Clifford Allbutt

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Clifford Allbutt

Born(1836-07-20)20 July 1836
Died22 February 1925(1925-02-22) (aged 88)
Known forclinical thermometer
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge

Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt (20 July 1836 – 22 February 1925) was an English physician best known for his role as president of the British Medical Association 1920, for inventing the clinical thermometer, and for supporting Sir William Osler in founding the History of Medicine Society.

Thomas Clifford Allbutt was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, the son of Rev. Thomas Allbutt, Vicar of Dewsbury and his wife Marianne, daughter of Robert Wooler, of Dewsbury (1801–1843). He was educated at St Peter's School, York and Caius College, Cambridge,[1] where he graduated B.A. in 1859, with a First Class degree in natural sciences in 1860.[2]

After studying medicine at St George's Hospital, Hyde Park Corner, London, and taking the Cambridge MB degree in 1861, he went to Paris[1] and attended the clinics of Armand Trousseau, Duchenne de Boulogne (G. B. A. Duchenne) author of Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine, Pierre-Antoine-Ernest Bazin and Hardy. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1880, while still practising at Leeds General Infirmary (1861 to 1889).[3]

After serving as one of the Commissioners for Lunacy in England and Wales from 1889,[3] Allbutt became Regius Professor of Physic (medicine) at the University of Cambridge in 1892, and was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1907.[1] He died in Cambridge, England in 1925.


Allbutt was married to Susan, daughter of Thomas England, merchant, of Headingley, Leeds, on 15 September 1869. They had no children.[citation needed]

Leeds, London, Cambridge[edit]

From 1861 to 1889 Allbutt was a successful consulting physician in Leeds, when he commissioned Edward Schroeder Prior to design Carr Manor for his residence.

Allbutt was Physician at the General Infirmary at Leeds where he introduced the ophthalmoscope, weighing machine and microscope to the wards. During 1865 and 1866 he treated victims of an outbreak of typhus fever by open-air methods. He later advocated open-air methods for consumption (tuberculosis). Allbutt was a member of the Council of the Leeds School of Medicine (now part of the University of Leeds) from 1864 to 1884 and its President twice.

Allbutt's residence whilst in Leeds was Virginia Cottage, Virginia Road. This is now part of Lyddon Hall, one of the university's halls of residence, where there is a blue plaque commemorating him.[4]

In 1870 Allbutt published Medical Thermometry, an article outlining the history of thermometry and describing his invention: a clinical thermometer approximately 6 inches in length that a physician could have habitually in a pocket. His version of the thermometer, devised in 1867, was quickly adopted elsewhere, instead of the model previously in use, which was one foot long and which patients were required to hold for about twenty minutes.[3]

Allbutt conducted some of his work at the nearby West Riding Asylum, Wadsley. In his monograph On the Use of the Ophthalmoscope in Diseases of the Nervous System and of the Kidneys (1871), [5] Allbutt included an appendix of two hundred and fourteen cases of insanity he had observed with an ophthalmoscope at the asylum. He found changes in the eye in a large proportion of those diagnosed with old or organic cases of brain disease. He argued use of the ophthalmoscope would help remove 'the metaphysical or transcendental habit of thought' and bring a 'more vigorous and more philosophical mode of investigation' to disorders of the brain.[6]

His other work included initiating and encouraging the practice of consultation between medical witnesses before the hearing of legal cases. In 1884 he gave the Goulstonian Lectures 'Chapters on visceral neuroses' at the Royal College of Physicians. In 1885 he introduced the surgical treatment of tuberculous glands in the neck. In an address at Glasgow in 1888 he urged the study of comparative medicine, proposing that information gained by observing the physiology and diseases of animals could often be applied to human medicine.[3] Allbutt also made important studies of tetanus and hydrophobia.[1]

The novelist George Eliot described Allbutt as a 'good, clever and graceful man, enough to enable one to be cheerful under the horrible smoke of ugly Leeds'. He is regarded generally as the model for George Eliot's Dr Lydgate in Middlemarch. Allbutt has been commemorated with a Leeds Civic Trust blue plaque. It was unveiled on his former home, now Lyddon Hall, on the Leeds University campus.[7]

From 1889 to 1892 he was a Commissioner for Lunacy in England and Wales, and he moved from Leeds to London. In 1892 he moved to Cambridge on becoming Regius Professor of Physic in the University of Cambridge, where he edited his System of Medicine, a work which a biographer has described as 'his greatest service to contemporary medicine'. It was published in eight volumes, 1896 to 1899, with a second edition in eleven volumes, 1905 to 1911.[3] For many years this was regarded as the 'doctor's bible'.[7]

Allbutt was president of the British Medical Association in 1920 and in the same year was admitted a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.[3] He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1922.[8]

Allbutt continued as regius professor of physic at Cambridge until his death in 1925 when Sir Humphry Rolleston, Physician-in-Ordinary to King George V was elected as his successor.[3]

History of medicine[edit]

In the article Medicine which he contributed to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911), Volume 18 (pages 41 to 64), the first column began by stating that the science of medicine as then understood was concerned with the treatment of disease, and included pathology, therapeutics and pharmacology which were the subject of separate articles. The bulk of the article was the history of medicine, the first half up to 18th century, the remainder (from page 51) on the development of modern medicine including sections for English Medicine from 1800 to 1840, German Medicine from 1800 to 1840 and Modern Progress. Allbutt wrote the nine page section on Modern Progress. The article, and an obituary, have been transcribed for Wikisource.[9]

Allbutt's article had revised the version in the 10th edition (1902) contributed by Joseph Frank Payne,[10] and Allbutt's was in turn revised and updated in two parts for the 14th edition of Encyclopædia Britannica (volume 15), one part Medicine, General, by Rolleston, the other part Medicine, History of, by Charles Singer, Lecturer in the History of Medicine, University of London.

Allbutt supported Sir William Osler in the founding of the History of Medicine Society at the Royal Society of Medicine in 1912.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Allbutt, Sir Thomas Clifford" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 30 (12th ed.). London & New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica Company. pp. 112–113.
  2. ^ "Allbutt, Thomas Clifford (ALBT855TC)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Rolleston, H. D.; Bearn, Alexander G. (reviewer) (May 2007) [2004]. "Allbutt, Sir (Thomas) Clifford (1836–1925)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/30382. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ Blue Plaque Places
  5. ^ Allbutt, Thomas Clifford (1871) On the use of the ophthalmoscope in diseases of the nervous system and of the kidneys. MacMillan.
  6. ^ Asylum Science, psychiatry, pathology, and the laboratory – from the nineteenth century to the present day: The Ophthalmoscope: Viewing The Living Brain[1] Archived 1 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b Sir Clifford Allbutt Archived 13 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Leeds School of Medicine (27 September 2013). Retrieved on 8 June 2014.
  8. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: ChapterA" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  9. ^ Allbutt, Thomas Clifford (1911). "Medicine: Modern Progress" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 18 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 55–64.;

    Thomas Clifford Allbutt (1836–1925), K.C.B., M.A., M.D., D.Sc., LL.D., F.R.S. Regius Professor of Physic in the University of Cambridge. Physician to Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge. Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Editor of Systems of Medicine, designated in EB1911 by the initials 'T. C. A.'" (Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Table of contributors" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 18 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. xii.)

  10. ^ Joseph Frank Payne, articles from the Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th Edition (1875) and 10th Edition (1902). [2]
  11. ^ Hunting, Penelope (2002). "8. From anaesthetics to proctology:Section of the history of medicine". The History of The Royal Society of Medicine. Royal Society of Medicine Press. pp. 330–332. ISBN 978-1853154973.

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