Lives of the fellows

James Johnson

b.February 1777 d.10 October 1845
MD St And(1821) LRCP(1821)

James Johnson, M.D., was the youngest son of an Irish farmer, and was born in February, 1777, on the banks of Lough Neagh, in the county of Derry. At six years of age he was put to a school at Ballinderry kept by the village pedagogue; at fifteen was apprenticed to Mr. Young, a surgeon apothecary of Port Glenone; and at the end of two years was transferred to Mr. Bankhead of Belfast, where he continued for two years more, and then came to London without either money or friends.

He became assistant to an apothecary, and by hard study and irregular attendance on lectures in anatomy and surgery, qualified himself to pass at Surgeons’ hall in 1798. In May of that year he was appointed surgeon’s mate in the navy, and sailed in the Mercury frigate to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. On the 27th February, 1800, he was appointed surgeon to the Cynthia sloop of war, and, as such, accompanied the expedition to Egypt, was at the siege of Belle Isle, and at the various descents which the troops made on the coasts of France, Spain, &c., till they reached Egypt. There he was attacked with illness and sent to Gibraltar, where he did duty under Mr. Vaughan, the surgeon of the naval hospital.

In 1801, as surgeon to the Driver, he served in the North Sea, visiting the Orkney and Shetland islands, and going with a convoy to Greenland and Hudson’s Bay. He was next appointed to the Caroline, and was three years in India, China, and other parts of the east. On his return to England he spent some time in diligent study at the borough hospitals, and in 1808 was appointed to the Valiant, in which he remained nearly five years, and saw much active service. In 1812 he published his first and best medical work, "The Influence of Tropical Climates on European Constitutions," and immediately after its appearance was appointed flag surgeon with Sir William Young, then in command of the North Sea fleet.

At the peace of 1814, the duke of Clarence hoisted his flag in the Impregnable, when Sir William Young retired, and Mr. Johnson was so strongly recommended to the duke that he was retained, and served with his royal highness while conveying the emperor of Russia, king of Prussia, and other potentates to England. In 1814 he was placed on half-pay, and settled in general practice at Portsmouth, but in 1818 removed to London, where he had determined to try his fortune as a physician. He was created doctor of medicine by the university of St. Andrew’s, 3rd June, 1821, and was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 25th June, 1821.

Dr. Johnson, while yet at Portsmouth, had been one of the editors of a medical periodical—the Medico-Chirurgical Journal. On settling in London he changed its name into the "Medico-Chirurgical Review," and published it thenceforth as a quarterly journal. This review was a marked success in a literary and pecuniary point of view, and it conduced materially to the establishment of Dr. Johnson’s position and practice. He continued the editor and proprietor of the review until October, 1844, when failing health compelled him to resign it to the care of others.

Dr. Johnson, on the accession of William IV (under whom, as duke of Clarence, he had served on board the Impregnable in 1814), was appointed physician extraordinary to the king. Dr. Johnson, whose health had been failing for some time, died at Brighton 10th October, 1845, in the sixty-ninth year of his age. He was buried at Kensal-green.

"Dr. Johnson was rather under than above the middle height, spare, though of an active make, with a ruddy complexion, remarkably large and intelligent eye, bushy eyebrows, square and copious forehead, and an expression in which unmistakable benevolence was shaded with a cast of care or melancholy, it was not easy to say which. In conversation the features lost this character completely, and assumed what you would suppose were alone natural to them, that of unalloyed cheerfulness. Plain in dress, though never slovenly, simple in his manners, unaffected in everything, he communicated the idea of being just what he was, and of not wishing to be taken for anything else. His outward was, as much as it was possible to be, an index to his inner man. A disposition of unmitigated benevolence and kindliness was cloaked in some measure by that testiness of humour which so constantly conceals great goodness of heart. A rough word was sure to be succeeded by some substantial kindness, and so well was this known that it was played on. As a practical man he was ready and sagacious in opinion, decided though cautious in action. The larger portion of his practice dealt, from its consulting character, in chronic cases. In these he was remarkably successful. An objection was often made to his prescriptions that they were complicated and unchemical. He laughed at the criticism, and retained the habit, observing that he found his prescriptions answer, and that was the main consideration."(1) Dr. Johnson’s portrait by J. Wood was engraved by W. Holl.

The following is, I believe, a complete list of his published works:—
The Oriental Voyager; or Descriptive Sketches and Cursory Remarks on a Voyage to India and China, in His Majesty’s Ship Caroline, performed in the years 1803-4-5-6, interspersed with Extracts from the best Modern Voyages and Travels. 8vo. Lond. 1807.
The Influence of Tropical Climates on European Constitutions. 8vo. Lond. 1812. 6th edition. 1841.
The Influence of the Atmosphere on the Health of the Human Frame, with Researches on Gout and Rheumatism. 8vo. Lond. 1828.
A Treatise on Derangements of the Liver, Digestive Organs, and Nervous System, to which is added an Essay on the Prolongation of Life and Conservation of Health. 8vo. Lond. 1828.
An Essay on Indigestion or Morbid Sensibility of the Stomach and Bowels as the proximate cause or characteristic condition of Dyspepsy, Nervous Irritability, Mental Despondency, Hypochondriasis, and many other ailments of Body and Mind. 8vo. Lond. 1826.
Change of Air; or the Pursuit of Health and Recreation. 8vo. Lond. 1831.
The Recess; or Autumnal Relaxation in the Highlands and Lowlands. 8vo. Lond. 1833.
The Economy of Health, or the Stream of Human Life: with Reflections on the Septennial Phases of Human Existence. 8vo. Lond. 1836.
Pilgrimages to the Spas, with an Inquiry into the Merits of different Mineral Waters. 8vo. Lond. 1841.
Excursions to the principal Mineral Waters of England. 8vo. Lond. 1843.
A Tour in Ireland, with Meditations and Reflections. 8vo. Lond.

William Munk

[(1) Sketch of the Life, &c., of Dr. James Johnson in Medico-Chirurgical Review, January, 1846, and Pettigrew’s Medical Portrait Gallery.]

(Volume III, page 238)

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