Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Richardson, Benjamin Ward
RICHARDSON, Sir BENJAMIN WARD (1828–1896), physician, only son of Benjamin Richardson and Mary Ward his wife, was born at Somerby in Leicestershire on 31 Oct. 1828, and was educated by the Rev. W. Young Nutt at the Barrow Hill school in the same county. Being destined by the deathbed wish of his mother for the medical profession, his studies were always directed to that end, and he was early apprenticed to Henry Hudson, the surgeon at Somerby. He entered Anderson's University (now Anderson's College), Glasgow, in 1847, but a severe attack of famine fever, caught while he was a pupil at St. Andrews Lying-in Hospital, interrupted his studies, and led him to become an assistant, first to Thomas Browne of Saffron Walden in Essex, and afterwards to Edward Dudley Hudson at Littlebury, Narborough, near Leicester, who was the elder brother of his former master.
In 1850 he was admitted a licentiate of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, becoming faculty lecturer in 1877, and being enrolled a fellow on 3 June 1878. In 1854 he was admitted M.A. and M.D. of St. Andrews, where he afterwards became a member of the university court, assessor of the general council, and in 1877 an honorary LL.D. He was a founder and for thirty-five times in succession the president of the St. Andrews Medical Graduates' Association. He was admitted a member of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1856, and was elected a fellow in 1865, serving the office of materia medica lecturer in 1866. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1867, and delivered the Croonian lecture in 1873 on ' The Muscular Irritability after Systemic Death.'
In 1849 he left Mr. Hudson and joined Dr. Robert Willis of Barnes, well known as the editor of the works of William Harvey, and librarian of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (1828-45). Richardson lived at Mortlake, and about this time became a member of 'Our Club,' where he met Douglas Jerrold, Thackeray, Hepworth Dixon, Mark Lemon, John Doran, and George Cruikshank, of whose will he became an executor.
Richardson moved to London in 1853-4, and took a house at 12 Hinde Street, whence he moved to 25 Manchester Square. In 1854 he was appointed physician to the Blenheim Street Dispensary, and in 1856 to the Royal Infirmary for Diseases of the Chest in the City Road. He was also physician to the Metropolitan Dispensary (1856), to the Marylebone and to the Margaret Street Dispensaries (1856), and in 1892 he became physician to the London Temperance Hospital. For many years he was physician to the Newspaper Press Fund and to the Royal Literary Fund, of the committee of which he was long an active member. In 1854 he became lecturer upon forensic medicine at the Grosvenor Place School of Medicine, where he was afterwards appointed the first lecturer on public hygiene, posts which he resigned in 1857 for the lectureship on physiology. He remained dean of the school until 1865, when it was sold and, with all the other buildings in the old Tattersall's yard, demolished. Richardson was also a lecturer about this time at the College of Dentists, then occupying a part of the Polytechnic Institution in Regent Street.
In 1854 Richardson was awarded the Fothergillian gold medal by the Medical Society of London for an essay on the 'Diseases of the Foetus in Utero;' in 1856 he gained the Astley Cooper triennial prize of 300 guineas for his essay on 'The Coagulation of the Blood.' In 1868 he was elected president of the Medical Society of London, and on several occasions he was president of the health section of the Social Science Association, notably in 1875, when he delivered a celebrated address at Brighton on 'Hygeia,' in which he told of what a city should be if sanitary science were advanced in a proper manner. In the same year he gave the Cantor lectures at the Society of Arts, taking ' Alcohol ' as the subject. He was elected an honorary member of the Philosophical Society of America in 1863, and of the Imperial Leopold Carolina Academy of Sciences in 1867. He became a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1877. In June 1893 he was knighted in recognition of his eminent services to humanitarian causes.
He died at 25 Manchester Square on 21 Nov. 1896, and his body was cremated at Brookwood, Surrey. He married, on 21 Feb. 1857, Mary J. Smith of Mortlake, by whom he left two surviving sons and one daughter.
Richardson was a sanitary reformer, who busied himself with many of the smaller details of domestic sanitation which tend in the aggregate to prolong the average life in each generation. He spent many years in attempts to relieve pain among men by discovering and adapting substances capable of producing general or local anæsthesia, and among animals by more humane methods of slaughter. He brought into use no less than fourteen anaesthetics, of which methylene bichloride is the best known, and he invented the first double-valved mouthpiece for use in the administration of chloroform. He also produced local insensibility by freezing the part with an ether spray, and he gave animals euthanasia by means of a lethal chamber. He was an ardent and determined champion of total abstinence, for he held that alcohol was so powerful a drug that it should only be used by skilled hands in the greatest emergencies. He was, too, one of the earliest advocates of bicycling. In 1863 he made known the peculiar properties of amyl nitrite, a drug which was largely used in the treatment of breast-pang, and he introduced the bromides of quinine, iron, and strychnia, ozonised ether, styptic and iodised colloid, peroxide of hydrogen, and ethylate of soda, substances which were soon largely used by the medical profession.
Richardson was one of the most prolific writers of his generation. He wrote biographies, plays, poems, and songs, in addition to his more strictly scientific work. He wrote the 'Asclepiad,' a series of original researches in the science, art, and literature of medicine. A single volume was issued in 1861, after which it appeared quarterly from 1884 to 1895. He was the originator and the editor of the 'Journal of Public Health and Sanitary Review' (1855). He contributed many articles, signed and unsigned, to the 'Lancet' and to the 'Medical Times and Gazette.'
[Vita Medica, chapters of medical life and work by Sir B. W. Richardson, London, 1897. The author was engaged upon the last pages of this book at the time of his death. See also obituary notice in the Lancet, 1896, ii. 1575; Yearbook of the Royal Soc. 1901, pp. 187-8.]