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Biographical entry Embleton, Dennis (1810 - 1900)

MRCS June 13th 1834; FRCS Dec 11th 1843 one of the original 300 Fellows; LSA 1835; MD Pisa 1836; MD Durham 1853; FRCP Lond 1859.

1 October 1810
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK
12 November 1900
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK


Born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on Oct 1st, 1810, and came of a Northumbrian stock, both his father and mother being natives of Alwinton. He was educated at Witton-le-Wear, Durham, and in 1827 was apprenticed to T Leighton, Senior Surgeon at the Newcastle Infirmary, to whom £500 was paid as Embleton's apprenticeship fee. He studied at Guy's and St Thomas's Hospitals, and at Grainger's, and, probably, also at Pilcher's School of Anatomy. After qualifying in 1834 he spent much of his time in the South of Europe, studying his profession in Paris, Rome, Bologna, and Pisa, among other places. He was a great pedestrian and wandered on foot over France, Spain, and Italy. He was never tired of talking of the adventures of those days - those halcyon days - of the beauties of the Southern scenery, of the grandeur of the cities, and of the manners and habits of the people with whom his own kind and genial disposition rendered it easy for him to amalgamate. He spoke French and Italian well, was familiar with the literature of France and of Italy, and loved the warmth and brightness of their sunny climate as much as if he had been a native. To the end of his life he retained his affection for Frenchmen and Italians, who were always welcome to his hospitable board and to his almost open house.

He became a Doctor of Medicine of Pisa after the usual examination. He ended his wanderings in 1836 and settled in practice as a physician in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1837, and joined the Newcastle School of Medicine in September, 1839, as Demonstrator of Practical Anatomy and Curator of the Museum. The School had been established in 1884 by George Fife, Samuel Knott, and Alexander Fraser, who were later joined by John Fife (qv) and others. Embleton lectured first on anatomy and physiology, and acted as Registrar, and in 1852 was appointed Reader in Medicine at the University of Durham. On the closer connection of the University with the Medical School at Newcastle, he was appointed in 1870 the first Professor of Medicine and of the Practice of Physic. In 1872 Dr Edward Charlton succeeded him, and thus his long tenure of office at Newcastle and Durham ceased after a period of thirty-three years. He was the representative of the University of Durham on the General Medical Council from 1858 (the year of its inception) to 1872, and was Physician to the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Infirmary from April, 1853, to May, 1878, when he became Consulting Physician.

In the wards of the Infirmary he was perhaps less the popular clinical teacher than the student and the friend of students. Popularity had never any charm for him. He was a careful observer of facts, and extremely painstaking and accurate both in his accumulation and application of data. He was Physician to the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Dispensary and Fever House from 1856-1873.

Though a man of the study not in love with popularity, Embleton was nevertheless locally most popular. At different times he was Vice-President of the Literary and Philosophical, the Natural History, and the Antiquarian Societies of Newcastle. He was actively interested in science at large, and in literature, was a good naturalist and a fine antiquarian. For years he was one of the best-known leaders of the educational movement in the North of England, and no savant ever visited Newcastle without asking for, and making the acquaintance of, Embleton.

To within two years of his death, when he met with an accident, Embleton was one of the best-known figures in his native town. Carrying himself, even in his latest years, perfectly erect, he walked with a briskness, a firmness, and a rapidity of step that made him the envy of many. His robust inherited constitution enabled him to pass through an attack of pneumonia in extreme old age. After no long period of declining health this Nestor of the profession in Northumbria passed quietly away at his residence, 19 Claremont Place, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, early on the morning of Monday, Nov 12th, 1900. He was buried in St Andrew's Cemetery.

He married in 1847 Miss Turner, a lady devoted to natural history and scientific pursuits; she died in 1869. He was survived by two daughters, of whom one had nursed him with great devotion. His only son, Dennis Cawood Embleton, MD, MRCS, had predeceased him by a few months at Bournemouth, where he had been for long in a large practice. Dennis Embleton, his grandson (MRCS 1906), was at the time studying medicine at Christ's College, Cambridge.

A portrait of Embleton accompanies his biography in the Lancet, and his photograph is in the Fellows' Album (1867), where he already appears as a venerable man.

Embleton had outlived his Newcastle contemporaries, with the exception of Lord Armstrong and T Lightfoot, the oldest local surgeon. At the time of his death he was one of three surviving original Fellows, the other two being Carsten Holthouse (d July 18th, 1901) and Henry Spencer Smith (d Nov 29th, 1901) (qv).

A Visit to Madeira in the Winter, 1880-1: two Lectures, 8vo, London, 1882.
The History of the Medical School, afterwards the Durham College of Medicine at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1832-72, 8vo, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1890.
"On an Ancient British Burial at Ilderton, Northumberland, with Notes on the Skull" (with the Rev. W. GREENWELL), 8vo, 2 plates, 1863; reprinted from Nat. Hist. Trans.
A Case of Cyanosis, 8vo, 1863.
Report from the Newcastle and Gateshead Fever Hospital on Typhus and Small-pox, for the year 1864-5, 8vo, Newcastle, 1865.
On the Shoulder Tip Pain, and other Sympathetic Pains in Diseases of the Liver, 8vo, Newcastle, 1870. Here his ability and the peculiar bent of his mind are well shown. Sir Thomas Watson alluded to the importance of this paper, or the one following, in his classic lectures on the Practice of Physic.
"Tenderness and Pain of the Pneumogastric Nerves and the Importance of the Sign in Cases of Disease of the Stomach, Liver, and Heart."
"On the Spinal Column of Loxomma Allmanni (Huxley), from the Northumberland Coalfield." - Brit. Assoc. Rep. 1889, 580.
"On the Egg." - A lecture. Northumberland Nat. Hist. Trans., 1894, xi, 255.
"On the Anatomy of Eolis, a Genus of the Mollusks of the order Nudibranchiata" (with ALBAN HANCOCK). - Ann. Of Nat. Hist., 1845, xv, 77; 1848, 2nd ser., I, 88; 1849, 2nd ser.,183.
"Account of a Ribbon-fish (Gymnetrus) taken off the Coast of Northumberland"
(with ALBAN HANCOCK). - Ann. Of Nat. Hist., 1849, 2nd ser., iv, 1.
"On the Anatomy of Scyllaea" (with ALBAN HANcocx). - Brit. Assoc. Rep., 1847, 77.
"On the Anatomy of Doris, a Nudibranchiate Mollusk." - Ibid., 1850, 124.
He sent his work "On the Anatomy of Doris" to the Prince Consort, who, at the
request of the Queen, sent him a work on the Natural History of Braemar.
Papers on folk-lore, dialogues and poetry in the Northumbrian dialect, short History
of Featherstone Castle, lives of his friends, Joshua Alder, John and Albany
Hancock, and W. C. Hewitson.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit. Med. Jour., 1900, ii, 1475. Lancet, 1900, ii, 1522, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England