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Biographical entry Stanley, Edward (1793 - 1862)

M.R.C.S., Sept. 2nd, 1814; F.R.C.S., Dec. 11th 1843, one of the original 300 Fellows; F.R.S., 1830.

3 July 1793
24 May 1862
London, UK
General surgeon


Born on July 3rd, 1793, the son of Edward Stanley, who was in business in the City; his mother was sister to Thomas Blizard. He entered Merchant Taylors' School in April, 1802, and remained there until 1808, when he was apprenticed to Thomas Ramsden, Surgeon to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, who died in February, 1813; Stanley was then turned over to John Abernethy for the rest of his term. He was awarded the Jacksonian Prize for his essay "On Diseases of Bone", and was elected Assistant Surgeon to St. Bartholomew's Hospital on Jan. 29th, 1816, at the early age of 24.

Even during his apprenticeship he had rendered important services to the Medical School, for his love of morbid anatomy led him, with Abernethy's assistance and approval, to enlarge the Museum so greatly that he practically created it. He subsequently compiled a valuable catalogue of the collection. He acted as Demonstrator of Anatomy until 1826, when he was appointed Lecturer on Anatomy and Physiology in place of Abernethy and held the post without distinction until 1848, when he was succeeded by F. C. Skey (q.v.). He was elected full Surgeon in 1838, and then became famous as a clinical teacher. He was elected F.R.S. in 1830 for his pathological work, became President of the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society in 1843, and was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to Queen Victoria in 1858.

At the Royal College of Surgeons Stanley was a Member of Council from 1835-1862, Professor Human Anatomy from 1835-1838, and Hunterian Orator in 1839, the Oration being published in London as an octavo volume in 1839. He was a Member of the Court of Examiners from 1844-1862, Chairman of the Midwifery Board in 1856, Vice-President in 1846, 1847, 1855, and 1856, and President in 1848 and 1857.

He resigned the post of Surgeon to St. Bartholomew's Hospital in 1861, but continued to attend the weekly operations on Saturdays until May 24th, 1862. On that day, after witnessing the operations, being in his usual health and good spirits, he went with the other Surgeons, on the invitation of Sir William Lawrence, to see a patient in Henry Ward who was suffering from a swelling of the knee. Stanley bent over the patient for a short time, then drew himself up and said, "I think, Mr. Lawrence, this is a case of knee-joint disease, and that if all remedies have failed for many months in your hands the case would be one favourable for resection." He spoke clearly and evidently in full possession of all his faculties: a moment later he staggered against a bed and sank to the floor supported by those around him. He was at once raised and place on the 'state bed' in the front ward. Momentarily he seemed to regain consciousness, and when Mr. Wormald asked if he could do anything, Stanley replied: "I am quite well, Wormald; I never felt better in my life, it's only stomach." Tradition says that Lawrence, looking round, said to his House Surgeon, "Wrong again. Head." However this may be, Stanley quickly became unconscious, passing into a state of coma and died within an hour.

He married a highly educated, talented and sympathetic lady by whom he had one son, the Rev. Rainey Stanley, and several daughters. He lived at first in Lincoln's Inn fields, afterwards at 66 Brook Street, the house afterwards occupied by Sir William Savory (q.v.).

Stanley is described as being one of the most sagacious teachers and judicious practitioners of his day. He was vivacious in conversation, but solemn and impressive, and his language was clear and empathic when teaching in the wards, where the students knew him as 'the inspired butterman' because he was short and 'podgy'. His unattractive features were redeemed by large intellectual eyes, a genial smile and a face honest, earnest, and good-tempered. He was an eager inquirer after pathological knowledge, a patient, accurate, and intelligent investigator and collector, but was wanting in culture of the higher kind and was without any appreciation of the arts.

He always took immense pains in studying his hospital cases, and as the result of this and his innate sagacity he was seldom wrong in the opinions he arrived at. He was never a brilliant operator, yet he shone in the operating theatre, because when grave or unexpected incidents arose he never lost his self-possession, and his courage rose with the emergency. His anatomical knowledge and quiet insistence carried him through all difficulties, and he was fortunate in having James Paget (q.v.) as his Assistant Surgeon. He was, too, a man of peace, and did much to compose the bitter quarrels in which the hospital staff engaged. To this end he was instrumental in arranging the Christmas Dinner which is still a feature in the life of the Hospital, where the members of the Staff and all teachers in the Medical School meet together and, if they are so disposed, play cards until a late hour.

Stanley's writings and the specimens he added to the Museum show how extensive was his knowledge of diseases of bone. He had prepared specimens of the arthritis which occurs in locomotor ataxy and has since been called Charcot's disease. There are portraits of him in the College Collection.

An Account of the Mode of Performing the Lateral Operation of Lithotomy, 4to, London, 1829.
Illustrations of the Effects of Disease and Injury of the Bones with Descriptive and Explanatory Statements, fol., 24 plates, London, 1849. The coloured plates are splendidly executed and are drawn from original preparations, many of which are still preserved in the Museum of St. Bartholomew's Hospital.
A Treatise on Diseases of the Bones, 8vo, London and Philadelphia, 1849. These two books are classics.
A Manual of Practical Anatomy, 12mo, London, 1818; 3rd ed., 1826.

Sources used to compile this entry: [St. Bart.'s Hosp. Jour., 1862, I, 146, contains a vivid account of him by Alfred Willett, one of his dressers. Dict. Nat. Biog., sub nomine et auct. ibi cit. Norman Moore's History of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, ii, 664. MacCormac's Address of Welcome, 1900, 113].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England