Open main menu

THORNE, Sir RICHARD THORNE- (1841–1899), physician, was the second son of Thomas Henry Thorne, banker, of Leamington, where he was born on 13 Oct. 1841. He was sent to school at Nieuwied in Rhenish Prussia, whence he was transferred to France at the age of fourteen, to attend, after a year's schooling there, the cours de troisième at the Lycee St.-Louis, Paris, where he gained two first prizes. He then returned to England and became a pupil at the Mill Hill school, from which he matriculated at the London University. He began his medical career as an apprentice to a medical practitioner in Leamington, afterwards entering as a student at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London. In 1863 he was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and served the office of midwifery assistant at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. In 1865 he became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of London, and in the following year he graduated M.B. at the London University, with first-class honours in medicine and obstetric medicine.

From 1864 to 1866 he acted as junior resident medical officer at the Sussex House Asylum, Hammersmith, and in 1867 he was elected assistant physician to the general dispensary in Bartholomew Close, E.G., a post he resigned in the following year, when he was appointed physician to the Hospital for Diseases of the Chest in the City Road. From 1869 to 1871 he was assistant physician to the London Fever Hospital. He was chosen demonstrator of microscopic anatomy in the medical school of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in 1869, and from April 1870 he filled for a year the office of casualty physician to the hospital.

Thorne was first employed as a super-numerary inspector in the medical department of the privy council in 1868, and in this capacity he conducted several investigations in connection with outbreaks of typhoid fever with such marked ability that in February 1871 he was appointed a permanent inspector. He rose gradually from this position until in 1892 he succeeded to the post of principal medical officer to the local government board on the retirement of Sir George Buchanan [q. v. Suppl.] Thorne's knowledge of French and German, no less than his polished manners and courtly address, soon made him especially acceptable to his political chiefs, and he was repeatedly selected to represent this country in matters of international hygiene. Thus he was the British delegate at the international congresses held at Rome in 1885, at Venice (Paris sitting) in 1892, at Dresden in 1893, at Paris in 1894, at Venice in 1897; and was her majesty's plenipotentiary to sign the conventions of Dresden in 1893, Paris in 1894, and Venice in 1897, the last convention being very largely drawn up under his guidance. His conspicuous services were recognised by the government, who increased his salary in consequence of a recommendation made by a special committee in 1898.

At the Royal College of Physicians of London Thorne was admitted a member in 1867, and was elected a fellow in 1875; he acted as an examiner 1885-89, and was a member of council 1894-96. In 1891 he delivered the Milroy lectures, 'Diphtheria: its Natural History and Prevention.' He began to lecture on hygiene at the medical school of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in 1879, and was formally appointed there the first permanent lecturer on public health in 1891. He was elected F.R.S. on 5 June 1890, and was awarded the Stewart prize of the British Medical Association in 1893. In 1895 he succeeded Sir John Simon as crown nominee at the General Medical Council, and in 1898 honorary degrees were conferred upon him by the university of Edinburgh, the Royal University of Ireland, and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, while his services to public health were recognised by his selection as an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Medicine at Rome, corresponding member of the Royal Italian Society of Hygiene, and foreign associate of the Society of Hygiene of France. He was president of the Epidemiological Society from 1887 to 1889, and in 1898 he delivered the Harben lectures 'On the Administrative Control of Tuberculosis.' He was made C.B. in 1892, and K.C.B. in 1897. He died on 18 Dec. 1899, and is buried at St. John's, Woking. He married in 1866 Martha, daughter of Joseph Rylands of Sutton Grange, Hull, by whom he had four children : three sons and a daughter.

Thorne ranks as one of the foremost exponents of the science of public health, both at home and abroad, and he worthily filled the position occupied in succession by Sir Edwin Chadwick, Sir John Simon, and Sir George Buchanan. His acumen first proved that, as had long been suspected, typhoid fever was a water-borne disease. It was his energy that gave an impulse to the establishment of hospitals for the isolation of infectious disease, which are now common in every part of the country. Throughout Europe his name is inseparably connected with attempts to abolish the expensive and tedious methods of quarantine in favour of a higher standard of cleanliness combined with the early and efficient notification of individual cases of epidemic disease.

Almost the whole of Sir Richard Thorne-Thorne's work is recorded in the form of reports in the blue-books of the medical department of the privy council and the local government board. The Milroy lectures on diphtheria were published in 12mo, London, 1891.

[Personal knowledge; British Medical Journal, 1899, ii. 1771, St. Bartholomew's Hospital Journal, vii. 53, and St. Bartholomew's Hospital Reports, vol. xxxvi.; private information.]

D’A. P.