Richard Russell (doctor)

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Richard Russell by Benjamin Wilson, about 1755,
Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries

Richard Russell (26 November 1687[1] – 1759)[2][a] was an 18th-century British physician who encouraged his patients to use a form of water therapy that involved the submersion or bathing in, and drinking of, seawater.[4][5] The contemporary equivalent of this is thalassotherapy,[6] although the practice of drinking seawater has largely discontinued.

Early life[edit]

Richard Russell was the son of Nathaniel Russell, a surgeon of Lewes, in Sussex, who at one time owned Ranscomb Manor, in South Malling, near Lewes.[1][2] He was the eldest of seven children, his siblings being: Mary (b. 1689), John (b. 1691), Nathaniell (b. 1694), Elizabeth (b. 1695/96), Hannah (b. 1699), and Charity (b. 1701).[1]

Medical career[edit]

He began his medical practice in Lewes in 1725.[citation needed] Records indicate that in 1742, Russell purchased a manor in Ditchling from Thomas Godfrey, John Legas, and Legas' wife Judith. "Between 1758 and 1760 it passed to Dr Russell's son William Russell, who assumed his mother's surname of Kempe, and he held it until 1787", after which it was owned by John Ingram, and thence Charles James Ingram.[7]


Plaque on Russell's house

Around 1747, Russell went to Brighton to exploit his theories on the medical properties of seawater.[2][5] In 1750, he published a Latin dissertation De Tabe Glandulari, in which he recommended the use of seawater for the cure of enlarged lymphatic glands. This was translated into English in 1752[2][5] as Glandular Diseases, or a Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Affections of the Glands by W. Owen in London,[3][8] and in 1769 it reached a sixth edition.[3][5] It was the first book to make a connection between drinking and bathing in seawater and improvements in health.[9][10]

Dr Russell recommended especially that people try the water near Brighton,[2][5] proclaiming that sea water was superior to those cures provided by inland spas. His ideas were widely acclaimed in England and abroad,[2][5] and despite dispute regarding the best ways to use seawater, "few disputed its value".[11]

By 1753, his treatment became so popular that he moved his surgery to Brighton. He bought a plot of land at the south of Old Steine, for £40 (£6,000 as of 2021),[12]. The land is where the Royal Albion Hotel now stands.[13] It was in a sheltered, marshy area of common land.[14][15] The red-brick, gabled structure was Brighton's largest house to date, and accommodated both patients and Russell himself. The rear opened directly out to the beach.[15]

Russell's efforts have been credited with playing a role in the populist "sea side mania of the second half of the eighteenth century",[16] although broader social movements were also at play.[17] The plaque on the wall of the Royal Albion Hotel says simply: "If you seek his monument, look around".[18] After Dr Russell's death in 1759, his house was rented to seasonal visitors, including the brother of George III the Duke of Cumberland in 1779.[2] On 7 September 1783 the Prince Regent (then the Prince of Wales) visited his uncle. The Prince's subsequent patronage of the town for the next 40 years was central to the rapid growth of the town and the transition of the fishing village of Brighthelmston to the modern town of Brighton.[19]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in February 1752.[20]


Dr Richard Russell was buried at South Malling (St Michael),[21] in Lewes. The Lewes geography section notes that the west part of South Malling is a tiny, previously separate village with a church dedicated to St Michael.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) states that Richard Russell "went to live in Reading, and there died on 5 July 1771". It cites as its source, the Gentleman's Magazine (Gent. Mag.) 1771, p. 335.[3] This date of death is significantly different from that cited by Salzman, who states that Russell died in 1759, with the source cited as Gent. Mag. 1759, p. 606.[2] However, while not commenting on this particular discrepancy, at footnote No. 70, Salzman does comment that there was another Richard Russell, who was an M.D. at Rheims, where the DNB states the Richard Russell of this article graduated as an M.D. on 7 January 1738. Salzman states that the DNB appears to have confused the two Dr. Russells.[2] So there is a clear-cut discrepancy for date of death, reported discrepancies for where Dr Russell graduated and practiced, and an apparent discrepancy for where he was buried. Where there is discrepancy, Salzman's information appears the more reliable, given both an awareness of discrepancy, and fairly thorough citations. The DNB information pertaining to publications appears sound, especially since this doesn't involve distinguishing between different people of the same name, but simply checking out a book of uncontested authorship.


  1. ^ a b c "Nathaniel Russell (father of Richard Russell)". Nathaniel Russell. Historyscape. Archived from the original on 6 October 2011. Retrieved 8 December 2009. Site last modified 29 February 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i L. F. Salzman (editor) (1940). "'The borough of Brighton', A History of the County of Sussex". British History Online. Volume 7: The rape of Lewes. pp. 244–263. Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 8 December 2009. |volume= has extra text (help)CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b c "Russell, Richard" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  4. ^ Russell, Richard (1755). The Oeconomy of Nature in Acute and Chronical Diseases of the Glands (8th ed.). John and James Rivington, London; and James Fletcher, Oxford. Retrieved 7 December 2009. Full text at Internet Archive (
  5. ^ a b c d e f Gray, Fred (2006). Designing the Seaside: Architecture, Society and Nature. London: Reaktion Books. ISBN 1-86189-274-8. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
  6. ^ Angus Stevenson, ed. (2007). "Definition of Thalasso therapy". Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. 2: N-Z (6th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 3225. ISBN 978-0-19-920687-2. Note: Thalasso therapy is a sub-definition under the listing for Thalasso.
  7. ^ L. F. Salzman (editor) (1940). "'Parishes: Ditchling', A History of the County of Sussex". British History Online. Volume 7: The rape of Lewes. pp. 102–109 (see text next to footnotes 45–49). Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 7 December 2009. |volume= has extra text (help)CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Russell, Richard (1760). "A Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Diseases of the Glands. Particularly The Scurvy, Jaundice, King's-Evil, Leprosy, and the Glandular Consumption". To which is added a Translation of Dr. Speed's Commentary on SEA WATER. As also An Account of the Nature, Properties, and Uses of all the remarkable Mineral Waters in Great Britain (4th ed.). London: W. Owen. Retrieved 7 December 2009. First published 1750 as De Tabe Glandulari. Full text at Google Books.
  9. ^ Carder 1990, §161.
  10. ^ Musgrave 1981, p. 54.
  11. ^ Gray, Fred (2006), p.21
  12. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
  13. ^ Musgrave, Clifford (1970). Life in Brighton: From the Earliest Times to the Present Hardcover. Faber & Faber. pp. 49-50. ISBN 0-5710-9285-3.
  14. ^ Antram & Morrice 2008, p. 82.
  15. ^ a b Carder 1990, §114.
  16. ^ Gray, Fred (2006), p.46
  17. ^ Gray, Fred (2006), p.47
  18. ^ Jennifer Drury (2006). "Dr Richard Russell's house was in the Old Steine". My Brighton and Hove. Retrieved 8 December 2009. Page added 27 August 2006.
  19. ^ Brandon, Peter (2006). Sussex. London: Robert Hale. pp. 210–211. ISBN 978-0-7090-6998-0.
  20. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". The Royal Society. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  21. ^ Samuel Lewis (editor) (1848). "'Maidwell – Malmesbury', A Topographical Dictionary of England". British History Online. pp. 216–221 [see section: Malling, South (St. Michael)]. Retrieved 7 December 2009.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  22. ^ L. F. Salzman (editor) (1940). "'The borough of Lewes: Introduction and history', A History of the County of Sussex". British History Online. Volume 7: The rape of Lewes. pp. 7–19]. Retrieved 7 December 2009. |volume= has extra text (help)CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)

Further reading[edit]