Lives of the fellows

Richard Thorne (Sir) Thorne

b.13 October 1841 d.18 December 1899
KCB(1897) CB(1892) MB Lond Hon LLD Edin Hon DSc RUI FRCP(1875) FRS Hon FRCPI

Richard Thorne Thorne was born at Leamington, the second son of Thomas Henry Thorne, a banker. He went to school at Neuwied in Germany, at a Paris lycée, and finally at Mill Hill. He started his medical career as an apprentice to a doctor in Leamington and then studied at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, qualifying in 1863. He gained varied experience in his first appointments : he served on the resident staff of the Sussex House Asylum, Hammersmith, from 1864 to 1866, and was then elected physician in turn to a dispensary, the Royal Hospital for Diseases of the Chest, and the London Fever Hospital. He also held two junior posts at St. Bartholomew’s between 1869 and 1871.

Meanwhile, since 1868, Thorne had investigated outbreaks of typhoid fever in the capacity of a supernumerary inspector of the Privy Council’s Medical Department. In 1871 he joined its permanent staff, and his subsequent career was devoted entirely to public health, culminating in his appointment in 1892 to succeed Buchanan as principal medical officer to the Local Government Board. His reputation was enhanced by his conduct as the government’s representative at international congresses abroad between 1885 and 1897, in which his knowledge of foreign languages proved of great advantage. But he was equally renowned for his official reports which, among other results, helped to establish that typhoid fever could be spread by means of an infected water supply and demonstrated the value of isolation hospitals. Under his direction, the regular inspection of ports and the routine examination of passengers and crews arriving from infected countries were established in England, in preference to the tedious methods of quarantine favoured by certain other countries.

Thorne lectured on hygiene at St. Bartholomew’s from 1879 until his death and examined on the same subject for Cambridge University. He delivered the Milroy Lectures at the Royal College of Physicians in 1891 and served as a Crown nominee on the General Medical Council after 1895. He was made C.B. in 1892 and K.C.B. in 1897, and he was an honoured member of several foreign medical societies. He represented an ideal type of official — painstaking, firm, progressive and open-minded. He married in 1866 Martha, daughter of Joseph Rylands of Hull, by whom he had three sons and a daughter.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1899; B.M.J., 1899; D.N.B., 1st Suppl, iii, 382]

(Volume IV, page 236)

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