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Biographical entry Grainger, Richard Dugard (1801 - 1865)

MRCS Jan 4th 1822; FRCS Dec 11th 1843 one of the original 300 fellows; FRS 1837.

Birmingham, UK
1 February 1865


Born at Birmingham, the younger son of Edward Grainger, surgeon. His elder brother, Edward (1797-1824), was the well-known founder of the Webb Street School, one of the most flourishing of the private medical schools in London.

Richard Grainger entered the Military Academy at Woolwich as a cadet, but when the persecution of the hospital surgeons had nearly killed Edward Grainger he took the place of his brother as Lecturer on Anatomy and carried on the school with moderate success. The Webb Street School closed in 1842, and Richard Grainger was appointed Lecturer on General Anatomy and Physiology at St Thomas's Hospital, a post he held until 1860, when he resigned, and his colleague, Dr William Brinton, took his place.

He published in 1838 Observations on the Structure and Functions of the Spinal Cord, in which he supported Dr Marshall Hall's views on reflex action, and based them, on anatomical studies of his own, on the course of nerve-fibres in the nervous centres. He also developed a theory of the functions of sympathetic nervous system which in some points was an advance on any that had previously been brought forward. It is probable that this work led to his election in 1837 as a FRS.

Grainger served as a Member of the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons from 1846-1850, and in 1848 he delivered the Hunterian Oration on "The Cultivation of Organic Science". The address is notable for its assertion of the limitations of consciousness in regard to vital actions and its suggestion that physical and chemical forces are at the bottom of all life.

Grainger gave much attention to questions of public health at a time when importance was beginning to be attached to the subject. He was selected as one of the inspectors on the appointment of the Children's Hospital Commission in 1841. He was appointed in 1849 an inspector under the Board of Health to inquire into the origin and spread of cholera, and furnished a valuable report. In 1853 he was made an inspector under the Burials Act, and retained office until his death. During his later years he took great interest in the condition of young women employed in milliners' and dressmakers' establishments, and was instrumental in forming a society for their protection. He took a prominent part in 1854 in the establishment of the Christian Medical Association. He died, after a long illness from Bright's disease, on Feb 1st, 1865, leaving a widow but no children.

In person Grainger is described as being above the middle height, with a high forehead, quick, intelligent eyes, and a resolute chin. He was courteous and retiring, but animated on occasion. In character he was less decided than his 'ill-fated' brother Edward, but he was an able, energetic, and conscientious public servant; in private life one of the most estimable and honourable of men. He was liberal with his money and in his views, and was much beloved by pupils and friends. His lectures were slowly and emphatically delivered, but lacked the brilliancy and fire of his brother's.

A lithograph representing Grainger at about the age of 50 is in the College Collection. It is the work of G F Ferriswood and J H Lynch Athay. A water-colour portrait supposed to be Richard Dugard Grainger hangs in the Librarian's room at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Grainger published in 1829 a good text-book on the Elements of General Anatomy, in which he acknowledges his indebtedness to the writings of Bichat, B├ęclard, and Meckel.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dict Nat Biog, sub nomine et auct ibi cit. J F Clarke's Autobiographical Recollections of the Medical Profession, London, 1874, 320, 321. Sir D'Arcy Power's "Rise and Fall of the Private Medical Schools in London," Brit Med Jour, 1895, I, 1389].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England