John Heaviside

John Heaviside, surgeon to the King George III


Surgeon to King George III



IN our present Part of the " National Portrait Gallery," the conjunction of its Memoirs may be likened to the British Constitution ; for we have King, Lord, and Commoner to fill its various pages.
MR. HEAVISIDE , the subject of this brief sketch, long held a very distinguished rank among the eminent men of his day in the medical profession; so long, indeed, that he might justly be said to pertain to two generations. He was the son of John Heaviside, of Hatfield, Hertfordshire—also a highly-esteemed and celebrated practitioner in surgery, as appears from the following inscription upon his monument in Hatfield church:

" Sacred to the Memory of John Heaviside, Esq. who, to the manifold advantage of this place, and the general benefit of no narrow circuit, was for more than thirty ears a resident Surgeon in this town. In the knowledge of his profession, nay, the whole scope of medicine, he was eminently skilled ; for, to the strongest natural impulse after excellence, there was united happily a sound and ready judgment, matured through a long course of practice, by observations useful to mankind. His retirement from public business, which happened years before his death, was nevertheless made serviceable to society by all the means that friendship or humanity could suggest: active, indefatigable, he was still the first to fly to merit in distress, and the last to quit it. He was esteemed and distinguished by great and valuable personages—great from their respectability, as from their rank; and valuable, from their enlarging his frequent powers of doing good."

" John Heaviside, Esq. died 14th February, 1787, aged 69. His widow, Mary Heaviside, whose conjugal affection, Christian piety, and maternal love, now receive their reward. If a tribute like this to her memory could avail, then would her son, whose daily (* In London, whither she came in her widowhood) attention to the last period of her life, breathed filial gratitude, inscribe all her virtues on this stone. She died 8th March, 1792, aged 77 years."

This biographical Epitaph affords us as much of the ancestral history of Mr. Heaviside as we require. John, their son, was born about 1748. Being destined to his father's profession, he was apprenticed to Mr. Dance, an apothecary at Barnet; but, at the age of eighteen. he ran from his bonds, and took refuge in the Metropolis. Hither he was followed by his father, who discovered him in a dirty court, and, after a thorough lecturing, carried him to Mr. Pon. with whom, at Saint Bartholomew's Hospital, be remained four years. He then went into business for himself in East Street, Red Lion Square ; whence he removed to lodgings in Mortimer Street, having in the mean time married, greatly to the displeasure of his father, and, as it turned out, not very happily for himself. Be this, however, as it might, his son and successor was born in Mortimer Street during the riots of 1780.

Ten years previously to this, and about six months before he settled in London, Mr. Heaviside had bought for £1600 the commission of surgeon in the Horse Grenadier Guards, one of those excellent bargains which the old practice of trafficking in such matters rendered not uncommon, until our military government was so essentially reformed and purified. The pay was £146 per annum, and as Mr. H. enjoyed it about fifty-eight years, he not only repaid himself principal and interest, but cleared some £5000 by his purchase. The appointment, too, was a valuable introduction to general practice ; and, together with the abilities of Mr. H, gradually and surely led him to the consideration he attained.

In 1787 he had acquired so much celebrity by his skill in performing difficult operations, that he was competent to take, and consequently to buy, the large freehold house in George Street, Hanover Square, where he resided to the period of his death ; the centre, as it were, of one of the most respectable medical circles of which the vast capital of the British empire could boast. Mr. Heaviside, indeed, was intimate with a large number of the eminent persons of his day ; and was, we believe, one of the first of those who set the example, since so much followed, of assembling literary and scientific men together on stated occasions, for the advantage of mutual communication, and the diffusion of knowledge. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and appointed Surgeon to His Majesty, George the Third.

Among the memorabilia of his early life, and long before these honors were achieved, he had become a member of the Eumelian Club, founded by the senior Dr. Ashe, where he made the acquaintance of many of those individuals, who, leaving England for France, took a conspicuous share in the French revolution, and were, nearly without an exception, ultimately banished or guillotined.

Another of the principal events of his life arose out of his professional attendance at the fatal duel between Colonel Montgomery and Captain Macnamara, in 1802. For this he was committed to Newgate, and during a whole fortnight subjected to much pain and anxiety. His friends Messrs. Erskine and Garrow, (to the father of the latter of whom he had gone to school,) Mr., afterwards Baron Wood, and others, volunteered their aid ; but still the dread of a capital conviction, and with it the forfeiture of his property, made his situation seriously uncomfortable. In this dilemma, his brokers, Messrs. Johnson and Longden, sold out all his stock, which, together with the rest of his possessions, was conveyed to a third party for safety ; and to the credit of these gentlemen it should be told, that, though the amount must have been an object to be desired, yet, under the circumstances of the case, they transacted the business without the charge of a single farthing. In the end, the grand jury having ignored the bill against Mr. Heaviside, it so happened that all these precautions were unnecessary.

" On the 10th of June, 1824," we find from the Gentleman's Magazine, " died the wife of Mr. Heaviside, the celebrated Surgeon ;" and, in October, 1828, he himself submitted to the common lot, at the advanced age of eighty. He died at Hampstead ; and was succeeded in his estate of Geddons, near Hatfield, and a very considerable fortune, by his only son.

In character, Mr. Heaviside was a practical matter-of-fact man ; and guiltless (as several anecdotes we have heard might prove) of imaginativeness or fancy. He loved the pleasures of life, and enjoyed them as much as most men engaged in active occupation, during all his extended career. His social habits therefore, his intercourse with multitudes of the various classes which make the prodigious mass of London, and his widely-spread employment as a Surgeon, rendered him almost universally known : nor was he less universally appreciated and retarded. But even such a professional course is unproductive of those striking incidents which demand the notice of the biographer ; and we have now only to conclude our brief sketch, by expressing our thanks to Mr. Howship, his pupil, assistant, and very skilful successor, to whom we are indebted for most of our dates and materials.