Gamgee, Arthur (DNB12)

GAMGEE, ARTHUR (1841–1909), physiologist, born at Florence on 10 Oct. 1841, was youngest of the eight children of Joseph Gamgee (1801–1894) and Mary West. His father was a veterinary surgeon and pathologist whose researches, particularly on rinderpest, brought him recognition both in this country and abroad. Joseph Sampson Gamgee (1828–1886) [q. v.] was an elder brother.

Gamgee spent his early boyhood in Florence, and there imbibed a lifelong love of art and literature. When he was fourteen his family returned to England and he entered University College school, London. Afterwards he proceeded to the University of Edinburgh, where he studied physics under Peter Guthrie Tait [q. v. Suppl. II]. On taking his medical degree there he was appointed house-physician to the Royal Infirmary. Physiology, especially on its chemical side, early interested him; his inaugural thesis for the degree of M.D. was on the 'Contributions to the Chemistry and Physiology of Foetal Nutrition'; it obtained the gold medal in 1862.

From 1863 to 1869 Gamgee was assistant to Dr. Douglas Maclagan, professor of medical jurisprudence at Edinburgh, and was at the same time lecturer on physiology at the Royal College of Surgeons and physician to the Edinburgh hospital for children. But his interests were centred in research, and then and later he published various papers elucidating problems of physiological chemistry and of the pharmacological action of chemical bodies. The most interesting of these were on 'The Action of the Nitrites on Blood' in 1868, and on 'The Constitution and Relations of Cystine,' issued jointly with Professor James Dewar in 1871.

In 1871 Gamgee worked with Kühne at Heidelberg and with Ludwig at Leipzig, and in the same year he was acquitted M.R.C.P. Edinburgh, becoming F.R.C.P. in 1872. In the latter year he was also elected F.R.S. at the early age of thirty. In 1873 he was appointed the first Brackenbury professor of physiology in the Owens College, Manchester, now the Victoria University. He filled this post for twelve years, having Henry Roscoe, Balfour Stewart [q. v.], and Stanley Jevons [q. v.] among his colleagues, and he took his part with these men in making Owens College one of the most conspicuous scientific schools in the country. He worked with tireless enthusiasm as dean of the medical school, and sought with success to establish a working arrangement between the purely scientific and the applied aspects of medicine. A brilliant teacher, he left his impress on many men who have since distinguished themselves. In 1882 he was president of the biological section of the British Association which met at Southampton, and from 1882 to 1885 he was Fullerian professor of physiology at the Royal Institution, London. While in London he was admitted M.R.C.P. in 1885, and F.R.C.P. in 1896.

Gamgee resigned his chair in Manchester in 1886, and practised for a time as a consulting physician at St. Leonards. He was appointed assistant physician to St. George's Hospital, London, in 1887, where he was also lecturer on pharmacology and materia medica in the medical school. On resigning these appointments in 1889 he resumed his scientific work at Cambridge for a year, and then left England for Switzerland, residing first at Berne, then at Lausanne, and finally at Montreux, where he engaged in active practice as a consulting physician, devoting all his spare time to research in his own laboratory. In 1902 he visited the United States by invitation to inspect certain physiological laboratories where the work was chiefly directed towards the study of nutrition in health and disease. In the same year he delivered the Croonian lecture before the Royal Society on 'Certain Chemical and Physical Properties of Hæmoglobin.' He re-visited America in 1903, and at the celebration of Haller's bi-centenary at Berne he represented the Royal Society.

He died of pneumonia while on a short visit to Paris on 29 March 1909, and was buried in the family vault in Arno's Vale cemetery, Bristol. He married in 1875 Mary Louisa, daughter of J. Proctor Clark. His widow was granted a civil list pension of 70l in 1910. A son predeceased him and two daughters survived him.

Research was Gamgee's main interest through life. His intimate knowledge of physics and chemistry was linked with experience of German methods which he had gained more especially in the laboratories of his life-long friend, W. Kühne, the professor of physiology at Heidelberg. Whilst lecturing at Manchester Gamgee prepared a translation of Ludimar Hermann's 'Grundriss der Physiologic des Menschen' from the fifth German edition. This book, which appeared in 1875 (2nd edit. 1878), together with the publication of (Sir) Michael Foster's textbook of physiology in 1876, powerfully influenced the development of physiological research in England. In 1880 Gamgee published the first volume of 'A Textbook of the Physiological Chemistry of the Animal Body.' The second volume appeared in 1893. The publication of this book marked an epoch in the progress of English physiological study.

Certain parts of physiology possessed a peculiar fascination for Gamgee. Knowledge of the physical and chemical properties of hæmoglobin is largely due to him. He was engaged for many years on an elaborate research upon the diurnal variations of the temperature of the human body with specially devised apparatus for obtaining a continuous record throughout the twenty-four hours. The subject had always been in his mind since he had worked at Edinburgh under Tait. The paper recording his method and results appeared in the 'Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society,' 1908, series B. vol. cc, but his death cut short the investigation. Gamgee believed that physiology stood in an intimate relation to the practice of medicine and that scientific training in a laboratory was essential to the advance of medicine. An excellent linguist, he could lecture fluently in French, German, and Italian. His conscientious modes of work relegated nothing of it to others; he did everything with his own hands.

Apart from the publications already mentioned, numerous contributions to the Proceedings of scientific societies and to scientific journals, Gamgee issued in 1884 'Physiology of Digestion and the Digestive Organs.'

[Lancet, 1909, i. 1144 (with portrait and bibllography); Brit. Med. Journal, 1909, i. 933; private information; personal knowledge.]

D’A. P.