John Fothergill (physician)

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John Fothergill by Gilbert Stuart

John Fothergill FRS (8 March 1712 – 26 December 1780) was an English physician, plant collector, philanthropist and Quaker.

Life and work[edit]

Fothergill was born at Carr End, near Bainbridge in Yorkshire, the son of John Fothergill (1676–1745), a Quaker preacher and farmer, and his first wife, Margaret Hough (1677–1719).[1] After studying at Sedbergh School, Fothergill was apprenticed to an apothecary. He later took the degree of M. D. at Edinburgh, in 1736, followed by further studies at St Thomas's Hospital, London. After visiting continental Europe in 1740, he settled in London, where he gained an extensive practice. For example, during the epidemics of influenza in 1775 and 1776 he is said to have treated sixty patients a day.

In 1745, he gave a brief lecture to the Royal Society of London, citing the work of a Scottish physician and surgeon, William Tossach (c. 1700 – 1771), which is the first known lecture on the practice of mouth-to-mouth ventilation. He is credited with first identifying and naming trigeminal neuralgia in his work Of a Painful Affection of the Face in 1765.

Fothergill's pamphlet, Account of the Sore Throat attended with Ulcers (1748), contains one of the first descriptions of streptococcal sore throat in English, and was translated into several languages. His rejection of ineffective traditional therapies for this disease saved many lives.[1] He also supported the publication of Benjamin Franklin's papers on electricity, and wrote a preface for them.[2]

Botanist and Quaker[edit]

In his leisure, John Fothergill made a study of conchology and botany. At Upton, near Stratford, London, he had an extensive botanical garden where he grew many rare plants obtained from various parts of the world (now West Ham Park).[1] In the garden, with its glasshouses, John Coakley Lettsom (1744–1815), a Quaker physician and a protégé of his, exclaimed that "the sphere seemed transposed, as the Arctic Circle joined with the equator".[3] Lettsom published a catalogue of the plants of Fothergill's garden Hortus Uptonensis, or a catalogue of the plants in the Dr. Fothergill’s garden at Upton, at the time of his decease anno 1780.[4] Fothergilla is named in his honour.

Fothergill was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1763. He was the patron of Sydney Parkinson, the South Sea voyager, and also of William Bartram, the American botanist in his Southern travels 1773–76. A translation of the Bible, known as the Quaker Bible (1764 sq.) by Anthony Purver, a Quaker, was made and printed at his expense. He founded Ackworth School, Pontefract, Yorkshire in 1779.

John Fothergill died in London on 26 December 1780, aged 68, of urinary retention perhaps linked with prostate cancer. Fanny Burney, having earlier described him as "an upright, stern old man... an old prig," later recorded when she was his patient, "He really has been… amazingly civil and polite to me… as kind as he is skilful." His niece Betty Fothergill described him in her journal as "surely the first of men. With the becoming dignity of age he unites the cheerfulness and liberality of youth. He possesses the most virtues and the fewest failings of any man I know."[1]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d ODNB article by Margaret DeLacy, ‘Fothergill, John (1712–1780)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, October 2007 [1], accessed 24 February 2008, pay-walled.
  2. ^ The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  3. ^ Lettsom, Memoires of John Fothergill, M.D. (1786), quoted in Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and their Histories (1964) 1992, s.v. "Clematis".
  4. ^ "John Fothergill". Retrieved 2008-09-11. 
  5. ^ "Author Query for 'Foth.'". International Plant Names Index.