Matthew Dobson (physician)

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Matthew Dobson (1732–1784) was an English physician and experimental physiologist. He is now remembered for his work on diabetes.[1][2]

Life and career[edit]

His parents were Joshua Dobson, nonconformist minister at Lydgate, West Yorkshire, and Elizabeth, daughter of Matthew Smith who was minister at Mixenden. He matriculated at Glasgow University in 1750, where he graduated MA in 1753. He then moved to Edinburgh University, where he graduated MD in 1756. From the end of the decade he worked as a doctor in Liverpool.[1][3]

Dobson worked with Matthew Turner, and others, to set up the Liverpool Academy of Art in 1769, a local reply to the Royal Academy's foundation in 1768. After a slow start, a first exhibition was held in 1774.[4] (The 1810 foundation of the Liverpool Academy of Arts was in the nature of a fresh beginning.)[5] In 1770 he was appointed physician to Liverpool Infirmary, as successor to John Kennion.[1] He had a house in Harrington Street. When William Enfield wrote his History of Leverpool [sic] (1772), Dobson contributed to it.[6]

About 1776 Dobson gave up his Liverpool practice, which was taken over by Joseph Brandreth.[7] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1778,[8] and became head of the Liverpool Medical Library in 1779.[9] In 1780, suffering from poor health, he retired to Bath, Somerset.[1] He joined the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, established in 1781.[3]

Dobson was physician, and eventually confidant, to Hester Thrale.[10] He played a key role in her second marriage to Gabriel Piozzi, persuading her daughter Queeney to accept Piozzi, whose banishment from the household he said was life-threatening for her mother.[11]

Dobson died in Bath on 25 July 1784, incidentally the day of Hester Thrale's second marriage,[12] and was buried at Walcot.[1] A memorial was put up in Toxteth Park chapel.[6]

Study group[edit]

Dobson was part of a medical study group for the local area that met on a quarterly basis. John Aikin of Chester and Warrington took part, with John Bostock, Thomas Percival and John Haygarth.[13] Dobson provided information on influenza in Liverpool for the researches of Haygarth, a classmate from Edinburgh.[14][15]

This group was closely associated with Joseph Priestley, Richard Price and radical politics.[16] It also cooperated as part of Priestley's attempt to develop "pneumatic therapy": the medical use of newly isolated gases.[17]

Medical work[edit]

In his student days, Dobson worked with William Cullen at Glasgow University on evaporation.[9] In 1775 Dobson for the first time identified as a sugar the sweet substance in the urine of patients suffering from diabetes. He published his work as Experiments and Observations on the Urine in Diabetics (1776).[18][19] It did not have a major clinical impact, the findings being still debated until the work of George Owen Rees in the middle of the 19th century.[20] Dobson observed the sweet taste of the blood of diabetics (caused by hyperglycemia), and argued that the disease was not located in the kidneys, as was believed at the time. Initial use of specialised diets by physicians was not very successful.[21] John Rollo cited Dobson in his research of the late 1790s, and established principles of a diabetic diet.[1]

In 1775 Dobson experimented with a heated room as treatment, a line of research already explored by George Fordyce and Charles Blagden. His colleague Henry Park acted as guinea pig.[22][23] He published the results as a letter to John Fothergill in Philosophical Transactions.[24]

In 1779 Dobson reported success in using "fixed air" (carbon dioxide) in the treatment of scurvy.[25] That year he published Medical Commentary on Fixed Air. The 1787 edition had an appendix by William Falconer.[26] The work also advocated fixed air as a treatment for the stone.[27] Dobson was interested in bladder stones from a statistical point of view, too, and gathered data from Norwich Hospital.[28] In fact he made a wider survey of hospitals and their admissions in the 1779 edition, Norwich having the highest proportion of admitted patients for bladder stone. The figures were reprinted by Leonhard Ludwig Finke during the 1790s.[29]


The Octagon Chapel, Liverpool, pen-and-ink sketch

In 1759 Dobson married Susannah Dobson (née Dawson), a translator from French. They had three children, at least two of whom were baptised at the Octagon Chapel, Liverpool. Dobson was an associate of Thomas Bentley in the construction of the chapel; and Nicholas Clayton, a classmate from Glasgow, was the first minister.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g DeLacy, Margaret. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/55275. Missing or empty |title= (help)(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ R. F. Dods (12 February 2013). Understanding Diabetes: A Biochemical Perspective. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 31–. ISBN 978-1-118-53076-4. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b Jan Golinski (28 June 1999). Science as Public Culture: Chemistry and Enlightenment in Britain, 1760-1820. Cambridge University Press. pp. 110–11. ISBN 978-0-521-65952-9. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  4. ^ Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (1853). Proceedings and Papers. Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire. pp. 71–2. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  5. ^, Liverpool Academy of Arts.
  6. ^ a b James Allanson Picton, Memorials of Liverpool: historical and topographical, including a history of the Dock Estate vol. 2 (1875), pp. 132–133;
  7. ^ Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1886). "Brandreth, Joseph" . Dictionary of National Biography. 6. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  8. ^ Royal Society database, Dobson; Matthew (- 1784).
  9. ^ a b Elizabeth Lane Furdell (2009). Fatal Thirst: Diabetes in Britain Until Insulin. BRILL. p. 124. ISBN 978-90-04-17250-0. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  10. ^ Temma F. Berg (1 January 2006). The Lives and Letters of an Eighteenth-century Circle of Acquaintance. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-7546-5599-2. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  11. ^ Ian McIntyre (2008). Hester. Constable. p. 197. ISBN 978-1-84529-449-6.
  12. ^ Hester Lynch Piozzi (ODNB) Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  13. ^ Felicity James; Ian Inkster (3 November 2011). Religious Dissent and the Aikin-Barbauld Circle, 1740-1860. Cambridge University Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-139-50309-9. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  14. ^ Margaret DeLacy, "Influenza Research and the Medical Profession in Eighteenth-Century Britain", Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Spring, 1993), pp. 37–66, p. 58. Published by The North American Conference on British Studies. Stable URL:
  15. ^ Andrew Cunningham; Roger French (19 July 1990). The Medical Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge University Press. p. 220. ISBN 978-0-521-38235-9. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  16. ^ B. Keith-Lucas, "Some Influences Affecting the Development of Sanitary Legislation in England", The Economic History Review New Series, Vol. 6, No. 3 (1954), pp. 290–296, at p. 291. Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Economic History Society. Stable URL:
  17. ^ Jan Golinski (15 November 2010). British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment. University of Chicago Press. p. 163. ISBN 978-0-226-30206-5. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  18. ^ Roberts, Jacob (2015). "Sickening sweet". Distillations. 1 (4): 12–15. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  19. ^ Berndt Luderitz (1 April 1993). Principles of Diabetes Mellitus. Springer. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-387-56208-7. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  20. ^ The England of Lettsom, The British Medical Journal Vol. 2, No. 4059 (22 October 1938), p. 849. Published by: BMJ Publishing Group. Stable URL:
  21. ^ R. F. Dods (12 February 2013). Understanding Diabetes: A Biochemical Perspective. John Wiley & Sons. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-118-53076-4. Retrieved 20 June 2013.
  22. ^ Noel G. Coley, "George Fordyce M.D., F.R.S. (1736-1802): Physician-Chemist and Eccentric", Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 55, No. 3 (September 2001), pp. 395–409, p. 408 note 35. Stable URL:
  23. ^ Bevan, Michael. "Park, Henry". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/21272.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  24. ^ Matthew Dobson, Experiments in an Heated Room. By Matthew Dobson, MD. In a Letter to John Fothergill, MDFRS, Philosophical Transactions Vol. 65, (1775), pp. 463–469. Published by The Royal Society. Stable URL:
  25. ^ Kenneth J. Carpenter (29 April 1988). The History of Scurvy and Vitamin C. Cambridge University Press. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-521-34773-0. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  26. ^ Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1889). "Falconer, William (1744-1824)" . Dictionary of National Biography. 18. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  27. ^ Edwin Wolf; Kevin J. Hayes (2006). The Library of Benjamin Franklin. American Philosophical Society. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-87169-257-3. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  28. ^ Gerard Jorland; Annick Opinel; George Weisz (16 May 2005). Body Counts: Medical Quantification in Historical and Sociological Perspectives//Perspectives historiques et sociologiques sur la quantification médicale. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-7735-7247-8. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  29. ^ A. Batty Shaw, The Norwich School of Lithotomy (PDF) at pp. 236–237.