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BROADBENT, Sir William Henry (1835-1907)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-BROAW
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: BROADBENT, Sir William Henry (1835-1907)
Date(s): 1886-1907
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 1 volume; 1/2 box
Name of creator(s): Broadbent | Sir | William Henry | 1835-1907 | Knight | physician


Administrative/Biographical history:

William Henry Broadbent was born at Lindley, near Huddersfield, on 23 January 1835, the eldest son of John Broadbent, woollen manufacturer and a prominent Wesleyan. He was educated at Huddersfield College until the age of fifteen, when he entered his father's factory. He spent two years working in the factory, learning the processes of manufacture. In 1852, at the age of seventeen, he decided that he wanted to study medicine and became apprenticed to a Manchester surgeon, and was enrolled at Owens College. He also attended the Manchester Royal School of Medicine, where he progressed well, winning numerous medals. In 1856 he was awarded gold medals in anatomy, physiology, and chemistry, at the first MB London examination. He became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. In 1857 he went to Paris to continue his studies, strengthening his clinical experience, visiting the wards of the Paris hospitals and attending the Ecole de Medecine, and becoming fluent in French. He returned to sit his final MB examination in 1858, and took the gold medal in obstetric medicine and a first class honours degree.

He obtained the post of obstetric officer at St Mary's Hospital, London, in 1858, becoming resident medical officer there in 1859. In 1860 he was appointed pathologist and lecturer on physiology and zoology in the medical school of the hospital, and obtained his MD, London. In the same year he was elected physician to the London Fever Hospital. In 1861 he was appointed lecturer in comparative anatomy in St Mary's Hospital medical school, and became a member of the Royal College of Physicians. In 1863 he was appointed visiting physician to the Western General Dispensary. In 1865 he was made physician in charge of outpatients at St Mary's, and then in 1871 he was appointed full physician, with a lectureship in medicine. It was his work at St Mary's with the outpatients and in the wards, his attention to detail and accuracy in diagnosis, that established his reputation `as one of the finest clinical teachers of his day' (Munk's Roll, vol. IV, p.169). He became `both an investigator of medical problems and... an expert on the treatment of specific diseases' (DNB, 2nd Supplement, vol. I, p.226). His skill and reputation eventually ensured a large, lucrative practice.

Broadbent developed particular interests in neurology and cardiology, and, to a lesser extent, cancer and typhoid. He wrote and lectured extensively on these subjects. An important early work was his book Cancer: A New Method of Treatment (1866), which described his treatment of cases by the injection of acetic acid into the tumour. Despite some initial good results Broadbent discontinued this method when later outcomes proved unsatisfactory. One paper to attract attention was his `Sensori-motor Ganglia and Association of Nerve Nuclei', which appeared in the British and Foreign Medical Clinical Review (1866). In this he explained the immunity from paralysis of bilaterally associated muscles in hemiplegia and advanced `Broadbent's hypothesis', in which he explained the unequal distribution of paralysis in face, trunk, arm and leg, in the ordinary form of hemiplegia. The essential principle has remained widely applicable to neurological questions, and to the solution of problems in physiology, pathology, and psychology.

Broadbent was also responsible for valuable work on aphasia. In `On the Cerebral Mechanism of Speech and Thought', which appeared in the Transactions of the Royal Medical Chirurgical Society (1872), he was the first to propose the notion of a separate centre for conception of ideation. One of his most important works was Heart Disease, With Special Reference to Prognosis and Treatment (1897), written with his eldest son, John Francis Harpin Broadbent. He had been influenced by Francis Sibson, the eminent cardiologist, with whom he had worked at St Mary's in his early days at the hospital, assisting Sibson on autopsies, with a particular interest in studying diseases of the chest. He became a `leading authority' on the subject (ibid, p.227). He also contributed to advances in the treatment of typhoid fever, deprecating the 'do nothing' treatment and enforcing careful dieting, nursing, and hydro-therapeutic measures. He also gave a number of eponymous lectures, including the Lettsomian Lectures at the Medical Society of London, in 1874, the Harveian lectures, to the Harveian Society, in 1884, and was Croonian Lecturer and Lumleian Lecturer, in 1887 and 1891 respectively, at the Royal College of Physicians.

In 1869 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. From 1872 Broadbent moved to Seymour Street, where his private consultant practice continued to expand, chiefly among the upper classes. In 1879 he retired from his post of physician to the London Fever Hospital, becoming consultant physician. In the 1880s he took on the role of examiner in medicine to the universities of London, 1883, and Cambridge, 1888.

In 1892 Broadbent moved to a larger address in Brook Street in order to accommodate his huge practice, which had continued to thrive. It is said that `he refused twice as much work as he could undertake' (ibid), and in 1891 his income had exceeded 13,000 pounds. His patients soon included the royal family, as in 1892 Broadbent was appointed physician in ordinary to the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, receiving a baronetcy the following year. In 1896 he retired from the active service of St Mary's Hospital, becoming honorary consulting physician. In this year he also became consulting physician for the Victoria Hospital for Sick Children, and the New Hospital for Women. It was also in 1896 that he became physician extraordinary to Queen Victoria, and in 1901, on her death, physician in ordinary to King Edward VII and the new Prince of Wales, later King George V, whom he had attended during an attack of typhoid fever ten years earlier. In 1901 he was made KCVO (Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order).

Broadbent offered his services to a number of institutions throughout his professional career, playing a prominent part in public movements affecting the prevention of disease. He had served as a member of the Royal Commission on Fever Hospitals in 1881. He was greatly involved with the Royal College of Physicians, giving several eponymous lectures and serving as Censor in 1889, and as Senior Censor in 1895, although he was defeated in his run for the presidency in 1896. Other commitments included chairing the committee for organising the National Association for the Prevention of Consumption, in 1898, chairing the organising council of the British Congress on Tuberculosis, which met in London in July 1901, and chairing the advisory committee for King Edward VII's Sanatorium at Midhurst, to which he became a consulting physician. He also became consulting physician to the King Edward VII Hospital for Officers. Broadbent was always a generous subscriber to the British Medical Benevolent Fund, of which he was secretary, 1864-72, treasurer, 1872-1900, and subsequently President in 1900.

He was an Honorary Member and Fellow of many medical societies, both at home and abroad. He had been made President of the Harveian Society, in 1875, the Medical Society, in 1881, the Clinical Society, in 1887, and the Neurological Society, in 1896. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1897, in recognition of his scientific contributions. Abroad he was an Honorary Member of the Verein fur Innere Medicin, Berlin, the Gesellschaft fur Innere Medicin und Kinderheilkunde, Vienna, the Societe Medicale de Geneve, and the Imperial Society of Constantinople. He was chief organiser and first President of the Entente Cordiale Medicale, in 1904, and was honoured with their Grand Cross and Insignia of Commander of the Legion of Honour, at a banquet held in Paris in 1905. Broadbent also received the honorary degrees of Doctor of Laws (LLD), from the universities of Edinburgh, St Andrews, Montreal, and Toronto, between 1898-1906, and Doctor of Science (DSc), from Leeds University in 1904.

Broadbent married Eliza Harpin in 1863, and they had three sons and three daughters. One of the sons was Sir John Francis Harpin Broadbent and another Walter Broadbent, both of whom became physicians, and later fellows of the Royal College of Physicians. Broadbent died in London of influenza, on 10 July 1907. He was buried in the parish church of Wendover, Buckinghamshire, where he had his country house.

Cancer: A New Method of Treatment (London, 1866)
The Practice of Medicine, revised by Sir William Broadbent (7th ed., London 1875)
The Pulse (largely a reproduction of the Croonian Lectures, 1887) (London, 1890)
Heart Disease, With Special Reference to Prognosis and Treatment, with John Francis Harpin Broadbent (London, 1897)

Publications by others about Broadbent:
Selections from the Writings, Medical and Neurological, of Sir William Broadbent, Walter Broadbent (ed.) (London, 1908)
The Life of Sir William Broadbent KCVO, FRS, M.E. Broadbent (ed.) (London, 1909)


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers and material of and relating to Sir William Henry Broadbent, 1886-1907. Includes notes and correspondence relating to the illnesses of Prince George (later George V) and the Duke of Clarence, 1891-1892; Papers relating to a study tour of Parisian hospitals, 1905; Letters sent to Broadbent from various correspondents, such as Prince Albert Edward (later Edward VII), Joseph Lister, and the Duke of Connaught, 1886-1902; Newspaper cuttings relating to Broadbent, 1899-1905; and a bound volume of obituaries, 1907.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Most of the collection was donated by Mr R.L. Hamand, on 14 and 26 June 1987; The volume of obituaries, formerly belonging to Sir William Francis Broadbent, Broadbent's grandson, was donated to the College by Dr R.A. Griffiths on 22 July 1987.

Allied Materials

Related material:

There is material relating to Broadbent in the College's own records, including an article based on Broadbent's 1875 paper on pulseless disease, by Saul Wallenstein Jarcho, c.1951 (MS788), a newspaper cutting referring to Broadbent's attendance on the Princess of Wales, n.d., and a testimonial by Broadbent in favour of the "Grundy" Heating Apparatus, 1893 (MS2412/19; MS2412/19a), amongst College papers on advertising. His signature can also be found in the College's Autographed Letters Collection (ALS);

Correspondence between Broadbent and Lord Rosebery, 1894-1901, is held at the National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division. See the National Register of Archives for details.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 1826-1925, compiled by G.H. Brown (London, 1955) [Munk's Roll, vol. IV, pp.169-70]; Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, vol. I, Sir Sidney Lee (ed.) (London, 1912) [DNB, 2nd Supplement, vol. I, pp.226-28]; The Life of Sir William Broadbent KCVO, FRS, M.E. Broadbent (ed.) (London, 1909); `William H. Broadbent (1835-1907) Physician to Royalty', The Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 199, No.3, January 16 1967, pp.180-81; `Profiles in Cardiology: William Henry Broadbent', W.B. Fye, Clinical Cardiology, 1990, vol. 13, pp.62-64; Historical Manuscripts Commission On-Line National Register of Archives.
Compiled by Katharine Williams

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Compiled March 2003; Modified September 2003

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