Lives of the fellows

John Charles (Sir) Bucknill

b.25 December 1817 d.19 July 1897
MD Lond FRCP(1859) FRS JP

John Bucknill was born at Market Bosworth in Leicestershire, the elder son of John Bucknill, a surgeon. He was educated at Rugby under Dr. Arnold and at Market Bosworth Grammar School. At the age of eighteen, he began to study at University College, London, in the era of Liston, the Quains, and John Elliotson. Having qualified in 1840 with honours in both surgery and medicine, he became Liston’s house surgeon at University College Hospital. In 1844, when he was chosen to be the first medical superintendent of the new Devon County Asylum, his life work began. He was a member of the humane school of reformers, which included Conolly of Hanwell and Hack Tuke, and it was with Tuke that he wrote the Manual of Psychological Medicine (1858) which had more influence, perhaps, than any other volume in disseminating the new outlook on lunacy and its treatment amongst the profession at large. He also conceived, founded and, from 1853 to 1862, edited the Journal of Mental Science. In 1854 he was awarded the Sugden prize for his thesis on Unsoundness of Mind in relation to Criminal Actions. In 1862, when he retired from the Devon County Asylum, he was appointed by the Lord Chancellor as a medical visitor in lunacy; and, during his fourteen years in office, he was able to suggest reforms in many of the asylums that he visited. After retiring, he devoted himself to private practice and helped to found the journal Brain in 1878. In the same year, he delivered the Lumleian Lectures at the Royal College of Physicians, of which he was a Censor.

Bucknill was also notable for his part in forming the Exeter and South Devon Volunteers, which proved to be the nucleus of the Volunteer movement. He himself was its first recruit and chose to stay in the ranks throughout his service. Thus he lived up to his own maxim that " the great need of the mental physician is to breathe much of the pure air of rational life for the sake of both himself and his patients". He was a keen follower of outdoor sports. He married in 1842 Maryanne, daughter of Thomas Townsend of Hillmorton, by whom he had three sons. He died at Bournemouth.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1897; B.M.J., 1897; D.N.B., 1st Suppl., i, 331]

(Volume IV, page 102)

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