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Biographical entry Jordan, Joseph (1787 - 1873)

MRCS Nov 3rd 1826; FRCS Dec 11th 1843 one of the original 300 Fellows.

3 March 1787
31 March 1873
General surgeon


Born in Manchester, at 116 Water Street, on March 3rd, 1787. His family came from Holland in the fourteenth century, and his grandfather went to Manchester in 1745 in company with his cousin Blacklock, a founder of the firm of Bradshaw, Blacklock & Co, publishers of the railway time-tables. Joseph Jordan's father, William Jordan, was 'a blue printer on calico', a pioneer of the art in his neighbourhood. He also owned a log-wood mill. Joseph Jordan's mother was Mary Moors, of Gorton, and he was the youngest of six children, four of whom were sons. He was sent to school at the Rev J Birchall's, where he studied diligently, but was often thrashed and locked up dinnerless, for his habitual hilarity led him into many scrapes. "His investigation into the anatomy of the school clock", says his biographer, Dr F W Jordan, "led to the sudden termination of his studies under Mr Birchall."

He was apprenticed at the age of 15 to John Bill (1757-1847), Surgeon to the Manchester Infirmary, and, as his work consisted chiefly of pill-making in a cold cellar, he was very properly removed by his mother and placed under William Simmons (1762-1830), of Princess Street, also a Surgeon to the Infirmary. With this gentleman he remained till he was 19, becoming sincerely attached to him and acting as his amanuensis and assistant. He spent the major part of his time in the infirmary, where he dissected and engaged in pathological research and laid the foundations of his superior attainments both as surgeon and anatomist. His professional training was completed in Edinburgh under Sir Charles Bell and Monro. After qualifying, there being a great demand for surgeons in the Militia, he joined the Royal Lancashire Regiment as Ensign in 1806, and became Assistant Surgeon in 1807. He writes to his mother, whom he is anxious to assist, concerning his future prospects. The letter is dated "Frankfort Hospital, April 6th, 1807", and contains the following passage:

"Of course, I shall be first assistant, and the Surgeon has hinted that he will not remain more than two years at most. If I stay in the Army I have no doubt I shall succeed him - his pay is twelve shillings and sixpence per day - I wish I may, as it will afford me an opportunity of being of some assistance to you.

"The life of a soldier is not that to be wished by a young man who intends to get well forward in this life. You continually see miserable beings before you from drinking, a thing which with us requires great exertion to avoid. We had a party to mess with us a few days ago; I suppose we were about a hundred and twenty.... There were General England, etc, and a number of other first-rate characters. The room was splendidly decorated."

In this allusion to the drinking habits of the mess he bears out the interesting Regimental Surgeon of Robert Hamilton (2nd ed, 1794). Jordan resigned from the Militia in 1811 and went to London to finish his medical education, and in 1812 settled in practice in Manchester, where he joined a Mr Stewart (Bancks, Stewart, & Jordan). Now began his career as a medical educationalist, one of the first outside London, and as the eventual founder of provincial medical schools. On Sept 14th, 1814, he advertised in Wheeler's Chronicle thus: "To Students of Anatomy. Mr Jordan will open rooms for the study of Anatomy on 1st of October. Bridge Street." The advertisement resulted in a class of four students. In 1817, after occupying 69 Bridge Street, with a dissecting-room in Back Queen Street, which lies between Albert Square and Deansgate, Jordan moved to more convenient premises, at 4 Bridge Street. They now became his house, later known as No 70, and were still in use in 1868. These premises comprised two lofty rooms, one of which was used for dissections, the other as an anatomical museum containing some fine preparations. This museum was regarded by the local domestics as being haunted.

In 1819, along with John Hull, MD, of Leyden, one of the pioneers in Caesarean section, and others, Jordan established the Manchester and Salford Lock Hospital for unfortunate women, and was appointed its Surgeon. The project met with much opposition, but Jordan's kind heart triumphed, and for the future the women were not left to die in the streets, as had been the custom. The name 'Lock', according to Dr F W Jordan, is derived from 'lock-up', patients being considered such disgusting objects, especially after mercurial salivation, that they were locked out of sight of all but their immediate attendants. Jordan helped the hospital with funds from his own purse, and was thanked by the Board on his retirement in 1835.

In 1816 Jordan was "impressed with the low state of medical education, and the moral and social dangers by which the student, at the most impressionable period of his life, was assailed, during his enforced attendance on lectures in London." Accordingly he conceived the plan of providing for the student at home. It was the day-boy system of the public schools applied to the education of the medical student. Expenses, he opined, would be saved, and the supply of provincial medical men increased. In 1817 he won a great victory, for in that year the Society of Apothecaries agreed to accept the certificates granted by him to his students. The College By-law of 1824 would seem to exclude Jordan's certificates, but on April 24th, 1821, the Royal College of Surgeons, after considerable hesitation, had recognized his teaching. Anatomy was certainly admirably taught by Jordan, for the supply of human subjects in Manchester was larger then elsewhere, and the schools of London and Edinburgh were supplied thence. But there were great difficulties attending the procuring of bodies even in Manchester. "Many stories have been told in Bridge Street", says Dr Jordan, "of hairbreadth escapes with bodies; on one occasion the body of a man was completely dressed and set up in a gig between two persons and driven homewards...." The ghastly cargo was smuggled through a turnpike with great difficulty. "Once Mr Jordan was fined twenty pounds by the magistrates, reluctantly as they admitted, and his resurrectionist was condemned to undergo twelve months' imprisonment and to pay a fine for rifling a grave. I use the term reluctantly advisedly, because the magistrates admitted that a medical student was compelled to dissect in order to obtain his qualification to practise, and the law stated that bodies should not be used for the purpose of dissection. It was not, however, his first offence, for he had got into trouble as a body-snatcher so long ago as the days of his military service, when he was pounced upon by an outraged father and mother for being in possession of the corpse of their child. He had on that occasion to beat a precipitate retreat from Kidderminster, where he was quartered."

In 1833 he was a candidate for the post of Surgeon to the Infirmary, but was unsuccessful till, in 1835, he succeeded Mr Whalton, being elected at the head of the poll and beating three other candidates. After 1851 he confined himself entirely to clinical lectures at the Infirmary, retiring altogether from the work of his school, which after various vicissitudes was merged in what eventually became the Manchester Royal School of Medicine (1855-1856). In 1866 Jordan retired from the infirmary after thirty-one years' service. He was placed on the consulting staff, and a testimonial was presented to him by his colleagues. He was, indeed, the constant recipient of testimonials and an important public man. Richard Cobden and others in 1859 actively exerted themselves to obtain him the knighthood due to the Father of Provincial Medical Education, but he modestly shrank from the honour. In 1869 he was appointed Consulting Surgeon Extraordinary to the Salford Royal Lock Hospital, founded through his exertions.

Joseph Jordan is described as a good clinician and a cool operator, trusted and looked up to by students as a sound teacher and a man of original thought. He was glad to attend accidents. In order to keep in touch with surgical progress he used to operate on the bodies of dead paupers at the Manchester Union Workhouse. He was always ready to discuss the anatomy of hernia, and once called on Sir Astley Cooper in London, whom he found on the point of leaving the house, but who at once turned back and showed him his own anatomical preparations made with a view to the forthcoming work, Diseases of the Testis. Jordan was the founder of the Chetham Society in 1843, was a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society from 1821 onwards, and was elected a Vice-President of the Manchester Royal Institution in 1857. After living sixty years in Bridge Street, Manchester, his health began to fail. He removed to Salford, then to Stroud, and finally to Hampstead, in order to be near his old friend, John Gay (qv), of the Great Northern Hospital. He died at the age of 86 on March 31st, 1873.

In appearance Jordan was tall and spare. He had a commanding and dignified presence, with characteristic features. He possessed a buoyant and happy disposition, and attended Knott Mill Fair, like a schoolboy, in his old age. He was quick at repartee, and had a merry laugh, which was quite infectious. He was popular with all classes of society, and especially with students as a clinical teacher. He was the subject of a parodied version of "The Fine Old English Gentleman". He and his yellow carriage were well-known objects in Manchester. He was an unwearied book-worm, a keen Shakespearean, possessing some early editions of Shakespeare's works, and a great reader of the Latin classics. He could converse in Latin, and this is the more remarkable as he was mainly self-taught. He was an antiquarian and founded a Rosicrucian Society. His bedroom was so full of books that it was hardly possible to stir in it, and he kept bones under his bed for purposes of reference. He was for years a teetotaller, but when he gave dinner parties he would drink a glass of wine. Like many of the men of his epoch he did not smoke, but would often pause during an operation to take a pinch of the snuff carried loose in his waistcoat pocket.

Charles Jordan, a nephew of Joseph, invented several valuable instruments: an ear speculum (1845), from which the modern otoscope is derived; an eye speculum; a photometer for the use of Sir Henry Roscoe, etc. There are fine portraits of Joseph Jordan in the Life. He appears as the typical surgeon of his period.

As a medical author Jordan published very little. He had at one time contemplated writing on the human physiognomy, on the nose especially, but he never found time to do so. In 1860, on his yearly visit to Paris, he published a French treatise, with the help of Béraud and Nélaton, who had introduced 'Jordan's operation' to his students in 1856. This procedure was first applied in 1854, and was "a new and simple mode of treating false joints". The monograph was entitled, Traitement des Pseudarthroses par l'Autoplastie periostique, 4to, Paris, 1860.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Life of Joseph Jordan, 8vo, London, 1904. Lancet, 1873, I, 790. Brit Med Jour, 1873, I, 521. Brockbank's Sketches of the Honorary Medical Staff of the Manchester Infirmary, Manchester, 1904, 227, 278. Brockbank's Book of Manchester and Salford, Manchester, 1929, 42, with portrait. Memoir of Thomas Turner, London, 12mo 1875].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England