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Biographical entry Phillips, Benjamin (1805 - 1861)

MRCS Jan 29th 1830; FRCS Dec 11th 1843 one of the original 300 Fellows; FRS 1840.

11 June 1861
General surgeon


Studied medicine at the Bristol Infirmary under Henry Daniel, and matriculated at the London University, being one of the earliest students on the University roll. He gained the Gold Medal for Surgery and the Silver Medal for Anatomy and Physiology. In 1829 he went to Paris, and returned upon the outbreak of the Revolution in 1830 to London, where he settled in practice, and was appointed to the St Marylebone Infirmary. Three publications in 1832 show that he had learnt a good deal in Paris and had read much medical literature on three entirely different subjects of interest at that time:

1. A Series of Experiments performed for the Purpose of Showing that Arteries may be Obliterated without Ligature, Compression or the Knife, by Benjamin Phillips, 8vo, London, 1832. Dedicated -To the Right Honourable Baron Brougham and Vaux, Lord High Chancellor of England, The Promoter of Learning - The Possessor of the most varied Acquirements - The Controller of Senates - The Admiration of the Country - The Essay is (with permission) inscribed by his Lordship's most obedient servant. The Author, 1 Welbeck Street, Cavendish Square, 1st Jan, 1832. To the Public - The Experiments detailed in the following pages were performed in the hope of discovering some mode of arresting the progress and effecting the cure of Aneurysm without resorting to the use of the ligature.

In dogs he had transfixed the carotid or femoral artery with sewing needles, without making an incision, and so produced intravascular clotting without any signs of inflammation of the artery. He had thus imitated the Chinese and Japanese practice of puncture in which no inflammation is set up because whatever germs are adhering to the polished needle are wiped off in passing the needle through the skin. In a second series of experiments he joined up the outer ends of two needles transfixing an artery with a volta pile, one needle to the zinc end, the other to the copper, and the electric current also started an intravascular clot without setting up inflammation.

2. A Treatise on the Urethra - Its Diseases, especially Strictures and their Cure, by Benjamin Phillips. Author of a series of Experiments made to demonstrate that Arteries may be obliterated without ligature, compression or the knife. 8vo, London, 1832. To Sir Henry Halford, Bart, KCB, FRS, President of the Royal College of Physicians, whose distinguished scientific and literary pursuits have justly placed him at the head of the Medical profession of his Country. This work is (with his permission) respectfully inscribed by the Author, 17 Wimpole Street, Cavendish Square, Nov 8th, 1832.

In his preface he gave as reasons for his work that Sir Everard Home had recommended for stricture exclusively cauterization, and Sir Charles Bell dilatation as his exclusive method. Phillips set out a selection of one and the other. In some he adopted a primitive internal urethrotomy; with the urethra outstretched by drawing on the penis so as to produce a tense tube straight with the neck of the bladder, he passed down a straight cannula to the front of the stricture. Through the cannula he passed a lance-ended stylet which on entering the stric-ture notched it until it was rendered permeable to a bougie; or caustic was applied after the notching of the stricture, and after the separation of the eschar, a bougie was passed to dilate it. He refers to 119 cases of stricture; presumably most had been seen in Paris. Of these 5 had been submitted to the above internal urethrotomy, and in 4 the obstruction had been successfully removed. His own cases are given in appendix number 14. Evidently, besides repeated and neglected attacks of gonorrhoea, the treatment by caustic fluids increased the frequency of impermeable strictures.

3. Epidemic Contagion and Infection, with their Remedies. An Essay; to which is added an enquiry into the nature of the mode by which Cholera is propagated. By Benjamin Phillips, 8vo, Longmans, 1832.

In the Children's Ward of the Infirmary he began collecting material for his treatise on scrofula - Scrofula: Its Nature, its Causes, its Prevalence and the Principles of Treatment, by Benjamin Phillips, FRS, Assistant Surgeon to Westminster Hospital, illustrated with an engraved plate, 8vo, London and Philadelphia, 1846.

He was elected FRS in 1840; Assistant Surgeon to Westminster Hospital in 1843; in 1846 Surgeon and Lecturer on Surgery. He collected all that he had written about scrofula, but based his descriptions mainly upon cases in St Marylebone Infirmary, Westminster Hospital, and reports collected from various quarters. The plate in the book is an engraving of tuberculous debris magnified. The pathology combined the lymphatic diathesis + malnutrition due to poverty rather than the effect of bad housing. Indeed, he seems to have almost held a brief for what would now be called slum dwellings. In 1853, owing to ill health, he resigned his post at Westminster Hospital.

His abilities were exactly suited for distinction at a public examination; at an early age he was remarkable for the extent of his reading and for the accuracy of his memory, as correct as a library catalogue. Whilst more distinguished by erudition than as an operator, his operations were cautiously selected with tact, and were followed by more than average success. His clinical observations abounded in copious references to the opinion and practice of others. Few possessed higher qualifications for the duties of Lecturer on Surgery. Slow and deliberate, careful and concise, he wanted the animated manner and anecdotal facility of C G Guthrie (qv), yet his hearers felt that they learnt much.

At the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society he was appointed Librarian in 1841, Treasurer in 1847, and Vice-President in 1853. He also rendered good service on the Council of the Sydenham Society. In his active concern for the welfare of his colleagues and in his recognition of their merits he exhibited conspicuous unselfishness. He died at Gloucester Place, Portman Square, on June 11th, 1861.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England