Thomas Beddoes

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Thomas Beddoes
Thomas Beddoes by Bird.jpg
Thomas Beddoes, pencil drawing by Edward Bird
Born(1760-04-13)13 April 1760
Died24 December 1808(1808-12-24) (aged 48)
EducationBridgnorth Grammar School
Alma materPembroke College, Oxford, University of Edinburgh
Known forHistory of Isaac Jenkins
Spouse(s)Anna Maria Edgeworth 1773–1824
ChildrenThomas Lovell Beddoes

Thomas Beddoes (13 April 1760 – 24 December 1808) was an English physician and scientific writer. He was born in Shifnal, Shropshire and died in Bristol fifteen years after opening his medical practice there. He was a reforming practitioner and teacher of medicine, and an associate of leading scientific figures. He worked to treat tuberculosis.

Beddoes was a friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and, according to E. S. Shaffer, an important influence on Coleridge's early thinking, introducing him to the higher criticism.[1] The poet Thomas Lovell Beddoes was his son. A painting of him by Samson Towgood Roch is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.


Beddoes was born in Shifnal on 13 April 1760 at Balcony House. He was educated at Bridgnorth Grammar School and Pembroke College, Oxford. He enrolled in the University of Edinburgh's medical course in the early 1780s.[2] There he was taught chemistry by Joseph Black and natural history by Kendall Walker. He also studied medicine in London under John Sheldon. In 1784 he published a translation of Lazzaro Spallanzani's Dissertations on Natural History, and in 1785 produced a translation, with original notes, of Torbern Olof Bergman's Essays on Elective Attractions.[2]

He took his degree of doctor of medicine at Pembroke College, Oxford University in 1786.

In 1794, he married Anna, daughter of his associate at the Bristol Pneumatic Institution, Richard Lovell Edgeworth. Their son, poet Thomas Lovell Beddoes, was born in 1803 in Bristol.


Beddoes visited Paris after 1786, where he became acquainted with Lavoisier. Beddoes was appointed professor of chemistry at Oxford University in 1788.[3] His lectures attracted large and appreciative audiences; but his sympathy with the French Revolution excited a clamour against him, he resigned his readership in 1792. In the following year he published the History of Isaac Jenkins, a story which powerfully exhibits the evils of drunkenness, and of which 40,000 copies are reported to have been sold.[2]

Beddoes addressed tuberculosis, seeking treatments for the disease. He had a clinic in Bristol from 1793 to 1799 and later began the Pneumatic Institution to test various gases for the treatment of tuberculosis. The institution was later changed to a general hospital.

Hope Square, Bristol[edit]

Beddoes' first tuberculosis clinic in Bristol, at Hope Square
Plaque: Thomas Beddoes MD (1760–1808). Scientist. Worked here 1793–1799. Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society
Plaque to Beddoes in Hope Square

Between 1793 and 1799 Beddoes had a clinic at Hope Square, Hotwells in Bristol where he treated patients with tuberculosis. On the principle that butchers seemed to suffer less from tuberculosis than others, he kept cows in a byre alongside the building and encouraged them to breathe on his patients.[4] This became the source of local ridicule, amongst claims that animals were kept in the clinic's bedrooms, against the protests of landlords.[4]

Despite the link he saw between proximity to cows and lower incidence of tuberculosis, he remained sceptical when Edward Jenner began using a cow-derived vaccination for smallpox a few years later.[4]

Bristol Pneumatic Institution[edit]

Pneumatic Institution premises,
6 Dowry Square, with 7 to the right

While living in Hotwells he began work on a project to establish an institution for treating disease by the inhalation of different gases, which he called pneumatic medicine.[5][6]

He was assisted by Richard Lovell Edgeworth. In 1799 the Pneumatic Institution was established at Dowry Square, Hotwells. Its first superintendent was Humphry Davy,[7] who investigated the properties of nitrous oxide in its laboratory. The original aim of the institution was gradually abandoned; it became a general hospital, and was relinquished by its founder in the year before his death.[2]

Beddoes was a man of great powers and wide acquirements, which he directed to noble and philanthropic purposes. He strove to effect social good by popularizing medical knowledge, a work for which his vivid imagination and glowing eloquence eminently fitted him.

— Encyc.Brit (1911), [2]

Selected writings[edit]

Besides the writings mentioned above, Beddoes was also associated with the following:

  • Chemical Essays by Carl Wilhelm Scheele (1786) translator
  • An Account of some Appearances attending the Conversion of cast into malleable Iron. In a Letter from Thomas Beddoes, M. D. to Sir Joseph Banks, Bart. P.R.S. (Phil. Trans. Royal Society, 1791)
  • Observations on the Nature and Cure of Calculus, Sea Scurvy, Consumption, Catarrah, and Fever: Together with Conjectures Upon Several Other Subjects of Physiology and Pathology. J. Murray. 1793.
  • Observations on the nature of demonstrative evidence: with an explanation of certain difficulties occurring in the elements of geometry, and reflections on language. J. Johnson. 1793.
  • Political Pamphlets (1795–1797)
  • Contributions to physical and medical knowledge, principally from the West of England, collected by Thomas Beddoes, M.D. Paternoster-Row, London: printed by Biggs & Cottle, for T. N. Longman and O. Rees. 1799. In this work (p. 4), Beddoes makes the first recorded use of the word Biology in its modern sense.[8]
  • Essay on Consumption (1799)
  • Essay on Fever (1807)
  • Hygëia: Or, Essays Moral and Medical on the Causes Affecting the Personal State of Our Middling and Affluent Classes. Phillips. 1802.

Beddoes edited the second edition of John Brown's Elements of Medicine (1795).



  1. ^ Shaffer 1980, p. 28.
  2. ^ a b c d e Chisholm 1911.
  3. ^ Cartwright 1967, pp. 131-143.
  4. ^ a b c Carey, John (26 April 2009). "The Atmosphere of Heaven: The Unnatural Experiments of Dr Beddoes and his Sons of Genius by Mike Jay: The Sunday Times review". The Sunday Times.
  5. ^ Miller & Levere 2008, pp. 5-28.
  6. ^ Stansfield & Stansfield 1986, pp. 276–302.
  7. ^ Levere 1977, pp. 41-49.
  8. ^ "biology, n". Oxford English Dictionary online version. Oxford University Press. September 2011. Retrieved 1 November 2011. (subscription or participating institution membership required)


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]