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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 Gordon Smith (1792–1833)

a summary of his Bloomsbury connections

He was one of several Scottish Professors recruited by the new University of London (later University College London) when it opened in October 1828; in July 1828 he had been appointed its Professor of Medical Jurisprudence (a new subject)

He had graduated MD from Edinburgh in 1810, had written Principles of Forensic Medicine in 1821 and was the first teacher of forensic medicine in London, at the Webb Street school attached to St Thomas’s Hospital

Smith’s experience at the University of London was not a happy one; he was one of the chief victims of the University Council’s decision to pay professors out of student fees rather than a salary

Recognising that student numbers might not be sufficient in the early years, the Council allowed a guaranteed amount for the first two years of the institution’s existence of £300 for most non-medical professors and £250 for medical professors (on the assumption that they would make up their earnings from private practice)

As Smith’s subject was a new one, it was not declared compulsory for students studying medicine and consequently few students enrolled for Smith’s classes

He was also not a good teacher, being a rambling speaker and an alcoholic (H. Hale Bellot, University College London 1826–1926, 1929)

Smith wrote letters to the Council in April 1829 and July 1830 asking for a guaranteed annual salary beyond the first two years and entreating it to make medical jurisprudence a compulsory subject for medical students, both of which requests the Council turned down (Council Minutes, vol. I, 25 April 1829; vol. II, 5 July 1830, UCL Records Office)

Relations between Smith and the University deteriorated, as a number of desperate and intemperate letters came from Smith, including one to the Warden, Leonard Horner, of 27 October 1830, in which Smith informed him that he had heard that his medical colleague Anthony Todd Thomson “is giving out that I am insane

He went on, “I think it appropriate to inform you that he said the same thing of you, at a meeting of the Professors, last year” (Negley Harte and John North, The World of UCL 1826–1990, 1991)

During October and November 1830 Smith threatened more than once to resign, and the Council seized the opportunity to accept his resignation, despite efforts on Smith’s behalf by John Conolly, another graduate of Edinburgh University and Professor of the Nature and Treatment of Diseases at the University

In his own amicable resignation letter received by Council on 4 December 1830 – he too was unable to survive financially and needed to go back to treating private patients, but was leaving without rancour – Conolly took the opportunity to defend Smith

“Dr Smith”, he wrote, “has for some years past been tormented with a most severe affection of the stomach” and is “subject to a peculiar, but temporary, excitement of the Nervous System”

Smith’s efforts at cultivating medical jurisprudence have been great, Conolly said, and to be removed from his Chair at the moment when the teaching of the subject “is about to become lucrative is certainly no common misfortune”

“Dr Smith’s circumstances are such as to make this an irretrievable, perhaps a ruinous calamity to him” (College Correspondence: Conolly 1827–1830, UCL Special Collections)

Though one member of the Council, George Birkbeck, argued in favour of retaining Smith, the rest were happy to be rid of him (Council Minutes, vol. II, 4 and 18 December 1830, 8 January 1831, UCL Records Office)

Conolly’s prediction came true: Smith became a debtor in the Fleet Prison, where he died in 1833 aged 41 (Oxford Dictionary of Biography)

The teaching of Medical Jurisprudence at the University was taken over by the Professor of Materia Medica, Anthony Todd Thomson

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

This page last modified 7 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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