Thomas Beddoes

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Thomas Beddoes

Thomas Beddoes (13 April 1760 – 24 December 1808), English physician and scientific writer, was born in Shifnal, Shropshire. He was a reforming practitioner and teacher of medicine, and an associate of leading scientific figures. Beddoes was a friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and, according to E. S. Shaffer, an important influence on Coleridge's early thinking, introducing him to the higher criticism.[1] The poet Thomas Lovell Beddoes was his son. An excellent painting of him by Samson Towgood Roch is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.


Educated at Bridgnorth Grammar School and at Pembroke College, Oxford, Beddoes also enrolled in the University of Edinburgh's medical course during the early 1780s. There he was taught chemistry by Joseph Black and natural history by John Walker. Additionally, he studied medicine in London under John Sheldon (1752–1808). In 1784 he published a translation of Lazzaro Spallanzani's Dissertations on Natural History, and in 1785 produced a translation, with original notes, of Torbern Olof Bergman's Essays on Elective Attractions.

He took his degree of doctor of medicine at Oxford in 1786, and, after visiting Paris, where he became acquainted with Lavoisier, was appointed reader in chemistry at Oxford University in 1788. His lectures attracted large and appreciative audiences; but his sympathy with the French Revolution exciting a clamour against him, he resigned his readership in 1792. In the following year he published the History of Isaac Jenkins, a story which powerfully exhibits the evils of drunkenness, and of which 40,000 copies are reported to have been sold.

Hope Square, Bristol[edit]

Beddoes' first tuberculosis clinic in Bristol, at Hope Square
Plaque: Thomas Beddoes MD (1760–1808). Scientist. Worked here 1793-1799. Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society
Plaque to Beddoes in Hope Square

Between 1793 and 1799 Beddoes had a clinic at Hope Square, Hotwells. Here he treated patients with tuberculosis. On the principle that butchers seemed to suffer less from tuberculosis than others, he kept cows in a byre alongside the building and encouraged them to breathe upon his patients.[2] This is turn became the source of some local ridicule, amongst claims that animals were kept in the clinic's bedrooms, against the protests of landlords.[2]

Despite this enthusiasm for bovine medicine, he remained skeptical when the nearby Edward Jenner of Berkeley began using a cow-derived vaccination for smallpox a few years later.[2]

Bristol Pneumatic Institution[edit]

Pneumatic Institution premises,
6 Dowry Square, with 7 to the right

About the same time he began to work at his project for the establishment of an institution for treating disease by the inhalation of different gases, i.e. pneumatic medicine.[3][4] In this he was assisted by Richard Lovell Edgeworth, whose daughter, Anna, became Beddoes' wife in 1794. In 1799 the Pneumatic Institution was established at Dowry Square, Hotwells, Bristol, its first superintendent being Humphry Davy,[5] who investigated the properties of nitrous oxide in its laboratory. The original aim of the institution was gradually abandoned; it became an ordinary sick-hospital, and was relinquished by its projector in the year before his death.

Beddoes was a man of great powers and wide acquirements, which he directed to noble and philanthropic purposes. He strove to effect social good by popularizing medical knowledge, a work for which his vivid imagination and glowing eloquence eminently fitted him.

Encyc.Brit (1911), [6]

Selected writings[edit]

Besides the writings mentioned above, Beddoes was also associated with the following:

Beddoes also edited the second edition of John Brown's Elements of Medicine (1795).


  1. ^ Kubla Khan and The Fall of Jerusalem (1975), particularly p.28.
  2. ^ a b c Mike Jay; John Carey (reviewer) (26 April 2009). "The Atmosphere of Heaven: The Unnatural Experiments of Dr Beddoes and his Sons of Genius". The Sunday Times. 
  3. ^ Miller, David Philip and Levere, Trevor (March 2008) "“Inhale it and See?” The Collaboration between Thomas Beddoes and James Watt in Pneumatic Medicine" Ambix 55(1): pp. 5–28
  4. ^ Stansfield, Dorothy A. and Stansfield, Ronald G. (1986) "Dr Thomas Beddoes and James Watt: Preparatory Work 1794–96 for the Bristol Pneumatic Institute" Medical History 30: pp. 276–302
  5. ^ Levere, Trevor H (July 1977). "Dr Thomas Beddoes and the Establishment of His Pneumatic Institution: A Tale of Three Presidents". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 32 (1): 41–49. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1977.0005. PMID 11615622. 
  6. ^ Uncredited "Beddoes, Thomas (1760-1808)" In Chisholm, Hugh (editor) (1911) Encyclopædia Britannica (11th edition) Volume 3, page 614, Cambridge University Press
  7. ^ "biology, n.". Oxford English Dictionary online version. Oxford University Press. September 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-01.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)

Further reading[edit]

  • Barzun, Jacques (1972). Thomas Beddoes M.D. Harper Collins.  - essay reprinted in A Jacques Barzun Reader (2002)
  • Jay, Mike (2009). The Atmosphere Of Heaven: The Unnatural Experiments of Dr Beddoes and His Sons of Genius. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-12439-2. 
  • Levere, Trevor H. (1981). "Dr. Thomas Beddoes at Oxford: Radical politics in 1788-1793 and the fate of the Regius Chair in Chemistry". Ambix 28 (2): 61–69. doi:10.1179/000269881790224318. PMID 11615866. 
  • Porter, Roy (1992). Doctor of Society: Thomas Beddoes and the Sick Trade in Late Enlightenment England. London: Routledge. 
  • Robinson, Eric (June 1955). "Thomas Beddoes, M.D., and the reform of science teaching in Oxford". Annals of Science 11 (2): 137–141. doi:10.1080/00033795500200135. 
  • Stansfield, Dorothy A. (1984). Thomas Beddoes, M.D., 1760-1808: Chemist, Physician, Democrat. Springer. ISBN 90-277-1686-2. 
  • Stock, John Edmonds (1811). Memoirs of the Life of Thomas Beddoes, M.D.. London: John Murray. 

External links[edit]