

"Suspensory Apparatus for Fracture of the Leg." - Lond. Med. Gaz., 1840-1, xxvii, 652.
"Elevating Bedstead." - Ibid., 1840-1, xxviii, 274.
"Operation for Strangulated Hernia." - Ibid., 863.
"On the Uses of the Round Ligament of the Hip-joint." - Ibid, 1842, N.S. I, 9.
"Cases of Fistula in Ano Treated by Ligature." - Lancet, 1845, I, 221. The operation described is practically that used by John Arderne (1307-1380?), which had long been forgotten.
"A Case of Tubular Aneurysm undergoing Spontaneous Cure: with Observations." - Lond. Med. Gaz., 1845, N.S. I, 77. In this paper Luke introduced the classification of aneurysms usually employed by surgeons until quite recently.
"On Petit's Operation for the Relief of Strangulated Hernia." - Trans. Med.-Chir. Soc., 1848, xxxi, 99.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Barker and Edwards' Photographs of Eminent Medical Men, 1867, I, 28, with portrait. Brit. Med. Jour., 1881, ii, 420. MacCormac's Address of Welcome, 1900, 126. S. D. Clippingdale, Lond. Hosp. Gaz., 1913-14, xx, 8].

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