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Biographical entry Marshall, John (1818 - 1891)

M.R.C.S., Aug. 9th, 1844 ; F.R.C.S., Dec, 7th, 1849 ; L.S.A., 1846 ; Hon. M.Ch., R.U.I., 1887 ; LL.D. Edin. ; F.R.S., 1857.

11 September 1818
Ely, Cambridgeshire, UK
London, UK
General surgeon


Born at Ely in Cambridgeshire on Sept. 11th, 1818, the second son of William Marshall, solicitor, an excellent naturalist. John Marshall's elder brother, William (d. 1890), sometime Coroner for Ely, was an enthusiastic botanist, who first elucidated the life-history of the American pond-weed, Anacharis alsinastrum, which had been accidentally introduced into this country and had done much damage to the waterways.

John Marshall was educated at Hingham, Norfolk, under J. H. Browne, uncle of Hablot K. Browne ('Phiz'), and was apprenticed to Dr. Wales in Wisbech. He entered University College, London, in 1838, where William Sharpey was lecturing on physiology. He was on terms of intimacy with Robert Liston for many years, acting for a time as his private assistant and beginning to practise at 10 Crescent Place, Mornington Crescent. He succeeded Thomas Morton (q.v.) about 1845 as Demonstrator of Anatomy at University College, and in 1847, by the influence of Quain and Sharpey, he was appointed an extra Assistant Surgeon at University College Hospital. The appointment caused considerable surprise, for Marshall was looked upon as an anatomist, who had never held the office of house surgeon, and had shown no special surgical aptitude. He moved to George Street, Hanover Square, and in 1854 to Savile Row, where he remained until his retirement to Cheyne Walk, Chelsea - the west corner house overlooking the bridge.

On June 11th, 1857, he was elected F.R.S., after presenting in 1849 a valuable piece of original work "On the Development of the Great Anterior Veins in Man and Mammalia" (Phil. Trans., 1850, cxl, 133). In 1866 he was appointed Surgeon and Professor of Surgery at University College in succession to John Eric Erichsen (q.v.), and in 1884 he retired with the rank of Consulting Surgeon to the Hospital. Many thought at the time of his appointment as Professor of Surgery that the post should have been offered to Lister.

At the College his career was extremely active. He became a Member in 1844, a Fellow in 1849, was a Member of Council from 1873-1890, of the Court of Examiners from 1873-1881, was representative of the College on the General Medical Council from 1881-1891, Vice-President in 1881 and 1882, President in 1883, Bradshaw Lecturer in 1883, his subject being "Nerve-stretching for the Relief or Cure of Pain", Hunterian Orator in 1885, and Morton Lecturer in 1889. He was official representative of the College at the Tercentenary of the University of Edinburgh, on which occasion he was created LL.D.

He acted as President of the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society of London in 1882-1883, and in 1887 he replaced Sir Henry Acland as President of the General Medical Council. For four years he held the Chair of Fullerian Professor of Physiology at the Royal Institution.

Marshall adopted the galvano-cautery, and the operation for the excision of varicose veins. This operation was at first violently assailed; it is now accepted. He was one of the first to show that cholera might be spread by means of drinking water, and issued an interesting report on the outbreak of cholera in Broad Street, Soho, in 1854. He also advocated the system of circular wards for hospitals, and to him are largely owing the details of the modern medical student's education. He also tried hard to establish a teaching University in London.

He gave his first course of lectures on anatomy to the art students at Marlborough House in 1853, a course which he repeated when the art schools were removed to South Kensington. On May 16th, 1873, he was appointed Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Academy. This office he held until his death, and his great facility in drawing on the blackboard gave additional attraction to his lectures.

He died at his house in Cheyne Row, after a short illness from bronchitis, on New Year's Day, 1891, survived by his wife, one son, and two daughters. A bust of him by Thomas Thornycroft, dated 1852, is in the possession of the family; another, by Thomas Brock, R.A., dated 1887, was presented to University College by Sir John Tweedy (q.v.) on behalf of the subscribers to the Marshall Memorial Fund. A replica is in the College Hall. He appears in Jamyn Brookes's portrait group of the Council.

Marshall was a good surgeon of the old school, who failed to appreciate the new surgery introduced by Lister, which was enthusiastically taken up by the younger men at University College Hospital. He was a somewhat slow operator and an uninspiring teacher. Verbatim notes of his lectures taken by James Stanton Cluff are preserved in the Library of the College, to which they were presented to Sir John Tweedy after passing through the hands of Marcus Beck.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dict. Nat. Biog., sub. nomine et auct. ibi cit. The Victor Horsley Memorial Lecture in the Lancet, 1923, ii, 921. See also the Lancet for 1923, ii, 1007 and 1058. Personal knowledge.].

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