Lives of the fellows

Edward Smith

b.1818 d.16 November 1874
MB Lond(1841) MD(1843) BA(1848) LLB(1848) FRCS FRS FRCP(1863)

Edward Smith was born in Derbyshire and educated at Queen’s College, Birmingham, where he won the award for the Warneford prize essay in 1839. He gained many academic qualifications; having graduated as M.B. at London University in 1841, and as M.D. two years later, he took the degrees of B.A. and LL.B. in 1848 and subsequently became a Fellow of the Royal Society and both Royal Colleges. He was a man with many publications to his credit. The first was An Account of a Journey through N.E. Texas (1849), to examine its suitability for settlers. In 1852-53 he lectured at Charing Cross Hospital on botany, on which he published books in 1854 and 1866, but physiological chemistry soon became his main preoccupation. Between 1856 and 1859 he read some five papers on respiration before the Royal Society, and in the latter year he invented an instrument to measure inspired air and to collect the carbonic acid in expired air. Two further papers for the Royal Society, in 1861, were concerned with urine and the weight of the body. In this year he was made assistant physician at the Brompton Hospital, and in 1862 he published a book and several papers on consumption.

His name was already familiar to the profession, but the subject of his next writings — dietetics — was to make it known to a wider public. In 1862 an appendix by Smith to one of John Simon’s reports, in the form of a report on The Food of the Lowest-Fed Classes in the Kingdom, brought him the appointment of medical officer to the Poor Law Board which, on the creation of the Local Government Board in 1871, was given the title of assistant medical officer for poor-law purposes in the Medical Department. His principal achievement, in this capacity, was his reform of poor-law dietaries. His views on the structure of workhouses, however, brought him into direct public controversy with Hart, whose proposals were to be embodied in Hardy’s Act. He gave further offence by publishing, in 1873, semi-official handbooks for medical officers of health and inspectors of nuisances, in disregard of his superior officers. Nevertheless, Smith’s writings, in his last twelve years, were on the whole fruitful. Those most worthy of mention are his reports, published as parliamentary papers, on Metropolitan Workhouse Infirmaries and Sick Wards (1866) and on The Care and Treatment of the Sick Poor in Provincial Workhouses (1867), and his contribution to the International Scientific Series on Foods (1872). In 1865 he gave the Goulstonian Lectures at the Royal College of Physicians. He died at Harley Street, London.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1874; B.M.J., 1874; Plarr, ii, 239; D.N.B., liii, 31]

(Volume IV, page 139)

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