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Biographical entry Martin, Thomas (1779 - 1867)

MRCS, Feb 16th, 1810; FRCS, Dec 11th, 1843, one of the original 300 Fellows.

3 November 1779
Pulborough, Sussex, UK
12 February 1867
Reigate, UK
General surgeon


Born at Pulborough, Sussex, on Nov 3rd, 1779, the eldest child of Peter Patrick Martin, who had migrated from Edinburgh whilst the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 was still fresh in the popular recollection and settled in Pulborough as a general practitioner. A clever and well-informed man, he advocated opinions far in advance of his time, and secured a good social and professional position. He continued to frequent medical schools to the advanced age of 91 and was hence known as the ‘Old Student’; his death occurred suddenly in Paris.

Thomas Martin was encouraged by his father to read widely. At the age of 15 he joined the Petworth Corps of Yeomanry, embodied owing to the threat of invasion from France, and served for two years. On Oct 1st, 1796, he entered the United Hospitals of Guy’s and St. Thomas’s. Cline was at that time lecturing on anatomy with Astley Cooper as his assistant and demonstrator. Fordyce at seven o’clock in the morning was teaching to large classes the practice of medicine, including materia medica and chemistry; Haighton, the principles of midwifery and of physiology. Among the surgeons were William Cooper, the uncle of Astley Cooper. Those were the days of dissecting under difficulties, when bodies for dissection were obtained through a class of men later named ‘resurrection men’. Students were little cared for as regards libraries and reading-rooms, but the Medical and Physical Society of Guy’s was already flourishing. The students of those days visited in turn the other hospitals, to witness at St Bartholomew’s operations by Sir James Earle, the son-in-law of Pott, and by Abernethy, then Assistant Surgeons; at the London Hospital Sir William Blizard was in high repute; at Westminster, Lynn, who had assisted John Hunter in the formation of his Museum, was pre-eminent as an operator.

Thomas Martin became early familiar with private practice as locum tenens for Prince at Tunbridge Wells. After eighteen months he went in the same capacity to ‘Old Newnham’ at Brighton, and then to Wicher, of Petersfield. After that, on Feb. 19th, 1810, he settled in practice at Reigate, and a few years after married a Miss Charrington. At Reigate he built up a large practice. In 1812 he was one of the Associated Apothecaries and Surgeon-Apothecaries who, led by Dr G Mann Burrows, agitated for medical improvements by legislation. He was the founder of the Surrey Medical Benevolent Society, acting as Secretary, and later as President, being present at fifty-four annual meetings.

When Sir Charles Hastings founded the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association at Worcester, Martin supported him by forming the South-Eastern Branch, which he and his son, P Martin, fostered with Pennington, Bird, and Ansell. Martin started the “Institute of Medicine, Surgery and Midwifery” for the spread of their opinions as to medical reform. The Poor Law Medical Officers chose Martin as Treasurer, their object being to obtain redress for grievances under the New Poor Law System.

In 1830, perceiving that the population around him was becoming troublesome in a variety of ways from the want of rational evening employment and recreation, Martin, with the support of Lords Somers and Monson, suggested the formation of a Mechanics Institute on the new Birkbeck type, and this became a recognized benefit to the neighbourhood. In addition, he established or helped other institutions - the Cottage Gardeners’ Society, the Victoria Club Benefit Society, the Surrey Church of England Schoolmasters’ and Schoolmistresses’ Association, a Savings Bank for adults and a Penny Bank for children, National Schools at Reigate and at Red Hill, church buildings, etc. Benevolence was his watchword throughout life, and he was courteous, tactful, strong of will, an early riser, marvellously energetic both in body and in mind.

From his father he inherited a liking for medical classics; he was musical, and after getting through a hard day’s work in the saddle, although the byways around Reigate might be knee-deep in mud, he would ride the twenty miles into London to listen to an oratorio and ride home again to breakfast and his daily round. When he was 85 he drove twice in one week to the Crystal Palace at Sydenham to listen to a Handel Festival Society Concert, and in the same week to the Harveian Oration by Dr H W Acland, and was aggrieved because he could not also visit the Royal Academy on the same day; for he had lost a leg in an accident, replaced by an artificial limb. Just before he died he read through the latest edition of Carpenter’s Physiology.

He died at Reigate on Feb 12th, 1867. His son, P Martin, who had been in practice with his father, predeceased him; William Martin (q.v.) survived him.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England