Sir Henry Thompson, 1st Baronet

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Sir Henry Thompson

Sir Henry Thompson, 1st Baronet FRCS (6 August 1820 – 18 April 1904) was a British surgeon and polymath.

Medical career[edit]

He was born at Framlingham, Suffolk. His father wished him to enter business, but circumstances ultimately enabled him to follow his own desire of becoming a physician, and in 1848 he entered the Medical School of University College London. He obtained his degree at London University in 1851 with the highest honours in anatomy and surgery.[1]

In 1853 he was appointed assistant surgeon at University College Hospital, becoming full surgeon in 1863, professor of clinical surgery in 1866, and consulting surgeon in 1874. In 1884 he became professor of surgery and pathology in the Royal College of Surgeons. Specializing in the surgery of the genito-urinary tract, and in particular in that of the bladder, he went to Paris to study under Jean Civiale, who in the first quarter of the 19th century proved that it is possible to crush a stone within the human bladder and invented the first surgical instrument for this minimally invasive surgery. After his return he soon acquired a reputation.[1]

Thompson in a portrait painted by John Everett Millais

In 1863, when the King of Belgium was suffering from kidney stones, Thompson was called to Brussels to consult in the case, and after some difficulties was allowed to perform the operation of lithotripsy: this was quite successful, and in recognition of his skill Thompson was appointed surgeon-extraordinary to the King,[2] an appointment which was continued by Léopold II. Nearly ten years later Thompson carried out a similar operation on the former Emperor Napoléon III; however, the Emperor died four days after, not from the surgical procedure, as was proved by the post-mortem examination, but from uremia.[1]

In 1874 he helped in founding the Cremation Society of Great Britain, of which he was the first president; he also did much toward the removal of the legal restrictions on cremation. He denounced the current methods of death certification in Great Britain; and in 1892 a select committee was appointed to inquire into the matter; its report was published the following year, was generally in line with his thinking. Woking Crematorium finally became the first of its kind in the UK. Thompson's last public duty for the society, in 1903, was to open Birmingham Crematorium,[3] the country's ninth.[4]


The Royal College of Surgeons in 1852 awarded Thompson the Jacksonian Prize for an essay on the Pathology and Treatment of Stricture of the Urethra (on stenosis of the urethra, a very common condition in the times of gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases); and again in 1860 for another on the Health and Morbid Anatomy of the Prostate Gland. These two memoirs belong to urology, his medical speciality. Besides devising operative improvements, he wrote books and papers dealing with them, including

  • Clinical Lectures on Diseases of the Urinary Organs,
  • Practical Lithotomy and Lithotrity,
  • Tumours of the Bladder,
  • Suprapubic Lithotomy, and
  • Preventive Treatment of Calculus Disease.

Other books of a medical character were Food and Feeding, and Diet in Relation to Age and Activity, both of which passed through several editions. He produced two successful novels, Charley Kingston's Aunt (1885) and All But (1886).

Personal life[edit]

Thompson's portrait of Carlo Pellegrini.

Thompson was also an artist, producing sketches and paintings, some of which were hung at the Royal Academy of Arts and in the Paris Salon. About 1870 he began to collect Chinese porcelain, in particular of old blue and white Nanking; this in time became so large that he could no longer find room for it, and most of it was sold. A catalogue of it, illustrated by himself and James Whistler, was published in 1878.[1]

He was also interested in astronomy, and for a time maintained a private astronomical observatory in his house at Molesey. He presented the Royal Greenwich Observatory with several instruments, including a photographic heliograph of 9-inch aperture; a 30-inch reflecting telescope, and a large refracting telescope having an object glass of 26 inches of diameter and a focal length of 22 feet. The offer of the last instrument was made in 1894. Its manufacture was undertaken by Sir Howard Grubb of Dublin, and its erection was completed in 1897.[1]

Sir Henry Thompson, knighted in 1867, received a baronetcy in 1899, in connection with his telescope gifts to the National Observatory.[1]

In 1851 he married Kate Loder, a pianist, who was stricken with paralysis soon afterwards. On his death, his only son, Herbert, a barrister and Egyptologist, succeeded to the baronetcy. Of his two daughters, the elder (author of a valuable Handbook to the Public Picture Galleries of Europe, first published in 1877) married Henry William Watkins, Archdeacon of Durham, and the younger one married the Rev. H. de Candole.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ Staff (1904). "Obituary: Sir Henry Thompson". The Medical Press and Circular 77: 463. Retrieved 28 June 2008. 
  3. ^ "Cremation Society of G.B. – History of the Society". Cremation Society of Great Britain. 1 January 1999. Retrieved 21 December 2013. 
  4. ^ "Birmingham Crematorium commemorates 110th anniversary". Dignity plc. Retrieved 21 December 2013. 


External links[edit]

Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Wimpole Street) 
Succeeded by
Henry Francis Herbert Thompson