White, Charles (DNB00)

WHITE, CHARLES (1728–1813), surgeon, only son of Thomas White (1696–1776), a physician, and Rosamond his wife, was born at Manchester on 4 Oct. 1728 and educated there by the Rev. Radcliffe Russel. At an early age he was taken under his father's tuition, and subsequently studied medicine in London, where he had John Hunter as a fellow-student and friend, and afterwards in Edinburgh. Returning to Manchester, he joined his father, and in 1752 was instrumental, along with Joseph Bancroft, merchant, in founding the Manchester Infirmary, in which hospital he gave his services as surgeon for thirty-eight years. On 18 Feb. 1762 he was admitted fellow of the Royal Society and member of the Corporation (now the Royal College) of Surgeons. In 1781 he took an active part in the foundation of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, and was one of its first vice-presidents. In 1783 he shared in the formation of a college of science, literature, and art, in which he and his son, Thomas White, lectured on anatomy. These were the first of such lectures in Manchester, and, it is believed, in the provinces. In conjunction with his son, and with the assistance of Edward and Richard Hall, he founded in 1790 the Manchester Lying-in Hospital, now St. Mary's Hospital, and was consulting surgeon there for twenty-one years.

White was equally accomplished in the three departments of medicine, surgery, and midwifery, and was the first to introduce what is known as ‘conservative’ surgery. In 1768 he removed the head of the humerus for caries; in 1769 he first proposed excision of the hip, and was one of the first to practise excision of the shoulder-joint. He was also the first to describe accurately ‘white leg’ in lying-in women. He was widely known for his successful operations in lithotomy, but especially for the revolution he effected in the practice of midwifery, which he rescued from semi-barbarism and placed on a rational and humane basis.

De Quincey, in his ‘Autobiography’ (ed. Masson, i. 383), has an interesting personal sketch of White, whom he styles ‘the most eminent surgeon by much in the north of England,’ and gives a description of his museum of three hundred anatomical preparations, the greater part of which he presented to St. Mary's Hospital, Manchester, in 1808. A large portion was destroyed at a fire there in February 1847.

White had an attack of epidemic ophthalmia in 1803, which ended in blindness in 1812. He died at his country house at Sale in the parish of Ashton-on-Mersey, Cheshire, on 20 Feb. 1813. In the church of Ashton-on-Mersey a monument to him and several members of his family was afterwards erected.

He married, on 22 Nov. 1757, Ann, daughter of John Bradshaw, and had eight children. His second son, Thomas, who died in 1793, was a physician, and appears as one of the characters in Thomas Wilson's ‘Lancashire Bouquet’ (Chetham Soc. vol. xiv.). Thomas's son John was high sheriff of Cheshire in 1823, and was famous for his fox-hunting and equestrian exploits.

A good portrait of White was painted by J. Allen and engraved by William Ward.

An earlier portrait, by W. Tate, is preserved at the Manchester Infirmary, where there is also a bust, executed for and presented by Charles Jordan in 1886. There are portraits of Charles White and his father in Gregson's ‘Fragments of Lancashire,’ 1824, and a view of White's house, King Street, Manchester, in Ralston's ‘Manchester Views,’ 1823 (this house stood on the site of the Town Hall, now the Free Reference Library).

His works include: 1. ‘Account of the Topical Application of the Spunge in the Stoppage of Hæmorrhage,’ 1762. 2. ‘Cases in Surgery,’ 1770. 3. ‘Treatise on the Management of Pregnant and Lying-in Women,’ 1773; 2nd edit. 1777; 3rd, 1784; 5th, 1791; an edition printed at Worcester, Massachusetts, 1793; a German translation, Leipzig, 1775. 4. ‘Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of that Swelling in one or both of the Lower Extremities which sometimes happens to Lying-in Women,’ 1784 and 1792, part ii. 1801; German translation, Vienna, 1785 and 1802. 5. ‘Observations on Gangrenes and Mortifications,’ Warrington, 1790 (Italian version, 1791). 6. ‘An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man and in different Animals and Vegetables, and from the former to the latter,’ 1799, 4to. This treatise on evolution occasioned a reply from Samuel Stanhope Smith, president of New Jersey College. One of his contributions to the ‘Memoirs of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society’ was on the cultivation of certain forest trees, a subject in which he was much interested, having planted a large collection of trees at Sale.

[Thomas Henry's paper in Memoirs of Manchester Lit. and Phil. Soc. 2nd ser. iii. 33; Smith's Manchester School Register, i. 164; R. Angus Smith's Centenary of Science in Manchester; Palatine Notebook, i. 113; Hibbert-Ware's Foundations in Manchester, ii. 148, 311; Thomson's Hist. of Royal Society; Ormerod's Cheshire; Cat. of Surgeon-general's Library, Washington; note supplied by Mr. D'Arcy Power; information kindly given by Dr. D. Lloyd Roberts.]

C. W. S.