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LATHAM, Peter Mere (1789-1875)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-LATHP
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: LATHAM, Peter Mere (1789-1875)
Date(s): 1838-1871 (1838-1839; 1871)
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 3 volumes
Name of creator(s): Latham | Peter Mere | 1789-1875 | physician


Administrative/Biographical history:

Peter Mere Latham was born in London on 1 July 1789, the second son of John Latham, physician. He was first educated at the free school of Sandbach, Cheshire, and then from 1797 at Macclesfield Grammar School. He entered Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1806. He graduated BA in 1810 and began his medical studies at St Bartholomew's Hospital and the Carey Street Public Dispensary under the tutelage of Thomas Bateman, dermatologist and physician. Whilst studying at the Dispensary he met the celebrated Richard Bright, physician, with whom he established a life-long friendship. He proceeded MA in 1813, and then MB in 1814. Latham took a house in Gower Street and in 1815 was appointed physician to the Middlesex Hospital. In 1816 he delivered a course of lectures on the practice of physic in London. He graduated MD in the same year.

Latham was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1818, and delivered the College's Goulstonian Lectures the following year. In 1820 he was a censor for the College, and held that office again in 1833 and 1837. In March 1823 he and Peter Mark Roget, fellow physician and savant, were asked by the government to undertake the investigation of an epidemic disorder then rife in the Millbank Penitentiary. They found the epidemic to be scurvy and dysentery, which they concluded was due to an insufficient diet. Consequently they recommended for the prisoners at least one solid meal a day, better bread, and 3lbs of meat every fortnight. Latham subsequently published An Account of the Disease lately prevalent at the General Penitentiary (1825).

In 1824 Latham resigned from the Middlesex Hospital and was appointed physician to St Bartholomew's Hospital. In 1827 he delivered the Royal College of Physician's Lumleian Lectures. Latham published his `Essays on some Diseases of the Heart' in the Medical Gazette (1828). In them he maintained that administering mercury until it produced salivation was essential for the cure of pericarditis. Latham's particular interest in heart diseases had been encouraged by the recent invention of the stethoscope by the French physician Laennec. In 1836 Latham was elected joint lecturer on medicine, with fellow physician Dr (later Sir) George Burrows, at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School. It has been said of Latham that `his clinical teaching was excellent' (DNB, 1892, p.167). It was also in 1836 that he published Lectures on Subjects connected with Clinical Medicine, of which the first six are on methods of study and observation, the next six on auscultation and percussion, and two more on phthisis.

In 1837 he was appointed physician extraordinary to Queen Victoria, an office which he retained until his death. Latham never acquired a large private practice. In 1839 he delivered the Harveian Oration at the Royal College of Physicians, which he subsequently published. In 1841 he resigned from St Bartholomew's Hospital due to frequent attacks of asthma, from which he had suffered from an early age. Latham published Lectures on Clinical Medicine, comprising Diseases of the Heart in 1845. This was described as `a work of great originality, full of careful observation, and containing a discussion of all parts of the subject' (ibid). It has also been said of his work that

`although most remedies Latham advocated have proved ineffective, his descriptions of the clinical symptoms and physical findings in his patients remain interesting and instructive' (Fye, 1989, p.610).

In 1865 he relinquished his small practice and left London to settle in Torquay. He was married twice, firstly to Diana Clarissa Chetwynd Stapleton in 1824, who had died the following year, and then to Grace Mary Chambers, with whom he had four children all of whom survived him. He died in Torquay on 20 July 1875, at the age of 86.

An Account of the Disease lately prevalent at the General Penitentiary (London, 1825)
Lectures on Subjects connected with Clinical Medicine (London, 1836)
Oratio ex Harveii instituto habita..., MDCCCXXXIX (London, 1839?)
Lectures on Subjects connected with Clinical Medicine, comprising Diseases of the Heart (London, 1845-46, 2nd ed.)
Collected Works, with Memoir by Sir Thomas Watson, Robert Martin (ed.) (London, 1876-78)
Aphorisms from Latham; edited by W.B. Bean, William Bennett Bean (ed.) (Iowa, 1962)


Scope and content/abstract:

Latham's papers, 1838-1871, include his casebook, 1838-39, and his lectures on fever and the pulse, in his hand, 1871.

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:

Latham's lecture notes were purchased from the Misses Munk, September 1899; His casebook was donated by Alexander Reynell in February 1938, who had purchased it from a 'junk' shop

Allied Materials

Related material:

There is material relating to Latham held elsewhere in the archives, including several references to Latham amongst the correspondence of William Baly, Latham's former student, and Baly's family, 1833-59 (MS-BALYW/715/28-29, 66, 70, 76, 92-94, 98, 170, 173, 192, 230, 232, 234, 252, 254, 257-60, 271, 274, 277, 279, 288, 290-92, 299, 323; MS-BALYW/716/2, 8, 10, 14, 30, 35, 53, 56), and a testimonial written by Latham for Baly for the post of assistant physician at St Bartholomew's Hospital, 1854 (MS-BALYW/715/391); Letter to Latham regarding portrait of Robert Gooch, 1866, in College correspondence about portraits (MS2004/1); Latham's signature is amongst those on the resolution of sale of the College's Warwick Lane building, 1822 (MS1097/35) and the statement regarding the College's building fund, [1820-23] (MS1098/11); Latham is named as a trustee of Matthew Baillie's museum, in his father's correspondence as College president, 1819 (MS2001/1). There are also letters of Latham's amongst the College's autographed letters collection (ALS)

Latham's casebooks, 1839-44, are held at the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine; Letters to John Taylor Coleridge, 1859-73, are held at Oxford University Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts; Correspondence with Harriet Martineau, 1855-57, is held at Birmingham University Information Services, Special Collections Department. 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: The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London; Comprising Biographical Sketches, Vol. III, 1801-1825, William Munk (London, 1878) [Munk's Roll, 1878, pp.185-90]; Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XXXII, Sidney Lee (ed.) (London, 1892) [DNB, 1892, pp.167-68]; `In Memoriam: Dr Peter Mere Latham', Sir Thomas Watson, St Bartholomew's Hospital Reports, Vol. XI, pp.1-12; `Profiles in Cardiology: Pierre Mere Latham, 1789-1875', W.B. Fye, Clinical Cardiology, 12, 1989, pp.609-11; 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 July 2003; Modified September 2003

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