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BROWN-SEQUARD, Charles Edouard (1817-1894) and Family

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-BROWC
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: BROWN-SEQUARD, Charles Edouard (1817-1894) and Family
Date(s): 1787-1963
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 13 archive boxes; 1 oversize file
Name of creator(s): Brown-Sequard | Charles Edouard | 1817-1894 | physiologist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Charles Edouard Brown-Sequard was born Charles Edouard Brown on 8 April 1817, at Port Louis, Mauritius, the posthumous son of Edward Brown, of Irish descent and captain of a merchant vessel belonging to Philadelphia. He had little education early on and acted for a time as a clerk in a store. In 1838 he traveled with his Mauritius-born mother, originally of the Provencal family of Sequard, to France, first to Nantes and then to Paris. It was his intention to pursue a profession in literature, but he was persuaded to study medicine by Charles Nodier, lexicographer. His mother paid his fees, making a living as a boarding-house keeper. She died in 1842, and Brown added her maiden name to his own. In 1846, at the age of 29, he graduated MD from Paris, with a thesis on the reflex action of the spinal cord after separation from the brain.

Brown-Sequard then served as `externe des hopitaux' under the physicians Armand Trousseau and Pierre Rayer. He devoted himself to the study of physiology, labouring under conditions of extreme poverty. In 1848 he became one of the four secretaries of the Societe de Biologie. The following year, during an outbreak of cholera, he was appointed auxiliary physician at the military hospital of Gros-Caillou. In 1852 he left for America, fearing that his republican tendencies might bring him trouble in France. He settled in New York where he supported himself by giving lessons in French and attending midwifery for five dollars a case. In 1853 he returned to Paris, newly married, with his American wife Ellen.

He again left Paris in 1854, intent on practicing medicine in his native Mauritius. However on arrival he found the island was in the midst of a cholera epidemic, whereupon he immediately took charge of the cholera hospital. Once the epidemic was subdued he was presented with a gold medal, struck in his honour by his countrymen. He was appointed professor of the Institutes of Medicine and Medical Jurisprudence at the Virginia Medical College in Richmond, Virginia. He took up his post in 1855, but soon after changed his mind and suddenly returned to Paris. It is said that there were irreconcilable differences; Brown-Sequard could not accept the College's pro-slavery stance, whilst the College was equally unhappy about Brown-Sequard's experiments on un-anaesthetised animals (Gooddy, p.3).

Back in Paris again he was awarded a prize by the Academie des Sciences, and between 1855 and 1857 taught at a small laboratory that he had rented. In 1858 he established the Journal de la Physiologie de l'Homme et des Animaux, which he continually published until 1864. It was also in 1858 that he came to London and delivered a course of lectures on the physiology and pathology of the central nervous system, at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He then lectured in Edinburgh, Dublin and Glasgow. In 1859 he was made a fellow of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. It was due to the renown that these lectures brought him that Brown-Sequard was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1860. In 1859 he had also been appointed physician to the newly established National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, in Queen Square, London. He was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1860, and subsequently delivered both the Croonian and the Goulstonian Lectures.

Brown-Sequard became famous for his spinal cord syndrome. Through his work on the localisation of the tracts in the spinal cord, he traced the origin of the sympathetic nerve-fibres into the spinal cord. With the physiologist Claude Bernard, his old master, Brown-Sequard shares the honour of demonstrating the existence of vaso-motor nerves. He was also the first to show that epilepsy could be produced experimentally in guinea pigs. Whilst Brown-Sequard was not a philosophical thinker he undoubtedly did much to enrich physiological science. Indeed it is said that he `established upon a firm scientific basis much of our present knowledge of diseases of the nervous system' (DNB, 1901, p.320). He remains however unrecognised as a pioneer of endocrinology, having demonstrated through his experiments the significance of adrenal glands. Indeed it is thought that there is `still little recognition of the immense contribution he made to modern medical thinking' (Davenport et al., 2001, p.95).

Brown-Sequard soon established a considerable practice in London, however it has been said that it `overtaxed his strength, and otherwise proved distasteful to him' (DNB, p.320). His elevated position within England's medical profession was already established though; amongst his correspondents were such figures as Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur. In 1863 he resigned his appointment at the Hospital, and was made honorary physician. He left London for America, where he had accepted the office of professor of the physiology and of pathology of the nervous system at Harvard University. At this time he managed to resume his original work in experimental medicine, although his wife died in 1864.

In 1868 Brown-Sequard returned to Paris, via Dublin. In Paris he jointly founded, with his friends Edme Vulpian, physiologist, and Jean Charcot, neurologist, the Archives de Physiologie Normale et Pathologique. Between 1869 and 1872 he held the chair of comparative and experimental pathology in the Ecole de Medecine, Paris. In 1872 he left Paris for New York, where he settled to work as a physician. In that same year he married his second wife, another American, Maria Carlisle. During this time he founded the Archive of Scientific and Practical Medicine, in which he published his first paper on inhibition.

In 1875 he left New York and returned once more to Paris, after residing for a short period in London, during which time he again lectured at the Royal College of Physicians. In 1877 however he accepted an offer of chair of physiology in Geneva, having refused a similar offer from Glasgow. About this time his second wife died, and he married an English woman, Elizabeth Emma Dakin. The following year Claude Bernard died, and Brown-Sequard was offered the vacant professorship of experimental medicine at the College de France, which he held until his own death.

In 1881 he was awarded the honorary degree of LLD from the University of Cambridge. In the same year he received the Lacaze prize from the Academie des Sciences and, in 1885, the grand prix biennal. In 1886 the Royal College of Physicians presented him with the Baly medal. He was elected president of the Societe de Biologie in 1887, which it is said `gave him more pleasure than any of the other honours he had received' (ibid). In 1889 he was awarded the Order of the Rose from the Brazilian legation in Paris. Also in 1889 Brown-Sequard became sole editor of the Archives de Physiologie Normale et Pathologique. He published numerous papers in the various journals with which he was involved, as well as contributing to the London and New York medical papers.

Brown-Sequard did not recover from the shock of his wife's death in 1894. He suffered an attack of phlebitis in January 1894, and died in Paris on 1 April the same year. He was buried in Montparnasse cemetery.

Experimental Researches Applied to Physiology and Pathology (New York, 1853)
Journal de la Physiologie de l'Homme et des Animaux (est. Brown-Sequard, Paris, 1858-64)
Course of Lectures on the Physiology and Pathology of the Central Nervous System (Philadelphia, 1860)
Lectures on the Diagnosis and Treatment of the Principal Forms of Paralysis of the Lower Extremities (London, 1861)
Lectures on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Functional Nervous Affections (London, 1868)
Archives de Physiologie Normale et Pathologique (est. Brown-Sequard, Vulpian, & Charcot, c.1868-)
Lecons sur les Nerfs Vaso-moteurs, sur l'Epilepsie et sur les Actions Reflexes Normales et Morbides (Paris, 1872, transl. Joseph Marie Alfred Beni-Barde)
Archive of Scientific and Practical Medicine (est. Brown-Sequard, c.1872)
Notice sur les Travaux Scientifiques du Docteur C.E. Brown-Sequard (Paris, 1886)


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Charles Edouard Brown-Sequard and his family, 1787-1963. Includes family correspondence and papers, 1787-71, and correspondence and papers of Brown-Sequard's mother, Henrietta Perrine Charlotte Brown, 1838-41, including her marriage certificate, 1813; Correspondence and papers of Brown-Sequard, both personal and professional, spanning his life and career in Mauritius, France, America, and England, 1838-94, including correspondence with well known figures such as Thomas Huxley, Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur, [1862]-1876, letters to his first wife Ellen, 1852-64, to his second wife Maria, and their marriage certificate, 1872-73, and correspondence with his third wife Elizabeth Emma, 1876-80, poems and literary notes of Brown-Sequard and Elizabeth Emma, 1837, 1883, correspondence regarding his French nationality, 1856-97, his will [1886]-94 and diary entries in his final days, 1894

Correspondence about his experimental work, 1868-1935, and his appointments and awards, 1849-89, with testimonials and letters of introduction, 1852-57; Notes of Brown-Sequard's lectures, mostly in his hand, 1855-93; DM Thesis, 1846; Articles by Brown-Sequard, including published versions of his lectures, 1856-90, articles and newspaper cuttings about his work, 1851-1945, and articles on medical subjects written by his contemporaries, 1844-1935; Case notes and prescriptions, c.1860-91; Photographs of, and relating to, Brown-Sequard, including the unveiling of his bust in Mauritius in 1928, mostly n.d., and cartoon of Brown-Sequard, 1889; Published material relating to Brown-Sequard, including obituaries, 1894 , biographic articles, 1894-1931, and newspaper cuttings, 1894-193

Correspondence and papers of his daughter, Charlotte Maria McCausland (nee Brown-Sequard), his son-in-law, Richard Bolton McCausland, and his grandson, Charles E. McCausland, 1894-1963, including correspondence about Brown-Sequard, 1894-1963, particularly on the subject of biographies and his bibliography, 1909-46, and a notebook and letterbook about Brown-Sequard, in his daughter's hand, c.1846-1926.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
French and English

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:

The collection was purchased by the Royal College of Physicians from Major Ian McCausland, great-grandson of Brown-Sequard, on 7 August 1967, through the offices of Dr William Gooddy.

Allied Materials

Related material:

There is a printed version of Brown-Sequard's Goulstonian Lecture, 1861 (MS1011/40), amongst a series of College papers on College lectures.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography, Supplement, Vol. I, Sidney Lee (ed.) (London, 1901) [DNB, 1901, pp.319-21]; `Obituary - Professor Brown-Sequard', The Lancet, 1894 Vol. I, pp.975-77; `Dr Brown-Sequard in Space and Time', William Gooddy, Proceedings of the Australian Association of Neurologists, Vol. 7, pp.1-6; The Royal College of Physicians and its Collections: An Illustrated History, Geoffrey Davenport, Ian McDonald & Caroline Moss-Gibbons (eds.) (London, 2001)
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 July 2003

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