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Biographical entry Smith, Edward (1818? - 1874)

MRCS May 10th 1841; FRCS Aug 7th 1851; MD Lond 1843; LLB BA 1843; MRCP Lond 1854; FRCP 1863; FRS June 7th 1860.

16 November 1874
General surgeon


Born at Heanor, Derbyshire; educated at Queen's College, Birmingham. In 1849 he visited North-east Texas to examine its suitability for emigrants, and in the same year he published an account of his journey and a report with charts of the temperature and the new constitution of the State. Physiological chemistry occupied much of his attention, and in 1859 he read a paper before the Royal Society "On Enquiries into the Quantity of Air Inspired through the Day and Night, and under the Influence of Exercise, Food, Medicine, and Temperature" (Proc Roy Soc, 1856-7, viii, 451). He followed up this contribution with others on the "Phenomena of Respiration" (Ibid 1857-9, ix, 611), "The Action of Food on Respiration" (Ibid, 1857-9, ix, 638), "The Chemical and Other Phenomena of Respiration and their Modifications by Various Physical Agencies", and "On the Action of Foods upon Respiration during the Primary Processes of Digestion". He lectured on botany during the year 1851-1852 at the Charing Cross School of Medicine and is said to have been Demonstrator of Anatomy.

In 1859 he invented an instrument to measure the inspired air and to collect the carbonic acid in that which is expired. He also read a paper before the Royal Society in 1861 "On the Elimination of Urea and Urinary Water in Relation to the Period of the Day, Season, Exertion, Food, Prison Discipline, Weight of Body and other Influences acting in the Cycle of the Year" (Proc Roy Soc, 1860-2, xi, 214). His last paper was entitled, "Remarks upon the Most Correct Methods of Enquiry in Reference to Pulsation, Respiration, Urinary Products, Weight of the Body and Food" (Ibid, 1860-2, xi, 561).

In 1861 he was appointed Assistant Physician to the Brompton Hospital for Consumption, and in the following year he published Consumption: its Early and Remediable Stages (8vo, London, 1862; Philadelphia, 1865).

He published in 1862 as an Appendix to Sir John Simon's sixth Report, "A Report to the Privy Council on the Food of the Lowest-fed Classes in England". This led to his being consulted by the Government on poor-law and prison dietaries. His advice was adopted and poor-law dietaries were placed on a better and scientific basis, whilst Smith himself was appointed Medical Officer of the Poor Law Board. He also did much to reform the structural arrangements of workhouses (A Guide to the Construction and Management of Workhouses, 8vo, London, 1870) and workhouse infirmaries so as to increase the allotted cubic space and make them more hygienic. Smith was transferred to the medical department when the Poor Law Board was merged in the newly created Local Government Board in 1871, and was given the title of Medical Officer for Poor Law Purposes.

He lived for some time at 6 Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square, but moved to 140 Harley Street, where he died of pneumonia on Nov 16th, 1874. There is a lithograph portrait by Maguire in the College Collection.


Smith possessed a rare faculty for systematizing his knowledge and a great facility as a writer.
Structural and Systematic Botany, 1854.
Natural History of the Inanimate Creation 1856.
Practical Dietary for Families, Schools, and the Working Classes, 1864; 3rd and 4th ed, 1865.
Foods in the International Scientific Series, 8vo, New York, 1873 ; German ed, Leipzig, 1874.
Health: a Handbook for Households and Schools, 12mo, London, 1874.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dict Nat Biog, sub nomine et auct ibi cit. William Hunter's Historical Account of Charing Cross Hospital and Medical School, London, 1914, 182].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England