Joseph Kidd 1824 – 1918

Joseph Kidd 1824–1918 was an Irish orthodox physician who converted to homeopathy and became the homeopathic physician to Benjamin Disraeli 1st Earl of Beaconsfield and William Ewert Gladstone. He was a student of Paul Francois Curie at the Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square,

Queen Victoria‘s favourite Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli1st Earl of Beaconsfield was a patient of Joseph Kidd due to the recommendation of Queen Victoria herself (see Michael B. Roberts, Nothing is without poison: understanding drugs, (Chinese University Press, 2002). Page 12).

In April 1881, during the final days of Benjamin Disraeli’s life, Queen Victoria asked Benjamin Disraeli to see Richard Quain (1816-1898), a conventional physician. Normally, the harsh and intolerant attitudes of the orthodox medical organisations of that time did not even allow conventional physicians to treat homeopathic patients, but Disraeli was a rare exception. However, Richard Quain and Joseph Kidd were old friends, both had been originally apprenticed in the same street in Limerick, and together with John Mitchell Bruce (1846-1929) and William Jenner (1815-1898), these three men watched over the failing Benjamin Disraeli in his final hours (Dana Ullman, The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy, (North Atlantic Books, 2007). Page 199-200. See also Wilfrid Meynell, Benjamin Disraeli: An Unconventional Biography, (D. Appleton, 1903). Page 160. See also Sir George Norman Clark, A. M. Cooke, A history of the Royal College of Physicians of London, Volume 3, (Clarendon Press for the Royal College of Physicians, 1972). Page 908. See also Thomas Hay Sweet Escott, Great Victorians: memories and personalities, (C. Scribner’s Sons, 1916). Page 292. See also Gov Hutchinson, Robert Chambers’s vision of science: the diffusion of scientific ideas to the general reader in early-Victorian Britain, (Temple University, 1980). Page 89. See also Anon, The Medical Times and Gazette, a Journal of Medical Science, (J & A Churchill, 1881). Page 772. See also Nancy LoPatin-Lummis, Michael Partridge, Richard A. Gaunt, Lives of Victorian political figures, Volumes 1-4, (Pickering & Chatto, 30 Apr 2006). Pages 94-110. See also Anon, The Homeopathic Courier: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery, Volumes 1-2, (H. L. Verdier., 1881).

Joseph Kidd was also the homeopathic physician of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Joseph Kidd was a student of William Walter, and a colleague of Michael Greene and Charles W Luther, and the brother in law of Thomas Mackern, Joseph Kidd was a Physician at the Lower Tottenham Infirmary for Woman and Children,

Francis Treuherz has written a history of Joseph Kidd.

Joseph Kidd was born in Limerick, Ireland, on 15 February 1824, one of at least fifteen children of Thomas Keane Kidd, a merchant.

After medical training locally and in Dublin he moved to London to join the Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square, and then almost immediately returned to Ireland to help victims of the Potato Famine – Joseph Kidd was selected to go to Ireland to assist by his Homeopathic Society.

Returning to London he established successful practices in Blackheath and the City of London. In 1850 he married Sophia McKern, a childhood friend, with whom he had eight children, including Percy Marmaduke Kidd, the eldest.

Sophia died in 1872, and in 1875 Kidd married Frances Octavia Rouse, with whom he had another seven children.

He continued working until 1912, when he was nearly 90 years old and died aged 94 on 20 August 1918, in Hastings, Sussex.

Among his descendants are Percy Marmaduke Kidd physician and cricketer, Eric Leslie Kidd, cricketer, Director of Guinness Ltd, and Ronald Hubert Kidd, co-founder and Director of National Council for Civil Liberties (now called Liberty).

From Homœopathy in the Irish potato famine by Francis Treuherz: From Bantry to Beaconsfield: the remarkable career of Joseph Kidd:

Joseph Kidd was born at Limerick in 1824, the seventeenth of eighteen children. His grandfather was a lawyer, and his father a corn merchant, exporting corn through the port of Limerick. His mother came from a Quaker family and Joseph was sent to a Quaker school where he received a good education.

He was especially interested in the classics, which he read throughout his life. He helped his father with clerical work in the corn business. At 17 he became an apprentice to a Dr O’Shaughnessy in Limerick.

Across the street was another physician who had an apprentice called Quain (Sir Richard Quain) who acquired a great reputation as an allopath and became quite a celebrity in London in later years.

In 1842 he went to Dublin and studied with a William Walter who had rooms in Earl Street. Here gained experience in dispensing, surgery, home visiting and he appreciated Mrs. Walter’s cooking. During his free 2 hours each day he studied for the MRCS of England. He studied and worked at the Rotunda, a famous maternity hospital. Here he witnessed a remarkable reduction in the mortality rates created by the simple expedient of securing free ventilation by cutting off the tops of the sash windows so that an open space of 2 feet was left above each window.

William Walter is the first homeopath I have discovered in Ireland, but I know little about him. He had been attracted by the principles of homeopathy and his interest in the subject was shared by his pupil, the young Joseph Kidd.

Accordingly when a vacancy for a post at the new Hahnemann Hospital in Hanover Square was advertised in the London Times Kidd set off at once to make an application in person for the post, though he was not yet qualified to practice.

On his arrival in London he found that 16 qualified men had already applied for the appointment, which was to be filled in a month’s time.

He applied to the College of Surgeons to be admitted to the next examination for the diploma MRCS which was to take place in three weeks time, but he was told that only 20 candidates could enter at one time and the list was full.

Nothing daunted he presented himself at the College on the day of the examination, and finding a student whose courage had failed him at the eleventh hour, he took his place, passed the examination, and shortly afterward his persistence was rewarded, and he was elected house surgeon at the Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square.

At the Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square he worked under Paul Francois Curie, grandfather of Pierre Curie….

Then came the famine, and Kidd resolved to assist. He was sponsored by the British Homeopathic Society and chose to go to Bantry as being closest to the centres of suffering at Skull and Skibbereen. I have read so many tragic accounts of what he saw that it is hard to know what to give as an example.

Kidd wrote a public account and also a professional one for his colleagues.

Kidd was concerned to show that homeopathy would be effective in the most adverse of conditions where allopathy was ineffective. He had no conception of how adverse those conditions would be. He gladly volunteered to go to Ireland for no material reward and work there as long as he could physically cope.

The area of Bantry, Skull and Skibbereen was among the worst affected. People lived in such primitive dwellings as holes in the turf with no floor or furniture. They had sold their clothes to buy food. They lay amid their own excrement and dying or dead families.

He simply took any patient indiscriminately, as they came along, In 67 days he saw 192 patients. He visited them at home and after one week he had as many patients as there was time to visit each day, and the pace carried on. He was only 25 years old and inexperienced. Yet he noticed how the available food, mainly Indian corn imported by the British as aid, was not suitable to help the sick recover so he managed to obtain rice and other better foods from a London voluntary relief agency set up by an alliance of Jews and Quakers….

As Kidd wrote:

“That those under homeopathic treatment, circumstanced as they were in general without proper food or drink, should have succeeded as well as the inmates of the hospital of the same town (taken from precisely the same class of people), with the advantages of proper ventilation, attendance, nourishment etc. would have been most gratifying; but that the rate of mortality under the homeopathic system should have been so decidedly in favour of our grand principle, is a circumstance, it may be hoped, which can scarcely fail to attract the attendance of even the most sceptical.

His figures compared well with the work of other homeopaths working through epidemics all over the world…

After his work in Bantry he returned to London and practised in the City where he was very successful with City men and their wives and families who in those days lived in the City or close by.

Over the next few years he attracted patients from all classes and all over the country, setting up another practice in the West End. By 1853 he had graduated MD from King’s College Aberdeen.

He worked very hard, often arriving early to see poor patients at 7am before his regular start with paying patients at 9am. He also carried out many home visits all over London and the home counties.

But he always took holidays ever since a severe illness when he was treated by John James Drysdale of Liverpool and advised to rest. Thereafter he travelled in Europe every autumn, favouring French, Swiss and Italian resorts.

He made his home in Greenwich. He was twice married, first to a Sophia Mackern from Limerick,  (his brother in law, Thomas Mackern was also a homeopath) by whom he had eight children and when he married again Frances Rouse gave him another seven.

It is clear that he began as an avowed homeopath and as The Lancet stated:

“He always held fast to the opinion that there is a truth contained in the doctrine of homeopathy which supplies a clue to the treatment of obscure cases….

“…From an early period he adopted the practice of prescribing only one drug at a time so as to be better able to study the action of individual remedies… . …A large part of his success must be attributed to his careful survey of small details… .

He trusted little to notes but he seldom forgot a name or an important fact. retained his mental and bodily powers far beyond the ordinary limits of age, and he only retired from practice in his ninetieth year.

This man began to follow his medical beliefs when he came to London to become a homeopath. He followed his ethical beliefs when he came back to Bantry as a volunteer in the famine. And then there had been this strangely ironic episode in his career, as he again followed the dictates of his conscience and resigned from the Homeopathic Society over the potency issue and so of course the homeopaths regarded him as an outsider.

Yet he worked with the law of similars so the allopaths also regarded him as an outsider!

His patients however revered him.

From Dana Ullman, The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy, (North Atlantic Books, 2007). Page 199-200. On the day of Disraeli’s first visit to see Kidd (November 7, 1877), he wrote in his journal: ‘… Today I saw Dr Kidd who cured the Chancellor (William Gladstone). I like him much. he examined me as if I were a recruit – but reports no organic deficiency. My main complaint is bronchial asthma, more distressing than bronchitis, but curable where bronchitis is not, and I am to be cured – and very soon! I had made up my mind never to create a word as to my progress or the reverse, until I had given my new man a fair and real trial: I will tell you that I entertain the highest opinion of Joseph Kidd, and that all the medical men I have known, and I have seen the highest, seem much inferior to him, in quickness of observation, and perception, and reasonableness, and at the same time originality, of his measures…’ (Kidd took Disraeli off Port and told him to drink claret and Disraeli’s health rallied).

Joseph Kidd normally only saw patients in his home office, but he made a rare exception for Disraeli. In July 1878, Kidd had to go to Berlin to treatBenjamin Disraeli’s asthma and gout so that the Prime Minister could meet with the German leader, Bismarck (Dana Ullman, Unfamiliar Homeopathic Connections, The Homeopathic Revolution. Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy, Homeopathy in Practice, Winter 2007)..

There is even some mention of which homeopathic medicines Benjamin Disraeli was given at different times: Ipecacuanha (ipecac root, a leading remedy known to cause nausea and vomiting and yet cure it in homeopathic doses), Arsenicum (arsenic), and Kali bichromicum (potassium bichromate, effective medicine for certain serious respiratory problems).

In 1881, during the final days of Benjamin Disraeli’s life, Queen Victoria asked Benjamin Disraeli to see Richard Quain, a conventional physician. Normally, the harsh and intolerant attitudes of the orthodox medical organisations of that time did not even allow conventional physicians to treat homeopathic patients, but Disraeli was a rare exception. (However, Richard Quain and Joseph Kidd were old friends).

Even in Benjamin Disraeli’s last days and nights, Joseph Kidd, Richard Quain, and a third doctor (John Mitchell Bruce) provided him with constant attention without worrying or arguing about homeopathic and orthodox doctors working together.

In 1879, Joseph Kidd continued to treat Benjamin Disraeli’s bronchitis: ‘… 10 Downing Street, January 24th, 1879 ‘… It is difficult to write; even the Faery is forgotten. But Cabinets and long ones every day and interviews un-ceasing afterwards, exhaust and at last almost confuse me. I came up with great care; in an express train and in a small saloon carriage, which had been warming for me at Wycombe for a week; and I have never left this house for a minute and yet the enemy has caught me. Dr. Kidd comes to me to-morrow morning and I hope we may arrest it; but I have no great hopes till this savage weather changes…’ ‘… To-morrow I go to town to remain and begin Cabinets on Thursday. I hope Bradford is better. I had Kidd down here, who gave me an inhaling spray which did me a great deal of good; but what it consists of I don’t know…’ (Benjamin Disraeli, Anne Elizabeth Forester Stanhope, Countess of Chesterfield, Selina Louisa Forester Bridgeman, Countess of Bradford, The Letters of Disraeli to Lady Bradford and Lady Chesterfield: 1876 to 1881, (Benn, 1929) .Pages 265 and 339).

Kidd was summoned to relieve Disraeli in Hughenden in January 1879 and regularly for the rest of the winter and the winter of 1880 also.

The final episode in Benjamin Disraeli’s life in 1881 is the subject of differing interpretations by different historians. Monypenny and Buckle are unaware of the connection with Richard Quain who was called in by Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria was concerned that Benjamin Disraeli benefit from the best advice.

The connection was of course that both had been originally apprenticed in the same street in Limerick. But because Kidd was regarded as a homeopath no doctor would work with him. ‘…the regular practitioners were bound by their trade union rules…’.

Kidd readily agreed to working with Richard Quain. But Richard Quain’s consent to attend was procured by asking Kidd to write that he had not treated his patient with homeopathy, and that he would follow Richard Quain‘s advice. (Nowhere in his posthumous account of Benjamin Disraeli’s illness does Kidd allude to any controversy).

Another physician, Mitchell Bruce from the Brompton Hospital was called in to relieve Kidd of the night duty. (This was surprising in view of the Odium MedicumTimes that ensued a few years later when a doctor from the Brompton was dismissed for consulting with a homeopath.

The result was a fierce public controversy erupting especially in The Times newspaper, which was subsequently edited into a 126 page book by John Henry Clarke.

Benjamin Disraeli died with his left hand in Joseph Kidd’s saying:

I have suffered much. Had I been a Nihilist, I should have confessed all. I had rather live, but I am not afraid to die.

Joseph Kidd revealed his diagnosis after his illustrious patient had died. He diagnosed Bright’s disease in addition to the asthma, which gave him great trouble, as Benjamin Disraeli would take no exercise save a slow saunter. Kidd makes much of this refusal to walk at all. Few details are available (see Joseph Kidd’s article on Benjamin Disraeli’s last illness) but Kidd prescribed Ipecacuanha, Kali iodatumArsenicum, and lamp baths at various times. [He even suggested Chateau Lafite instead of Port, and generally lighter foods.

He worked hard at providing a regime which would make Benjamin Disraeli sweat for he had a dry skin all his life, in order to relieve the kidneys, and he succeeded despite his observation that Benjamin Disraeli was himself a sharp observer of doctors! “You have conquered’ said Benjamin Disraeli with a genial smile.

The morning depression lifted and the albuminuria lessened and freshness and vigour returned.

Joseph Kidd’s obituary, published in The Lancet , was one of the few times in the nineteenth century that this medical journal ever published something positive about a homeopath:

“He always held fast to the opinion that there is a truth contained in the doctrine of homeopathy which supplies a clue to the treatment of obscure cases. …

“From an early period he adopted the practice of prescribing only one drug at a time so as to be better able to study the action of individual remedies. …

“A large part of his success must be attributed to his careful survey of small details.

Joseph Kidd wrote Practical Observations on Enlargements of the Thyroid Gland, Directions for the Homeopathic Treatment of Cholera, Homeopathy in Acute Diseases: Narrative of a Mission to Ireland,

Of interest:

Percy Marmaduke Kidd 1851 — 1942 was a British doctor, son of Joseph Kidd,

Kidd was the oldest of the eight children of Joseph Kidd and his first wife Sophia McKern. Like his father, he became an eminent London doctor. Two of his four brothers — Walter Aubrey Kidd (1852-1929) and Leonard Joseph Kidd (1858-1926) — also became doctors; a third brother died young, while still training to become one.

Ronald Hubert Kidd 1889 – 1942 was a civil rights campaigner, grandson of Joseph Kidd, founded the National Council for Civil Liberties, now known as Liberty,

One thought on “Joseph Kidd 1824 – 1918”

  1. I wonder if there is extant a catalogue of the sale of Dr Kidd’s effects. I have a clock which family lore says was purchased at the sale. I also have a nice Jaques portable chess set on which an ancestor is supposed to have played chess with Disraeli when commuting by train into London. Whilst there seems no chance of establishing the latter, it might I suppose be possible to authenticate the former were such a sale record to exist.

    My sister is the enthusiastic genealogist, and I have just discovered a couple of useful references for her. Whilst searching, it occurred to me to look again for information on Disraeli’s doctor.

    Any comments would be much appreciated.

    M.J.P.

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