James De Ville

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James De Ville[1] (12 March 1777, Hammersmith — 6 May 1846 in London) was a British phrenologist.

His grandfather was from Bern, Switzerland but emigrated to England along with other Protestants perhaps in the 1740s. De Ville's mother and maternal grandmother were English. Because his family fell into hard times De Ville was raised from the age of eight by a maternal uncle who had a brickmaking business in Hammersmith.

De Ville was the most prominent practical phrenologist, supplier and maker of phrenological casts in London from the 1820s to the 1840s. By 1826 Johann Spurzheim declared that De Ville's collection was the finest he had ever seen. Franz Joseph Gall himself also highly valued De Ville's work and sent a wax mould of a dissected brain as a token of respect. De Ville's casts were distributed throughout the world and many still survive in the collection of the Edinburgh School of Anatomy.

In 1840 he became a member of the Phrenological Association and resigned in 1842 upon the occasion of the great split among British phrenologists when William Collins Engledue (1813–1858),[2] in a speech before the Association, announced that phrenology and materialism were the same.

Head of William Blake. Plaster cast by James De Ville Sept 1823 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

De Ville examined an enormous number of heads including those of many well-known figures including John Elliotson, Hermann Prince of Pückler-Muskau, William de Salis, Harriet Martineau, Charles Bray, George Eliot, William Blake, Richard Dale Owen, Richard Carlile, the Duke of Wellington and Prince Albert.


  • Outlines of Phrenology, as an accompaniment to the Phrenological Bust (1824).
  • Manual of Phrenology as an accompaniment to the Phrenological Bust (1826, 1828, 1831, 1841).
  • 'Account of a number of cases in which a change had been produced on the form of the head by education and moral training-Phrenological Association, Glasgow', Phrenological Journal, 14 (1841) pp. 32–8.
  • Browne, James P., 'Memoir of the late Mr James De Ville', Phrenological Journal, 19, 1846, pp. 329–344.
  • 'Mr De Ville's Collection', Phrenological Journal, 14 (1841), pp. 19–23
  • Cooter, R., Phrenology in the British Isles: An Annotated, Historical Bibliography and Index (1989).
  • Pückler-Muskau, Briefe eines Verstorbenen: Ein fragmentarisches Tagebuch aus Deutschland, Holland, England, Wales, Irland und Frankreich, geschrieben in den Jahren 1826 bis 1829 (1830).
  • Simpson, J., 'Result of an Examination, by Mr. James Deville, of the Heads of 148 Convicts, on board the Convict Ship England, when about to sail for New South Wales in the Spring of 1826', Phrenological Journal, 4, 1826/7, pp. 467–71. Reprinted in R. Cox, Selections from the Phrenological Journal: comprising forty articles in the first five volumes, chiefly by George Combe, James Simpson and Dr. Andrew Combe (1836) pp. 140–3.



  1. ^ His name is also written Deville by historians but all 19th-century references and especially those published by De Ville himself are spelled as two words not one.
  2. ^ See William Collins Engledue, M.D..