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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury and the Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury People

What is the Bloomsbury Project?

The Leverhulme-funded UCL Bloomsbury Project was established to investigate 19th-century Bloomsbury’s development from swampy rubbish-dump to centre of intellectual life

Led by Professor Rosemary Ashton, with Dr Deborah Colville as Researcher, the Project has traced the origins, Bloomsbury locations, and reforming significance of hundreds of progressive and innovative institutions

Many of the extensive archival resources relating to these institutions have also been identified and examined by the Project, and Bloomsbury’s developing streets and squares have been mapped and described

This website is a gateway to the information gathered and edited by Project members during the Project’s lifetime, 1 October 2007–30 April 2011, with the co-operation of Bloomsbury’s institutions, societies, and local residents

John Conolly (1794–1866)

a summary of his Bloomsbury connections

After an impoverished childhood, he studied medicine at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1821

He was appointed to one of the first Medical Chairs at the new University of London (later University College London) (Council Minutes, vol. I, 6 July 1827, UCL Records Office), one of many Scots involved in its foundation and early days

At the time he was practising in Stratford upon Avon, where he was already involved in serving lunatic asylums – he would later become famous for running the Hanwell Asylum in Middlesex on reforming lines, abolishing all forms of physical restraint for patients

Conolly was also a contributing member of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, founded in 1826 by, among others, Henry Brougham and George Birkbeck

Both Brougham and Birkbeck were on the first Council of the University, and they encouraged Conolly to apply for and obtain the Chair in the Nature and Treatment of Diseases

From the start Conolly viewed his subject in a progressive light

In the prospectus for his course he wrote that “the foundation on which many commonly received opinions rest will be critically examined; the asserted causes of diseases scrupulously inquired into; and the supposed effects of some medicines, which are customarily and implicitly prescribed, freely questioned” (Second Statement of the Council of the University of London explanatory of the Plan of Instruction, 1828)

Like many of the first Professors at the University, Conolly found that the method devised for paying professors was inadequate

Medical professors were guaranteed £250 for the first two sessions, 1828–1830, with a proportion of the student fees in addition, if these exceeded £250; in the event student numbers were not enough to add anything to the basic amount

Though it had been from the beginning the plan of the University’s Council to have a hospital attached to the medical school in order to give students practice as well as theory, the money to build a hospital was not raised until 1834, so in the meantime the University opened a Dispensary in George Street, north of Euston Road, where students could observe medical practice

Conolly complained about misunderstandings in connection with the hours he was expected to put in at the Dispensary

In May 1830 he accused the Council of using the resident apothecary at George Street, John Hogg, as “a kind of spy” over the physicians and surgeons, and of “thereby completely subverting the discipline of the establishment” (Council Minutes, vol. II, 13 May 1830)

Council having responded by claiming that Conolly was obliged to attend the Dispensary as part of his professorial duties, giving up time for no extra emolument, Conolly countered that he could not afford to give the time “without compensation” (10 July 1830, College Correspondence Conolly 1827–1830, UCL Special Collections)

Though relations improved, Conolly could not afford to continue, and he resigned his chair in December 1830 with effect from the end of the academic session, writing that he regretted having to make the decision and that he was honoured to hold the appointment for three years (4 December 1830, College Correspondence Conolly 1827–1830)

In his resignation letter he put in a sympathetic word for his embattled colleague John Gordon Smith, who had over-hastily offered his resignation from the Chair of Medical Jurisprudence and now regretted it

While working out his notice in the spring term 1831, Conolly also expressed his support for another troubled colleague, Granville Sharp Pattison, who, like Smith, was soon removed from the University, but with much more sound and fury than in Smith’s case

Conolly wrote to the Council on 30 March 1831, reporting that a notice he had put up in his classroom had been removed by students and stating that discipline among the medical students had broken down “in the present unhappy state of the University” (College Correspondence Conolly 1827–1830)

The students were in open revolt against Pattison, Professor of Anatomy, complaining of incompetence and non-attendance on his part; the university handled the affair badly, eventually dismissing Pattison after the dispute had become a matter of discussion in the press, and causing the resignations of other professors in protest at Pattison’s treatment

Conolly’s relations with the University were not irretrievably broken

In 1847 he wrote to the Secretary, Charles Atkinson, that he would be happy to comply with the University’s request to send students to his asylum at Hanwell to walk the wards: “It would of course gratify me to show in any way the particular interest I take in any thing relating to the Medical School of University College” (11 April 1847, College Correspondence Conolly 1847, UCL Special Collections)

For more general biographical information about John Conolly, see his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

This page last modified 7 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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