Thomas Southwood Smith 1788 – 1861

Thomas Southwood Smith 1788 – 1861Thomas Southwood Smith 17881861 was a British physician and sanitary reformer, who, in later life, also practiced some homeopathy, though he was to pay a terrible price for this as his allopathic ‘friends’ spitefully cast him into the sort of poverty he fought to remedy all of his life.

The works of Thomas Southwood Smith were eagerly reported in homeopathic literature, as he was obviously using homeopathic techniques of similarity to choose his remedies (The Homeopathic Examiner, Volume 1. (John Franklin Gray, William Radde, 1846). Page 282).

Thomas Southwood Smith was  the grandfather of Octavia Hill, and the physician of Jeremy Bentham, and the homeopathic practitioner of Emily Dunstan and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (he knew her between 1847 – 1854). Southwood Smith lived with *Margaret Gillies 1803-1887 (see below) from 1854 when he separated from his second wife, until his death.

Thomas Southwood Smith was a friend and the physician of William James Linton, who was also a friend of Thomas Southwood Smith’s daughter Caroline Southwood Smith (1809-1902) and her five daughters, and also of her little granddaughters Miranda Hill and Octavia HillWilliam James Linton tells us that another of Thomas Southwood Smith’s granddaughter’s married George Henry Lewes. Was this Agnes Jervis (1822-1902)? (William James Linton, Memories(Lawrence and Bullen, London, 1895). Pages 44, 181, 170-171. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octavia_Hill) Miranda Hill and Octavia Hill were the daughters of James Hill (?-?), corn merchant and banker, and his third wife, Caroline Southwood Smith. He had been widowed twice, and had six children (five daughters and a son) from his previous marriages, but he was mentally fragile and bankrupt. Thomas Southwood Smith did his best to financially support his struggling family, but they remained chronically poor. Octavia Hill and her sister Miranda Hill suffered such poverty, they became able campaigners for the poor and against social inequality.

Thomas Southwood Smith was a friend of Hans Christian AndersenRobert Browning, Edwin Chadwick, John Chapman, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Dickens, George Grote, William Howitt, Leigh Hunt, William James LintonWilliam Charles MacReady, John Stuart Mill, and William Wordsworth.

Thomas Southwood Smith was the son of William Smith and Catherine Southwood, strict Calvanists and friend of Rev. William Blake, a powerful influence on the young Thomas Southwood Smith, he was awarded a scholarship to the Baptist Academy in Bristol at the young age of 14.

Thomas Southwood Smith was mentored by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and it was under his tutoring that Thomas Southwood Smith became a Unitarian, causing so much shock to his parents that they never spoke again afterwards.

Thomas Southwood Smith married Anne Read in 1808, and he became a Unitarian preacher for a while in Taunton. Thomas and Anne had two daughters Caroline in 1890, and Emily in 1810, and then unfortunately, Anne died in 1812, leaving Thomas a widower with two small daughters to care for.

Thomas turned again to Rev. William Blake and John Prior Eastlin, whose own son John Bishop Eastlin had founded an Ophthalmic Dispensary at the Bristol Eye Hospital, and they funded his education as a doctor at Edinburgh.

In 1812, Thomas departed for Edinburgh, where he founded the Scottish Unitarian Association, and he studied medicine alongside Richard Bright, Thomas Addison and Robert Knox. He also continued to preach, which increasingly began to attract public attention.

In 1816, Thomas published Illustrations of the Divine Government, which universally established his reputation. His reflections in this book led him to his dissertation on Injurious Effects of Diseases of the Mind, and he graduated as an MD in 1816, and returned to Yeovil. Many years later, Thomas Southwood Smith issued a new edition of his Illustrations of the Divine Government, which was reviewed in the Westminster Review. Thomas also wrote follow up thoughts in the Westminster Review, and he was still published in this journal in 1866 under John Chapman.

In Yeovil, Thomas began practicing medicine and he continued preaching. He married again, the Harriet Christie, who bore him a son Herman in 1819. In 1820, the family moved to London to settle in Trinity Square near the Tower of London, and he worked at St. Guy’s and St. Thomas’ for a year, and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians.

Thomas quickly met Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, George Grote, Samuel Romilly, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, Francis Place, John Bowring and many others, where his views on penal laws had become well known. Thomas became the physician at the London Fever Hospital, the Eastern Dispensary and the Jew’s Hospital in Whitechapel, and he assisted Jeremy Bentham in writing sections for his proposed National Minister for Health and the Preventative Service Minister. Edwin Chadwick took sections of these drafts to propose his Poor Law of 1834. Francis Place and Joseph Parkes also took sections of these drafts for their Municipal Reform Act of 1835.

In 1823,  Jeremy Bentham founded the Westminster Review, and the first issue carried three articles by Thomas Southwood Smith. Edwin Chadwick visited ‘fever nests’ with Thomas Southwood Smith and caught a fever he nearly died of, something which profoundly affecting him for the rest of his life. Edward Livingstone was also profoundly influenced by the work of Thomas Southwood Smith, most of it unpaid and onerous.

In 1824, Thomas Southwood Smith became one of the founders of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, and in 1829, he wrote Treatise on Animal Physiology, and many or the articles in the Penny Encyclopaedia between 1832 – 1845, articles on William Beaumont’s physiology of digestion, A Treatise on Fever in 1830.

Around this time, Thomas Southwood Smith began to draw criticism as a Galenist who believed in the miasmatic transmission of disease, despite being described as one of the ‘greatest epidemiologists’ of the age.

Thomas Southwood Smith was now a Lecturer in Forensic Medicine at the Webb Street School, and one of the founders of the Literary and Scientific Institution, alongside Edwin Chadwick and other Benthamites.

In 1832, Thomas Southwood Smith was responsible for the arrangements of  Jeremy Bentham‘s body after his death. Thomas Southwood Smith was the original keeper of the auto icon of Jeremy Bentham before it was purchased by University College London in 1850,

In 1837, Thomas Southwood Smith was travelling to inspect factories to ascertain that the Reform Act was being correctly carried out, and he also inspected the Poor Law and reported to the poor Law Commision for its amendment, in his Report on the Physicial Causes of Sickness and Mortality to which the poor are regularly exposed and which are preventable by sanitary measures.

Thomas Southwood Smith escorted Constantine Phipps 1st Marquess of Normanby and Charles Dickens to see the poor conditions he had described in this report, which resulted in Charles Dickens writing Bleak House and Oliver Twist.

Thomas was now employed behind the scenes of the Factory Act, investigating the conditions of the employment of women and children in the mines.. Thomas asked Margaret and *Margaret Gillies 1803-1887 to illustrate the awful conditions, and in 1844, Ashley’s Bill succeeded in banning all female labour and boys under the age of 10 from the mines.

Separated from his second wife Harriet, who in 1849, had taken Herman to live on the continent, as the marriage ‘was not fortunate’, Thomas became responsible for his daughter Caroline and her five children when her husband went bankrupt, moving the family firstly to Epping Forest, and then to Highgate, where he set up his now very large household with *Margaret Gillies 1803-1887.

However, in 1847, Thomas Southwood Smith was ‘passed over’ by the Commissioners of the Public Health Act, something that was considered ‘scandalous‘ by The Lancet, and which resulted in George Howard 7th Earl of Carlisle (styled Lord Morpeth from 1825 to 1848) appointing him as a unpaid Commissioner, which Thomas accepted without qualm.

He submitted his studies on the prevention of the threatened cholera epidemic of 1848, during which he worked with great industry. Thomas Southwood Smith was then appointed as a paid Commissioner and he abandoned his private practice to comply, only to be dismissed in 1854 to financial ruin, without a pension, on the grounds that so much of his work had been unpaid, he was not eligible for a pension. Edwin Chadwick was appalled, but he could do nothing about it.

Thomas Southwood Smith, now aged 66, with ruined health and finances, published The Results of Sanitary Improvements, detailing the progress of The Metropolitan Society for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Poor, which he had founded in 1842, and chartered as a public charity by Robert Peel.

In 1854, Thomas had a new house built for his family in Weybridge, called The Pines. Although his official work was now ended, Thomas continued to work for his good causes, and he travelled a good deal. He visited his daughter Emily in Florence, where she had established a school and was a personal friend of Giuseppe Mazzini.

In 1856, a public subscription was raised to relieve the poverty of Thomas and his family, enabling his granddaughter Octavia Hill to complete Thomas’ work. In 1858, Thomas was at last granted a pension by the government.

Thomas died in Florence in 1861 during a visit to see Emily in Florence.

While a medical student in Edinburgh, Thomas Southwood Smith took charge of a Unitarian congregation. In 1816 he took his M.D. degree, and began to practice at Yeovil, Somerset, also becoming minister at a chapel in that town, but removed in 1820 to London, devoting himself principally to medicine

In 1824 he was appointed physician to the London Fever Hospital, and in 1830 published A Treatise on Fever, which was at once accepted as a standard authority on the subject. In this book he established the direct connection between the impoverishment of the poor and epidemic fever.

He was frequently consulted in fever epidemics and on sanitary matters by public authorities, and his reports on quarantine (1845), cholera (1850), yellow fever (1852), and on the results of sanitary improvement (1854) were of international importance.

He died in Florence and is interred there in the English Cemetery of Florence, his tombstone sculpted by Joel Tanner Hart.

His granddaughters were  Miranda and Octavia Hill.

Southwood Smith was a dedicated utilitarian, and a close friend of Jeremy Bentham. He had a particular interest in applying his philosophical beliefs to the field of medical research. In 1827 he published The Use of the Dead to the Living, a pamphlet which argued that the current system of burial was a wasteful use of bodies that could otherwise be used for dissection by the medical profession.

On 9 June 1832, Southwood Smith carried out the highly controversial public dissection of Jeremy Bentham (who had died 3 days earlier) at the Webb Street School of Anatomy in London. In a speech before the dissection, Southwood Smith argued that:

“If, by any appropriation of the dead, I can promote the happiness of the living, then it is my duty to conquer the reluctance I may feel to such a disposition of the dead, however well founded or strong that reluctance may be”.

Southwood Smith’s lobbying helped lead to the 1832 Anatomy Act, the controversial legislation which allowed the state to seize unclaimed corpses from workhouses and sell them to surgical schools. While this act is widely credited with ending the practice of grave robbery, it has also been condemned as highly discriminatory against the poor.

Of interest:

Margaret Gillies 1803-1887

Margaret Gillies (1803-1887), painter. In the 1830s, she became associated part of the set which formed around William Johnson Fox, editor of the Monthly Repository, whose members included Robert Browning, Leigh Hunt,  John Stuart Mill, Harriet Taylor, and William Charles MacReady. By the late 1830s, a relationship developed between Margaret Gillies and Southwood Smith (who had separated from his second wife). As a portraitist, she painted many famous artists, writers, intellectuals, and social reformers — including William Johnson Fox, Harriet Martineau, Southwood Smith, Jeremy Bentham, Leigh Hunt, Richard Henry Horne, Charles Dickens, and  William Wordsworth. Many are now in the National portrait gallery and other major collections. From 1854 until the death of Southwood Smith in 1861, the Gillies sisters and Smith lived at The Pines in Weybridge. After Smith’s death, Gillies travelled widely in Britain and Europe.

The Southwood Smith Centre is a Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association Day Centre, Southwood Smith Street, St.Alban’s Place, Upper Street, London N1 0YL

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