Lives of the fellows

Robert Bentley Todd

b.9 April 1809 d.30 January 1860
BA Dubl MA DM Oxon(1836) LRCSI FRCP(1837) FRS

Born in Dublin, Robert Bentley Todd was the son of a well-known Irish surgeon, Charles Hawkes Todd, and the brother of James Henthorn Todd, who became Regius professor of Hebrew at Trinity College, Dublin. He himself entered Trinity College in 1825 with the intention of studying law. On his father’s death in 1826, however, he changed to medicine. After qualifying five years later, he moved to London and was made lecturer on anatomy at the Aldersgate Street Medical School, where he attracted the attention of Astley Cooper and Brodie. He also began to lecture at the Westminster Hospital Medical School, and obtained posts as physician to the Western Dispensary and the Royal Infirmary for Children. Meanwhile, he was planning, with Grant, The Cyclopaedia of Anatomy and Physiology, and in 1833 he visited Paris to confer with its foreign contributors. This work, under Todd’s editorship, was of great value in advancing the study of physiology and of comparative and microscopic anatomy. Its first number appeared in 1835, the last in 1859. Todd himself wrote several of its earlier articles, and its contributors included Sir Richard Owen, Sir William Bowman, Sir James Paget and Sir John Simon.

In 1836 he took the Oxford D.M. degree, having been incorporated at Pembroke College four years earlier, and was appointed to the newly-established chair of physiology and morbid anatomy at King’s College, London, at a time when microscopical investigation was offering new fields for research. His first task, however, was to restore the diminished prestige of the Medical School. He was insistent on a high standard both of professional and general knowledge in its medical students and was an enthusiastic supporter of King’s College Hospital, which was founded in 1840, he himself being one of its first physicians. He was influential, too, in raising the standard of nursing in the Hospital by the establishment, in 1848, of the St. John’s House Training Institute which, eight years later, took over responsibility for all nursing in the Hospital. Few did more than Todd both for the efficiency of the Hospital and for its Medical School. Meanwhile, he had built up a large private practice and served on the council of the Royal Society and as an examiner at London University. At the Royal College of Physicians he was a Censor and delivered the Goulstonian Lectures (1839), the Croonian Lectures (1842) and the Lumleian Lectures (1849-50). Much of Todd’s teaching has been superseded, but he remains among the pioneers of his subject; and for many years his book, written with Bowman, on The Physiological Anatomy and Physiology of Man (1845-59) was accepted as a standard work. He died in his Brook Street consulting room, leaving a widow.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1860; Times, 6 Feb. 1860; B.M.J., 1860; D.N.B., lvi, 433; F. J. C. Hearnshaw, Centenary History of King's College, London, 1929; Lyle, 63; Al.Dubl., 815; Al.Oxon., iv, 1423]

(Volume IV, page 15)

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