Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Savill, Thomas Dixon
SAVILL, THOMAS DIXON (1855–1910), physician, born on 7 Sept. 1855 at Kensington, was only son of T. C. Savill, member of a firm of printers and publishers, by his wife, Eliza Clarissa Dixon. He received his early education at the Stockwell grammar school, and, having chosen the profession of medicine, entered St. Thomas's Hospital with a scholarship in natural science. Here he had a distinguished career, gaining the William Tite scholarship and many prizes. He continued his medical studies at St. Mary's Hospital, at the Salpêtrière in Paris, at Hamburg, and at Vienna. In 1881 he graduated M.B. of the University of London, proceeding M.D. in the following year, and being admitted a member of the Royal College of Physicians of London. In rapid succession he became registrar, pathologist, and assistant physician to the West London Hospital, and early showed a bent towards neurology by translating in 1889 the lectures of Professor Charcot on 'Diseases of the Nervous System.'
In 1885 he was appointed medical superintendent of the Paddington Infirmary, then just opened, a post which gave him an intimate knowledge of the working of the poor law hospitals. He was also president of the Infirmary Medical Superintendents' Society, and was recognised as an authority on many of the questions raised in both the majority and minority reports of the Poor Law Commission in 1909. Much of his medical experience as medical superintendent was embodied in his chief work, 'A System of Clinical Medicine' (2 vols. 1903–5), in which he approached the subject from a symptomatological point of view. Each of the chief systems of the body is discussed seriatim, and under each section descriptions are grouped of prominent symptoms pointing to disease in any particular system. In the section on arterial diseases he gave an account of the condition of the tunica media, which he studied at the Paddington Infirmary, and called arterial hypermyotrophy. This condition Savill, after a large number of investigations both macro- and microscopic, concluded to be a genuine hypertrophy of the muscular coat of the arteries.
At the same time Savill made a reputation as a dermatologist, and was appointed in 1897 physician to St. John's Hospital for Diseases of the Skin. Meanwhile he had retired in 1892 from Paddington Infirmary to become a consulting physician, mainly with a view to pursuing his study of neurology. He was soon appointed physician to the West End Hospital for Diseases of the Nervous System. In 1899 he brought out a course of clinical lectures upon Neurasthenia (originally delivered at the Paddington Infirmary and the West End Hospital). The book showed Savill to be an original thinker and clear expositor. Instead of separating the special symptomatic varieties of the neurasthenic condition, such as cardiac, gastric, or pulmonary, he devoted his main thesis to a discussion of its essential nature, suggesting an etiological classification in some ways more satisfactory than had yet been advanced. He embodied further observations in lectures on hysteria and the allied vaso-motor conditions, which were published in 1909. There he defended vrith a wealth of clinical illustration the thesis that the majority of hysterical phenomena are due to a vascular disturbance affecting especially the central nervous system, and occurring in individuals with an inborn instability of the vaso-motor centres. He admitted, however, that his hypothesis would not explain 'all the various symptoms of this protean and strange disorder' of hysteria.
Savill died at Algiers on 10 Jan. 1910 from a fracture of the base of the skull caused by a fall from his horse.
He married in 1901 Dr. Agnes Forbes Blackadder, then assistant and later full physician to St. John's Hospital for Diseases of the Skin. She aided her husband in his book on 'Clinical Medicine.' Besides the works mentioned, Savill contributed, mainly to 'The Lancet' (1888-1909), many papers upon neurological and dermatological subjects. Another valuable piece of work was the 'Report on the Warrington Small-Pox Outbreak, 1892-3.'
[Personal knowledge; The Times, 14 Jan 1910; The Lancet, 15 Jan. 1910; private information.]