Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Broadbent, William Henry

BROADBENT, Sir WILLIAM HENRY, first baronet (1835–1907), physician, born at Lindley on 23 Jan. 1835, was eldest son (in a family of five sons and two daughters) of John Broadbent (d. 1880) of Lindley, near Huddersfield, woollen manufacturer and a prominent Wesleyan, who married Esther (d. 1879), daughter of Benjamin Butterworth of Holmforth. Col. John Edward Broadbent, R.E., C.B. (b. 1848), is his younger brother. Brought up as a Wesleyan, William joined the Church of England in 1860. After early education at a day school at Longwood, near Lindley, and at Huddersfield College, William left school at fifteen for his father's factory, where he spent two years in learning the processes of manufacture. Resolving on a medical career, he, in 1852, when seventeen, was apprenticed to a surgeon in Manchester and entered the Owens College, then in Quay Street. At the Owens College and at the Manchester Royal School of Medicine (Pine Street) he gained medals in chemistry, botany, materia medica, anatomy, physiology, midwifery, surgery, and operative surgery. In 1856 he carried off the gold medals in anatomy, physiology, and chemistry at the first M.B. London examination. Next year he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, London. After failing in an application for the post of house surgeon at the Manchester Royal Infirmary he went, in 1857, to Paris, where he studied under Trousseau, Ricord, Reyer, and other eminent masters in medicine. Living with a French family, he acquired a first-rate knowledge of the French language and an excellent accent. Returning to England in 1858, he passed the final M.B. (London) examination, taking the gold medal in obstetric medicine and first-class honours in medicine. Soon afterwards he obtained the post of obstetric officer at St. Mary's Hospital, London, and became resident medical officer in 1859. In 1860 he was appointed pathologist and lecturer on physiology and zoology in the medical school of St. Mary's Hospital, and curator of the museum. The same year he proceeded to the degree of M.D. (London). He was physician to the London Fever Hospital from 1860 until 1879, when he became consulting physician. In 1861 he was appointed lecturer in comparative anatomy in St. Mary's Hospital medical school, and in 1863 physician to the Western General Dispensary. But despite his many offices, Broadbent's practice was not lucrative. Residing at 23 Upper Seymour Street, he could only meet his household expenses by coaching and by taking resident students. With hesitation he refused an offer of a professorship of anatomy and physiology at Melbourne University at 1000l. a year.

With St. Mary's Hospital his association lasted long. In 1865 he was elected physician to the out-patients and in 1871 was promoted to the charge of the in-patients, with a lectureship in medicine, which he held for seventeen years. He remained on the active staff of St. Mary's until 1896, his retirement being deferred for five years by special resolution. He then became honorary consulting physician. Broadbent proved one of the finest clinical teachers of the London schools, especially at the bedside.

Meanwhile his practice and his reputation, both as an investigator of medical problems and as an expert on the treatment of specific diseases, steadily grew. In 1866 he published a book 'On Cancer,' describing his treatment of some cases by the injection of acetic acid into the tumour, but although some good results were at first obtained, later experience was unsatisfactory, and Broadbent discontinued the treatment. An early paper on 'Sensori-motor Ganglia and Association of Nerve Nuclei' (Brit. and Foreign Med. Clin. Review, April 1866) also attracted attention. There he explained the immunity from paralysis of bilaterally associated muscles in hemiplegia, and advanced the theory which is generally known as 'Broadbent's hypothesis' to explain the unequal distribution of paralysis in face, trunk, arm and leg, in the ordinary form of hemiplegia. The essential principle has not been invalidated in the forty years since it was originally promulgated, and it is widely applicable to neurological questions, and to the solution of problems in physiology, pathology, and psychology.

Broadbent also did valuable work on aphasia, both in reporting important cases and in suggesting explanations of the working of the cerebral mechanism of speech and thought. In an important memoir 'On the Cerebral Mechanism of Speech and Thought' (Trans. Ray. Med. Chir. Soc. 1872) he was the first authoritative propounder of the notion of an altogether separate centre for conception of ideation, which although subsequently adopted by Charcot and others has been rejected by Charlton Bastian and others. In a later paper (Brain, i. 1878) Broadbent developed his views and termed the centre for concepts the 'naming centre,' whilst a related higher motor centre was postulated as a 'propositionising centre' in which words other than nouns were supposed to be registered and where sentences were formulated preparatory to their utterance through the instrumentality of Broca's centre. Here, too, Broadbent located the more strictly mental faculties in those parts of the human cerebrum which differentiate it from that of the quadrumana and which are the latest to develop in man. This location was re-advanced with modifications but partly through a similar process of reasoning by Flechsig in 1895, and recent opinion somewhat hesitatingly supports Broadbent's views. At his death he was engaged on a treatise on aphasia. Other important papers concerned the scientific study of therapeutics. Of these the first was 'An Attempt to apply Chemical Principles in Explanation of the Action of Remedies and Poisons' (Proc. Roy. Soc. 1868; Brit. Med. Journ. ii.). Later themes were the remote effects of remedies (1886) and on 'The Relation of Pathology and Therapeutics to Clinical Medicine' (Brit. Med. Journ. 1887).

At the Royal College of Physicians, Broadbent, who had become a member in 1861 and a fellow in 1869, was examiner in 1876–7 and in 1883–4, a member of the council in 1885–6, censor in 1888–9, and senior censor in 1895. In 1887 he delivered the Croonian lectures 'On the Pulse,' which he made the subject of a book (1890), and in 1891 he gave the Lumleian lectures 'On Structural Diseases of the Heart from the Point of View of Prognosis.'

In 1874 he also delivered the Lettsomian lectures before the Medical Society of London 'On Syphilitic Affections of the Nervous System'; in 1884 the Harveian lectures before the Harveian Society on 'Prognosis in Valvular Disease'; and in 1894 the Cavendish lecture 'On some Points in the Treatment of Typhoid Fever,' before the West London Medico-Chirurgical Society. He was examiner in medicine to London (1883) and Cambridge (1888) Universities. In 1881 he served as a member of the royal commission on fever hospitals. On heart disease Broadbent became a leading authority. In conjunction with his elder son he published, in 1897, a valuable treatise on it which was founded on a large, acutely observed, clinical experience; the book reached a fourth edition in 1906. To typhoid fever he likewise devoted special attention, strongly deprecating the 'expectant' or 'do-nothing' treatment, and enforcing careful dieting and nursing and suitable hydro-therapeutic and other measures.

From 1872, when Broadbent removed to 34 Seymour Street, to 1892, when he went into a larger house at 84 Brook Street, his private consultant practice was expanding, chiefly among the upper classes of society, and it finally reached vast proportions. In 1891 his income from this source far exceeded 13,000l., and he refused twice as much work as he could undertake. His patients soon included the royal family. In 1891 he attended King George V when Duke of York, during an attack of typhoid fever, and in 1892 was in constant attendance on the Duke of Clarence during his fatal illness of acute pneumonia. In the same year (1892) he was appointed physician in ordinary to King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, and in 1896 physician extraordinary to Queen Victoria. On the death of the Queen he was appointed physician in ordinary to King Edward VII and to the Prince of Wales (King George V). He was created a baronet in 1893 and K.C.V.O. in 1901.

Broadbent played a prominent part in many public movements affecting the cure or prevention of disease. In 1898 he became chairman of the organising committee for promoting the National Association for the Prevention of Consumption, which was formally registered under the board of trade regulations in 1899 with King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, as president. The object of the association was to instruct the general public in the methods by which the spread of tuberculosis could best be prevented or arrested. He was chairman of the organising council of the British Congress on Tuberculosis which met in London in July 1901, when Prof. Koch of Berlin threw doubt on the intercommunicability of human and bovine tuberculosis, a view which a royal commission at once investigated and disputed. Broadbent was also chairman of the advisory committee of King Edward VII's Sanatorium at Midhurst and was consulting physician to this institution and to the King Edward VII Hospital for Officers.

Broadbent was secretary (1864–1872), treasurer (1872–1900), and subsequently president (1900) of the British Medical Benevolent Fund, to which he was a generous subscriber. An honorary member of many foreign medical societies, he was in 1904 a chief organiser of and first president of the Entente Cordiale Médicale, and at the banquet given at Paris in honour of the English physicians was invested with the grand cross and insignia of a commander of the legion of honour. He was elected F.R.S. in 1897. He received the hon. degree of LL.D. from the Universities of Edinburgh (1898), St. Andrews (1899), Montreal (1906), Toronto (1906), and that of D.Sc. from the University of Leeds (1904). He was president of the Harveian (1875), Medical (1881), Clinical (1887), and Neurological (1896) Societies; vice-president of the Imperial Cancer Fund; consulting physician to the New Hospital for Women, and to the Victoria Hospital for Sick Children (1896).

An acute clinical observer, sound and accurate in diagnosis, resourceful in his methods of treating disease, Broadbent was frank and outspoken in speech, and of resolute will, with business-like powers of concentration. Of robust constitution, he met the exacting requirements of his practice and public work with comparative ease. He died in London on 10 July 1907 from influenza, and was buried in the parish churchyard, Wendover, where he had a country house.

He married in 1863 Eliza, daughter of John Harpin of Holmforth, Yorks, who survived him with two sons, both members of the medical profession, and three daughters. The elder son, John Francis Harpin, succeeded to the baronetcy. A portrait by Scholderer is in the possession of the family.

In addition to the work already cited, Broadbent also revised Tanner's 'Practice of Medicine' (7th edit. 1875). His more important contributions to medical journals have been collected and published by Dr. Walter Broadbent, the second son, with a full bibliography (1908).

[Life of Sir William Broadbent, by Mary Ethel Broadbent (daughter), 1909; notices in the British Medical Journal, 20 July 1907 (portrait); Lancet, 13 July 1907; Practitioner, Aug. 1907 (portrait); Collected Papers by Dr. Walter Broadbent (son) with bibliography, 1908; Index Catalogue, Surgeon-General's Office, Washington; Proc. Roy. Soc. Med., series B., vol. lxxx.]   E. M. B.