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Biographical entry Blake, James (1815 - 1895?)

MRCS Dec 12th 1834; FRCS (by election) Aug 26th 1844; MB Lond 1841.

General surgeon


Born at Gosport; educated in London and Paris. He practised at 16 Pall Mall, SW, migrated to America in 1847, and was immediately appointed Professor of Special, General, and Surgical Anatomy in the University at St Louis. Two years later he took part in the gold rush to California and settled at Sacramento. He then moved to San Francisco, where he practised until 1862, was a Professor in Toland's Medical College, and was one of the promoters of the California Academy of Natural Sciences. He moved later to Middletown, where he hoped to carry on some original research. Here he is said to have died late in June, 1893, but this may be incorrect, as it is possible that he returned to England and died at Horbury Crescent, Notting Hill, W, between 1894 and 1895.

Blake was a voluminous writer who devoted much time to the study of chemistry, more especially on the molecular weight and constitution of chemical compounds and their physiological action, upon which subject he wrote a special work. The following letter from Laurence F Kenny, S J, Registrar of the Jesuit University of St Louis, gives a good picture of the man:-

My Dear Mr Plarr,

I have your interesting communication, dated the 22nd day of December, 1919, in which you inquire for further information about Dr James Blake.

I submitted your request to Dr Louis C Boislinière, Assistant Professor of Medicine of this University, Chief of Staff of the Mount St Rose Hospital, and recently President of the St Louis Medical Society. He says:

"My father (the late Dr L Charles Boislinière) came to St Louis in 1846, and lived for a time in the same house as Dr Blake. He often referred to him as a most indefatigable research worker, investigating especially the action of lethal poisons in animals, the chemical changes in the blood, and the pathological alterations in the viscera incident thereto….His was the honour of being among the very first in this western country to have carried out systematic scientific research by means of animal experimentation.

"He was a tall, slender man, and quite eccentric; for instance, when feeling indisposed or out of sorts, he would take what he called a little walk - to Iron Mountain, Missouri, a distance of eighty miles, where he would satisfy his scientific cravings by examining the interesting geological formations in that vicinity. He would return in a few days, always with renewed vigour. After a few years in St Louis, he departed with the gold-seekers for California, walking all the way.

"Among my father's books and papers I found two copies of a monograph written by Dr Blake, which, I imagine, was originally presented by him to or read before the French Academy. This article treated of the changes of blood-pressure in animals after certain alkaline salts had been injected in the veins. This pressure was measured by an instrument that he called a (?) 'hydrodynamometer'. One of these copies I gave to the late Professor Gustav Baumgarten. Seven or eight years ago I exhibited the other copy at a display of rare medical books and antiques held by the St Louis Medical History Club. The pamphlet greatly interested Professor C W Greene, Professor of Physiology at present at the University of Missouri. His interest arose from the fact that he was well acquainted with a daughter of Dr Blake, resident at that time in San Francisco."

Dr Blake's name first appears in the catalogue of this University in the prospectus for the year 1847-8: JAMES BLAKE, MD, Professor of Special, General, and Surgical Anatomy. No catalogue was issued for the following year, when the city was decimated by the Asiatic cholera. The generous heroism of the medical profession during the scourge is one of the bright pages in the history of the profession. It would have been difficult for Dr Blake to have distinguished himself where all acted so nobly. His name appears again in the bulletin for 1849-50 with the same wording descriptive of his work as was used in 1847-8. He is not in the books for 1850-1. Dr Charles W Stephens held the professorship of General, Descriptive, and Surgical Anatomy. Perhaps I should add the names of some of Dr Blake's fellow-professors; all the names are familiar in their offspring here in St Louis, except perhaps Dr M M Pallen, whose son is Condé B Pallen, editor of the Catholic Encyclopedia, and who now lives in New York; and Dr Charles A Pope, who was Dean of the Medical Faculty, whose only son is the Rev John O'Fallon Pope, recently Head Master of Pope Hall at Oxford University, England. The others were M L Linton, A Litton, Thomas Reyburn, R S Holmes, W M McPheeters, and J V Prather.

I have sent a word of inquiry to Professor Greene at the seat of our State University, asking him to put me in touch with Miss Blake. You will doubtless hear from me again if they let me have any item that will appear important for your purposes.

With best wishes for the success of your arduous undertaking,

I am, very sincerely yours,

Laurence J Kenny, SJ

Blake's publications include:
Forty-two papers mainly on the geology, hydrology, climate, etc., of California and a few on the action of metals, published for the most part in the Proc. Calif. Acad. of Nat. Sci.
The following papers were published by him before leaving Europe:-
"Observations and Experiments on the Mode in which Various Poisonous Agents Act on the Animal Body," 8vo, Edinburgh, nd, from Edin. Med. and Surg. Jour., 1840, liii, 35.
"Mémoire sur les Effets de diverses Substances salines, injectées dans le Système circulatoire," lu à l'Académie des Sciences le 3 juin, 1839, 8vo, Paris, 1839, from Arch. Gén. de Méd., 1839, Nov.
"Physiological Essays on the Action of Poisons, and on the Introduction of Saline Substances into the Veins," 8vo, Edinburgh, 1839-1841, etc., from Edin. Med. and Surg. Jour., Nos. 139, 142, 148, 149, and Arch. Gén. de Méd., 1839, Nov.
"Observations on the Physiological Effects of Various Agents introduced into the Circulation as indicated by the Hæmadynamometer," 8vo, Edinburgh, n.d., from Edin. Med. and Surg. Jour., 1839, l, 330.
"On the Action of Certain Inorganic Compounds when introduced directly into the Blood." Read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Jan 21st and 28th, 1841, 8vo, Edinburgh, 1841, from Edin. Med. and Surg. Jour., 1841, lvi, 104.
"On the Action of Poisons," 8vo, Edinburgh, n.d., from Edin. Med. and Surg. Jour., 1841, lvi, 412.
"Report on the Physiological Action of Medicines," 8vo, London, 1844, from Rep. Brit. Assoc., 1843; Ibid., 1846.
"Introductory Lecture, Med. Dept. of the St. Louis University, Session of 1848-9," 8vo, St Louis, 1848.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Pacific Med. Jour., 1893, xxxvi, 579. From data supplied by William R Sherwood, of San Francisco. Information supplied by the Rev Laurence F Kenny, S J. Catalogue of Scientific Papers (First series)].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England