Lives of the fellows

James Carmichael Smyth

b.1741 d.18th Jun 1821

James Carmichael Smyth, M.D., was born in Perthshire in 1741, and educated at Edinburgh, where, after a six years’ course of study, he took the degree of doctor of medicine 29th October, 1764 (D.M.I. de Paralysi). In 1768 he settled as a physician in London; the intermediate years having been devoted to hospital practice in town, and to attendance on lectures at different medical schools in France, Italy, and Holland. Dr. Smyth was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 25th June, 1770; and was elected physician to the Middlesex hospital 4th May, 1775. He was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society 13th May, 1779. In 1780 he was appointed by government to take charge of the prison and hospital at Winchester, where a malignant typhus or pestilential fever was raging with extreme violence, and causing a frightful mortality. To obviate contagion he employed the fumes of nitrous acid, the superior efficacy of which over the measures previously adopted was quickly apparent. The hospital and prison were soon brought into a comparatively healthy condition; and subsequent experiments made by order of government on board one of the prison ships were deemed so conclusive, that parliament, as a remuneration of his services, voted him 5,000l., and shortly afterwards he received the appointment of physician extraordinary to the king. To the parliamentary grant much opposition was raised. Dr. Johnstone, of Kidderminster, set up a counter claim, on the ground that his father had recommended the same acid as a remedy against infection, many years before the application of it by Dr. Smyth. The discovery was claimed also for the French nation by M. Chaptal, who affirmed that it had been used by Guyton Morveau in 1773. To these claims Dr. Smyth gave a sufficient refutation. The College of Physicians, who were probably the fittest judges on such a question, seem to have admitted the validity of Dr. Smyth’s claim; and on the 25th June, 1788, admitted him, speciali gratiâ, to the Fellowship. He was Censor in 1788, 1793, 1801; he delivered the Harveian oration in 1793; and was named an Elect 26th June, 1802. Shortly after this Dr. Smyth withdrew from active practice, and took up his abode first at East Acton and then at Sunbury, where he died18th June, 1821, in the eightieth year of his age. His name originally Carmichael, he had long changed to Smyth, in compliance with the testamentary injunction of James Smyth, of Athenry, his grandfather, ex parte maternâ To Dr. Smyth we owe the following works:—

An Account of the Effects of Swinging employed as a Remedy in Pulmonary Consumption. 8vo. Lond. 1787.
The Works of the late Dr. William Stark. 4to. Lond. 1788.
A Description of the Jail Distemper, as it appeared among the Spanish prisoners at Winchester, in the year 1780; with an Account of the Means employed for Curing that Fever and for Destroying the Contagion which gave rise to it. 8vo. Lond. 1795.
The Effects of the Nitrous Vapour in Preventing and Destroying Contagion, ascertained from a variety of trials, &c., &c. 8vo. Lond. 1799.
Letter to William Wilberforce, Esquire, containing Remarks on a Pamphlet entitled " An Account of the Discovery of the Power of the Mineral Acid Vapours to destroy Contagion, by John Johnstone, M.D." Lond. 1805. Remarks on a " Report of M. Chaptal," with an Examination of the Claim of M. Guyton de Morveau to the Discovery of the Power of Mineral Acid Gases to destroy Contagion. 8vo. Lond. 1805.
A Treatise on Hydrencephalus, or Dropsy of the Brain. 8vo Lond. 1814.

(Volume II, page 383)

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