Lives of the fellows

Balthazar Walter (Sir), Baron Ilkeston Foster

b.17 July 1840 d.31 January 1913
MD Erlangen Hon DCL Durh Hon LLD Montreal LRCP and SI FRCP(1873) JP MP

Balthazar Walter Foster was born at Cambridge, the eldest son of Balthazar Foster of Beaulieu, Hampshire, and Marion Green of Cambridge. He was educated as a boy at Drogheda Grammar School and studied medicine in Dublin, at Trinity College and the College of Surgeons’ School. At the age of twenty, he obtained the posts of medical tutor at Queen’s College, Birmingham, and assistant physician to the Queen’s Hospital. He became professor of anatomy in 1864 and was made full physician about the same time. Two years later, however, he left Queen’s College on appointment as professor of anatomy and medicine at Sydenham College, but when, in 1868, the colleges were amalgamated, he was given the office of joint professor of medicine in the new Queen’s College. In the same year he resigned from the Queen’s Hospital to join the staff of the Birmingham General Hospital as physician. Foster held these appointments till 1892 and 1890 respectively. He also served on the staff of the Hospital for Skin and Genito-Urinary Diseases and other local institutions. Among his special interests as a consultant were diabetes and heart diseases, on which he wrote in Quain’s Dictionary of Medicine. He contributed editorially both to the Lancet and to the British Medical Journal and was a keen supporter and office-holder of the B.M.A. From 1886 to 1896 he sat in the General Medical Council as a direct representative.

In his middle life, Foster’s career as a consultant was overshadowed by his career as a politician. He was elected both to the Birmingham council and to Parliament, in the Liberal interest, in 1885, and was chairman of the National Liberal Federation from 1886 to 1890. Rejected by his first constituency, Chester, in 1886, he was returned to Parliament again in 1887 by Ilkeston, Derbyshire, whose Member he remained until 1910. In the House he occupied himself largely with matters affecting his profession, but also espoused causes such as land law reform and the extension of smallholdings and allotments. In 1892 Gladstone made him Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board, and during his three years in office he improved the status of medical officers of health and strengthened precautions against cholera. Foster, who had been knighted in 1886, was refused office in the Government of 1905, but he was made a privy councillor in 1906 and raised to the peerage, with the title of Baron Ilkeston, in 1910. He had received the freedom of Ilkeston in 1904.

Foster had an attractive House of Commons manner, and was recognised on both sides of the House as a capable and conscientious administrator. Likewise in his constituency, thanks to his agreeable personality and oratorical gifts and to his wonderful memory for names and faces, he was popular with followers of all parties and not least with the miners. Foster married Emily, daughter of W. L. Sargant of Edgbaston, and had one son and three daughters. He died in London.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1913; B.M.J., 1913. Times, 1 Feb. 1913]

(Volume IV, page 214)

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