Lives of the fellows

Edward Spry

b.? d.c.1796
MD Aberd(1759) Ex LRCP(1767) MA MD Leyden(1768) FRCP Edin(1774)

Edward Spry, M.D., was born at Plymouth. Destined by his father for the church, he received an excellent classical education, and was matriculated at Oxford. His own predilection being for physic rather than theology, he soon left the university, and returning to Plymouth, was apprenticed for five years to Mr. George Woollcombe, an eminent practitioner in that town. On the completion of his articles, Mr. Spry proceeded to London, where he attended lectures and the medical and surgical practice of the two borough hospitals. He then travelled on the continent for a somewhat lengthened period; and having visited the most celebrated universities and medical schools of Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, and Italy, he returned to Devonshire and commenced practice as a surgeon at Plymouth. In 1756 Mr. Spry’s name was brought prominently before the scientific world. At the fire of the Eddystone lighthouse, on the 4th December, 1754, a man ninety-four years of age was seriously injured by the fall of a quantity of molten lead upon him, a portion of which, to use the old man’s reiterated assertion, " ran down his throat into his body." With much difficulty the aged sufferer was brought on shore, when Mr. Spry was sent for. His treatment of the case was eminently judicious, and the man survived the accident for twelve days. On examination after death, a lump of lead, 3¾ inches in length by 1½ in breadth, and weighing 7 oz. 5 drs. 18 grs. was extracted from the stomach. Mr. Spry immediately drew up an account of the case, and on the 19th December, 1755, forwarded it to the Royal Society. The circumstances were so extraordinary as to raise some doubts of the writer’s veracity ; the reading of the paper was, therefore, postponed, confirmatory evidence was demanded, and Sir William (then Mr.) Watson, an influential fellow of the society, wrote to Dr. Huxham requesting him to inquire into the case. Unfortunately Mr. Spry had been alone at the post-mortem, examination of the body, and no eye-witness of the actual removal of the lead from the stomach could be produced. Mr. Spry, therefore, instituted a series of experiments upon the lower animals, which proved so conclusive that he drew up a report of them in a letter addressed directly to the president of the society—the earl of Macclesfield. Dr. Huxham, too, who would seem in the first instance to have been incredulous, expressed himself perfectly satisfied, and in his reply to Sir William Watson testified to his own belief in Mr. Spry’s veracity. The original report of the case, Mr. Spry’s letter to the president, and Dr. Huxham’s communication, were read to the society on the 5th February, 1756, and published in the "Philosophical Transactions," vol. xlix, p. 477.

On the 4th January, 1759, Mr. Spry was created doctor of medicine by the university of Aberdeen. He continued, however, in general practice until 1762, when he retired from that laborious branch of the profession. Intending to practise thenceforward as a physician, he devoted himself for a time to further study, and with this view proceeded to the continent, where he once more visited the principal medical schools of Europe. He was admitted an Extra-Licentiate of the College of Physicians 9th November, 1767; and then, passing over to Holland, proceeded master of arts and doctor of medicine at Leyden 20th January, 1768 (D.M.I. de Variolis ac Morbillis iisque Inoculandis, 4to.). Dr. Spry commenced his career as a physician at Totnes, where he practised for three or four years with considerable success. Desirous, however, of a wider field for his exertions, he determined on removing to his native town. Prior thereto, he passed a session at Edinburgh; and on the 3rd May, 1774, was admitted a fellow of the College of Physicians there. Returning to Devonshire, he proceeded direct to Plymouth, where he arrived but a few months before Dr. Remmett, with whom he shared for some years the practice and professional emoluments of the town and neighbourhood. Dr. Spry was a good linguist. He wrote Latin with great facility and elegance; his knowledge of Greek was considerable, and he read Hebrew and Arabic. To these he added an acquaintance with French and German. In his exercise at Leyden for his doctor’s degree, are numerous quotations in all these languages. Those in Hebrew and Arabic occur, indeed, with a frequency that savours somewhat of ostentatious display. I have not recovered the precise date of Dr. Spry’s death. It must have occurred before October, 1796, for his name has disappeared from the College list then published.

William Munk

(Volume II, page 281)

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