Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pettigrew, Thomas Joseph

PETTIGREW, THOMAS JOSEPH (1791–1865), surgeon and antiquary, was son of William Pettigrew, whose ancestor, the Gowan priest, ‘Clerk Pettigrew,’ is mentioned by Sir Walter Scott in ‘Rob Roy.’ The father was a naval surgeon, who served in the Victory long before the time of Nelson. Thomas was born in Fleet Street, London, on 28 Oct. 1791, and was educated at a private school in the city. He began to learn anatomy at the age of twelve, left school at fourteen, and, after acting for two years as assistant to his father in the performance of his duties as a parish doctor, he was apprenticed at the age of sixteen to John Taunton, the founder of the City of London Truss Society. He afterwards entered as a pupil at the Borough hospitals, at the same time acting as demonstrator of anatomy in the private medical school owned by his master Taunton. He was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 19 June 1812, and a fellow on 11 Dec. 1843, but as early as 1808 he had been elected a member of the Medical Society of London, and in 1811 he was made one of its secretaries, in opposition to Dr. Birkbeck. In 1813 he was appointed registrar, and took up hi s abode in the society's house in Bolt Court, Fleet Street. In 1808, as one of the founders of the City Philosophical Society, which met in Dorset Street, Salisbury Square, he gave the first lecture, choosing as his subject ‘Insanity;’ and in 1810 he helped to establish the Philosophical Society of London, where he gave the inaugural address ‘On the Objects of Science and Literature, and the advantages arising from the establishment of Philosophical Societies.’ In 1813 he was appointed, by the influence of Dr. John Coakley Lettsom [q. v.], secretary of the Royal Humane Society, a post he resigned in 1820, after receiving in 1818 the society's medal for the restoration of a case of apparent death. In 1819, together with the Chevalier Aldini of the imperial university of Wilna, Pettigrew engaged in experiments, at his house in Bolt Court, in the employment of galvanism in cases of suspended animation. The result of these experiments was a joint publication entitled ‘General Views of the Application of Galvanism to Medical Purposes, principally in cases of suspended Animation.’ While he was acting as secretary to the Royal Humane Society Pettigrew became known to the Duke of Kent, who made him first surgeon extraordinary, and later surgeon in ordinary to himself, and, after his marriage, surgeon to the Duchess of Kent. In this capacity he vaccinated their daughter, the present Queen Victoria, the lymph being obtained from one of the grandchildren of Dr. Lettsom. The Duke of Kent shortly before his death recommended Pettigrew to his brother, the Duke of Sussex. The latter appointed Pettigrew his surgeon, and, at his request, Pettigrew undertook to catalogue the library in Kensington Palace. The first volume of this work was published in two parts in 1827. It was entitled ‘Bibliotheca Sussexiana.’ A second volume was brought out in 1839; it was commenced upon too large a scale, for the volumes issued deal only with the theological division of the library, and the catalogue remained incomplete when the books were sold in 1844 and 1845. The catalogue was well received, and, as an acknowledgment of the value of his literary work, Pettigrew was presented with the diploma of doctor of philosophy from the university of Göttingen on 7 Nov. 1826.

Pettigrew in 1816 became surgeon to the dispensary for the treatment of diseases of children, then newly founded in St. Andrew's Hill, Doctors' Commons, which has since become the Royal Hospital for Children and Women in the Waterloo Road. This post he resigned in 1819, when he was elected surgeon to the Asylum for Female Orphans. In this year, too, he delivered the annual oration at the Medical Society, selecting as his subject ‘Medical Jurisprudence,’ and pointing out the very neglected position then occupied by forensic medicine in England. In 1819 he removed from Bolt Court to Spring Gardens, and became connected with the West London Infirmary, an institution established by Dr. Golding, which was the immediate forerunner of the Charing Cross Hospital. Pettigrew was appointed surgeon to the Charing Cross Hospital, upon its foundation, and lectured there upon anatomy, physiology, pathology, and the principles and practice of surgery. He resigned his post of senior surgeon in 1835, in consequence of a disagreement with the board of management, and for some years after his resignation he devoted himself to private practice, living in Savile Row. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1827, and in 1830 he took a leading part in the election of the Duke of Sussex to the office of president, on the retirement of Mr. Gilbert. He was a prominent freemason for many years before his death.

Pettigrew's love for antiquities grew upon him as his age increased. In 1834 his attention was drawn to the subject of mummies, and he published a book on embalming. In 1843, when the British Archæological Association was founded, he at once took a leading part in its management. He acted as its treasurer, and during its early years the town meetings were held at his house. In 1854 his wife died, and he gave up the practice of his profession to devote himself to antiquarian and literary pursuits, at the same time removing to Onslow Crescent. He died on 23 Nov. 1865.

His chief works are: 1. ‘Views of the Base of the Brain and the Cranium,’ London, 4to, 1809. 2. ‘Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the late John Coakley Lettsom, M.D.,’ 8vo, 3 vols., London, 1817. 3. ‘Biographical Memoir of Dr. Thomas Cogan (1736–1818) [q. v.], a Founder of the Royal Humane Society,’ ‘Annual Report of the Royal Humane Society’ for 1818. 4. ‘History of Egyptian Mummies, and an Account of the Worship and Embalming of the Sacred Animals,’ 4to, London, 1834. 5. ‘The Biographies of Physicians and Surgeons in Rose's Biographical Dictionary, from “Claude Nicholas le Cat” onwards,’ 1857. 6. ‘Bibliotheca Sussexiana: a descriptive Catalogue, accompanied by Historical and Biographical Notices of the Manuscripts and Printed Books contained in the Library of His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, in Kensington Palace,’ London, 2 vols. in three parts, imperial 8vo, 1827 and 1839; part i. contains 294 pages, and part ii. contains 516 pages. 7. ‘The Medical Portrait Gallery, containing Biographical Memoirs of the most celebrated Physicians and Surgeons, &c.,’ 4 vols. imperial 8vo, London, 1840. Pettigrew tells us that this work was begun to divert his thoughts after the death of his eldest son in 1837. 8. ‘On Superstitions connected with the History and Practice of Medicine and Surgery,’ London, 8vo, 1844. 9. ‘Life of Vice-admiral Lord Nelson,’ 2 vols., 8vo, London, 1849. In this work Pettigrew first conclusively proved the nature of the tie connecting Lord Nelson with Lady Hamilton, and furnished evidence of the birth of their child. 10. ‘An Historiall Expostulation against the Beastlye Abusers both of Chyrurgerie and Physyke in oure tyme, by John Halle,’ edited for the Percy Society, 1844. His antiquarian works appear chiefly in the ‘Journal of the British Archæological Association’ and in the ‘Archæologia’ of the Society of Antiquaries.

[Autobiography in the Medical Portrait Gallery, 1844, vol. iv. (with an engraved portrait); obituary notices in Gent. Mag. 1866, i. 136, and in the Journal of the British Archæological Association for 1866, pp. 327–35.]

D’A. P.