Lives of the fellows

Thomas Lauder (Sir) Brunton

b.14 March 1844 d.16 September 1916
Bart MB CM Edin(1866) BSc(1867) MD DSc Hon LLD Hon LLD Aberd Hon MD Dubl FRS(1874) FRCP(1876)

Lauder Brunton was born at Hiltonshill, Roxburghshire, the third son of James Brunton by his wife Agnes, daughter of John Stenhouse of White Lee. After a private education he had a distinguished career at Edinburgh University, where he graduated as M.B, C.M., in 1866 and as B.Sc. in 1867. In the latter year, as a house physician at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, he published a notable M.D. thesis on Digitalis, with some Observations on the Urine, which embodied the results of six months’ experimental work on himself, and, further, made his greatest single contribution to medicine—namely, the demonstration that amyl nitrite would relieve the pain of angina pectoris and temporarily lower the blood pressure. Awarded the Baxter scholarship in 1868, he made a long tour of foreign medical centres, visiting Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam and Leipzig. He returned in 1870 to become lecturer on materia medica and pharmacology at the Middlesex Hospital, and, with his experience of the early Continental pharmacological laboratories behind him, set up his own laboratory for experimental work in a small scullery on the premises. After a year he assumed the same appointment at St. Bartholomew’s. In the next two decades he and his collaborators published a large number of papers on pharmacology and physiology containing many suggestions and explanations that proved to be in advance of their time. In 1885 he published his Textbook of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, a work of rare excellence which greatly enhanced its author’s international reputation.

Brunton’s scientific labours were not undertaken at the expense of his clinical practice. He was elected assistant physician to St. Bartholomew’s in 1875 and physician in 1895, retiring nine years later. During this period, he became the most widely known consulting physician in London, and as a connecting link between the practice of medicine and the basic sciences he had a lasting influence on the teaching of medicine. He was also an authority on non-medicinal forms of treatment.

Brunton was made a Fellow of the Royal Society at the early age of thirty. At the Royal College of Physicians, he gave the Goulstonian Lectures in 1877, the Croonian Lectures in 1889 and the Harveian Oration in 1894. He delivered the Lettsomian Lectures before the Medical Society of London in 1886. He was knighted in 1900 and received a baronetcy in 1909. Outside his work, he helped to found the National League for Physical Education and advocated military training in preparation for a war with Germany, which he foresaw. Physically of frail build, he was impressive only when he spoke. His unfailing kindness of heart made him a well loved figure. He married in 1879 Louisa Jane, daughter of the Ven. Edward A. Stopford, archdeacon of Meath, and had three sons and three daughters. He died in London.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1916; B.M.J., 1916; D.N.B., 1912-21, 75]

(Volume IV, page 239)

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