Lives of the fellows

Henry Bence Jones

b.31 December 1813 d.20 April 1873
MA MD Cantab Hon DCL Oxon FRCP(1845) FRS

Bence Jones was born at Thorington Hall, Suffolk, the son of Lieut.-Colonel William Jones, 5th Dragoon Guards, of Lisselan, Cork, and his wife Matilda, daughter of Bence Bence, rector of Beccles. He was sent to Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, for his education. He distinguished himself at games and was a member of his College eight. In 1836 he entered St. George’s Hospital, first as apprentice to an apothecary and then as a medical student. He took full advantage of Hope’s teaching on the stethoscope and attended Faraday’s lectures at the Royal Institution. In 1839 he enrolled as a pupil in Graham’s laboratory at University College, and in 1841 spent several months under Liebig at Giessen. He started to practise in London in the next year, and in 1845 St. George’s gave him his first hospital appointment, that of assistant physician, which was combined with the lectureship in medical jurisprudence. A year later he was promoted to full physician; he stayed on the active staff until a weak heart necessitated his resignation in 1862. His success as a physician was due largely to his achievements as a chemist, and these were revealed to the world by numerous writings. His lectures on Animal Chemistry in its Application to Stomach and Renal Diseases, published in 1850, established him as an authority on these diseases. Among his other leading works were Gravel, Calculus and Gout (1842), The Chemistry of Urine (1857), Lectures on the Application of Chemistry and Mechanics to Pathology and Therapeutics (1867) and a biography of Faraday (1870). To Bence Jones pathological medicine owed much, particularly in the study of the urine, diabetes and kidney diseases, and in the use of the microscope. The "Bence-Jones protein", which he discovered in a patient with myelomatosis in 1848, made his name familiar to succeeding generations of doctors.

His activities were not confined to the strictly professional sphere. He was secretary of the Royal Society and honorary secretary of the Royal Institution. He was Censor at the Royal College of Physicians and delivered the Goulstonian (1846), Materia Medica (1850, 1854-55) and Croonian (1868) Lectures. He was an early supporter of the projects for the College of Chemistry and the Hospital for Sick Children. He served on the Royal Commission appointed to investigate the cattle plague of 1865. Among his friends were numbered Kühne, Hoffmann, Faraday, Tyndall, Helmholtz, Huxley, Darwin, and Florence Nightingale. Bence Jones, however, was not immune from hostile criticism. Strong-willed, sensitive and impetuous, he was unwilling to admit his own errors and resentful of rival opinions. His virtues lay in his energy and enthusiasm, his merit in his ambition to give medicine a truly scientific foundation. He married in 1842 his cousin, Lady Millicent Acheson, daughter of the second Earl of Gosford, by whom he had four daughters and three sons. He died at Brook Street, London.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1873; Medical Times and Gazette, 1873; Al.Cantab., iii, 559; Autobiography (privately printed), 1929; D.N.B., xxx, 110]

(Volume IV, page 40)

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