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Biographical entry Turner, Thomas (1793 - 1873)

MRCS May 3rd 1816; FRCS Dec 11th 1843 one of the original 300 Fellows; LSA 1816.

18 August 1793
17 December 1873
General surgeon


The youngest child of Edmund Turner (d1821), banker, of Truro, and of Joanna his wife, daughter of Richard Ferris, was born at Truro on Aug 18th, 1793. He was educated at the Grammar School of his native town during the head-mastership of Cornelius Cardew, and was apprenticed to Nehemiah Duck, one of the Surgeons to St Peter's Hospital, Bristol.

He came to London in the autumn of 1815, entered the United Borough Hospitals, and proceeded to Paris, where he spent a year in 1816. He became a member of several French Societies and seems to have begun work for the Paris MD, but in 1817 he was appointed House Surgeon at the Manchester Infirmary. He held office until September, 1820, when ill health obliged him to resign. He took a short holiday devoted to attending classes at the Edinburgh Medical School and then settled in Piccadilly, Manchester. He was soon appointed Secretary to the Manchester Natural History Society and was elected a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, where he was brought much into contact with John Dalton (1766-1844), the Quaker Physiologist, and on April 18th, 1823, he was elected one of the Councillors of the Society.

On Nov 1st, 1822, he delivered, in the rooms of the Literary and Philosophical Society, the first of a series of lectures upon the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the human body. The lectures were highly appreciated and were repeated several times. In 1824 he gave an address in which he outlined a plan for establishing a school of medicine in Manchester. The scheme was well received, and in the following October a suitable building was opened in Pine Street, and Dalton gave a course of lectures on pharmaceutical chemistry. A medico-chirurgical society for students was founded, and in 1825 the school was thoroughly organized. The Edinburgh College of Surgeons recognized the course of instruction in February, 1825, and the medical departments of the Navy and Army accepted its certificates from Aug 20th, 1827. It was not till some years later, and after considerable opposition, that the English College of Surgeons granted recognition.

Turner was appointed Surgeon to the Deaf and Dumb Institution in 1825, and in August, 1830, was elected a Surgeon to the Manchester Royal Infirmary and soon attained a large practice. On July 31st, 1832, he laid the foundation stone of a new and larger lecture theatre which was opened in the following October. The school progressed steadily under Turner's control, and the succeeding few years witnessed the dissolution of the Mount Street and Marston [Marsden] Street Schools of Medicine and the increasing growth of the Pine Street School, where he was the moving spirit. The Medical School at Chatham Street amalgamated with the Pine Street School in 1859, and the Royal School of Medicine which was thus formed became the medical faculty of Owens College in 1872. Turner gave the inaugural address and the 'Turner Medical Prize' commemorates his services.

Turner was appointed Honorary Professor of Physiology at the Manchester Royal Institution in 1843, and with the exception of two years delivered annually a course of lectures until 1873. He served on the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons of England from 1865-1873 and was the second representative from the provinces to be elected, Thomas Paget (qv) being the first. He was much occupied from 1852 with the Sanitary Association of Manchester and Salford in trying to improve the intellectual, moral, and social condition of factory hands.

He married on March 3rd, 1826, Anna (d1861), daughter of James Clarke, of Medham, near Newport, Isle of Wight, by whom he had a family of two sons and three daughters. Turner died in Manchester on Wednesday, Dec 17th, 1873, and was buried in the churchyard at Marton, near Skipton-in-Craven. His medical and surgical museum was given to Owens College.

Turner assisted to break up the monopoly of medical education possessed by the London Schools at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He showed that the large provincial towns were capable of affording a first-rate medical education. He also recognized the fundamental principle of State Medicine that improvement in sanitary surroundings necessarily implies improvement in the moral atmosphere of the inhabitants.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Memoir of Thomas Turner, Esq, FRCS, FLS, by a relative, London, 1875, with photograph inserted as a frontispiece. Dict Nat Biog, sub nomine et auct ibi cit. Dr E M Brockbank's Honorary Medical Staff of the Manchester Infirmary, 4to, Manchester, 1904, 275, with portrait; and The Book of Manchester and Salford, 8vo, Manchester, 1829, 42, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England