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MURCHISON, Charles (1830-1879)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-MURCC
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: MURCHISON, Charles (1830-1879)
Date(s): 1863-1874
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 2 volumes; 1 file
Name of creator(s): Murchison | Charles | 1830-1879 | physician


Administrative/Biographical history:

Charles Murchison was born on 26 July 1830 in Jamaica, the son of the Hon. Alexander Murchison, physician. At the age of three Murchison returned with his family to Scotland and settled in Elgin, where he was educated. He entered the University of Aberdeen in 1845 as a student of arts, and two years later began to study medicine at Edinburgh University. He distinguished himself in surgery, botany, and midwifery, gaining a large number of prizes. In 1850 he passed the examination for membership of the Royal College of Surgeons, at little over twenty years old. In the same year he became house surgeon to James Syme, professor of surgery at Edinburgh University. In 1851 Murchison graduated MD, with his thesis on the structure of tumours, which won him a gold medal.

Murchison became physician to the British embassy at Turin, Italy, before returning to Edinburgh in 1852, where he served for a short time as resident physician in the city's Royal Infirmary. He continued his medical studies at Dublin and Paris before, in 1853, entering the Bengal Medical Service of the East India Company. Shortly after reaching India he was made professor of chemistry at the Medical College of Calcutta. In 1854 he served on an expedition to Burma, and the following year his two papers on the `Climate and Diseases of Burmah' were published in the Edinburgh Medical Journal (January and April 1855). In the autumn of 1855 Murchison left the service and moved to London.

Settling in London he became physician to the Westminster General Dispensary, and shortly afterwards lecturer on botany and curator of the museum at St Mary's Hospital. He also became a member of the Royal College of Physicians, and of the Pathological Society, in 1855. Throughout his career he contributed 143 papers and reports to the Transactions of the society. In 1856 he was appointed assistant physician to both the London Fever Hospital and King's College Hospital. In 1859 he was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

He resigned from King's College Hospital in 1860 and was appointed assistant physician and lecturer on pathology at the Middlesex Hospital. In 1861 he was made full physician at the London Fever Hospital, and became a specialist on fevers. From 1861-69 he edited the hospital's Annual Reports. Murchison's most important contribution to medical science was A Treatise on the Continued Fevers of Great Britain (1862). The work was subsequently translated into German and French, and came to be regarded as the leading authority on the subject. In 1866 he was promoted to the position of full physician at the Middlesex Hospital, and in the same year became a fellow of the Royal Society. Another area of interest to Murchison was liver disease, and in 1868 he published his Clinical Lectures on Diseases of the Liver, Jaundice and Abdominal Dropsy.

In 1870 he retired from the London Fever Hospital, and was presented with a testimonial by public subscription. In the same year he received an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh. The following year he resigned from the Middlesex Hospital in order to become physician and lecturer on medicine at St Thomas's Hospital, both of these appointments he held until his death. He gained a high reputation as a clinical teacher. He was considered brilliant, although dogmatic in his approach, and was a keen controversialist. His consulting practice grew, and he became known for his `accuracy and prompt decision' (DNB, 1894, p.317). He was also an extremely prolific writer, submitting over 300 papers to various medical journals.

In 1873 he traced the origin of an epidemic of typhoid fever to a polluted supply of milk. Afterwards grateful residents of West London presented him with a testimonial. He gave the Croonian Lectures to the Royal College of Physicians in the same year, on the subject of liver disease. In 1875 he was an examiner in medicine to the University of London. For two years, from 1877 to his death, Murchison was president of the Pathological Society. He was appointed physician-in-ordinary to the Duke and Duchess of Connaught at the beginning of 1879.

Murchison died suddenly of heart disease at the age of 48, on 23 April 1879, whilst seeing patients in his consulting room. He was buried at Norwood cemetery. Murchison had married Clara Elizabeth Bickersteth in 1859, and they had had nine children, his wife and six of his children survived him. In his memory was founded the Murchison Scholarship, awarded in alternate years by the Royal College of Physicians and Edinburgh University. A marble portrait bust of Murchison was also placed in St Thomas's Hospital.

A Clinical Treatise on Diseases of the Liver, Friedrich Theodor Frerichs, translated by Charles Murchison (London, 1860-61)
A Treatise on the Continued Fevers of Great Britain (London, 1862; 2nd ed. 1873; 3rd ed. 1884) (German translation, 1867; French translation of part, 1878)
Clinical Lectures on Diseases of the Liver, Jaundice, and Abdominal Dropsy (London, 1868; 2nd ed. incl. Functional Derangements of the Liver, 1877; 3rd ed. 1885) (French translation, 1878)
Paleontological Memoirs and Notes; with a Biographical Sketch, compiled and edited by Charles Murchison, Hugh Falconer (ed. Charles Murchison) (London, 1868)
Three Rare Forms of Disease of the Liver, Characterised by the Deposit of Nuclear Tissue (London, 1869)
On Functional Derangements of the Liver (London, 1874)


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Charles Murchison, 1863-1874, consisting of a book of newspaper cuttings, correspondence, and testimonials to Murchison regarding the typhoid epidemic of 1873, compiled by him, 1873-74; Book of newspaper cuttings regarding fevers, cholera, plague, and cattle plague, compiled by him, 1865-66; Letters to Murchison regarding fevers, 1863-65.

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:

The provenance of the collection is unknown

Allied Materials

Related material:

There is material relating to Murchison held elsewhere in the RCP Archives, including report by, and letter from, Murchison regarding proposed fever hospital at Hampstead, amongst the College's institutional papers on hospitals, 1875 (MS4082/3), and a copy of Murchison's testimony regarding the proposed hospital [1875] (MS109/92); George Gimlette's notes of Murchison's lectures delivered at St Thomas's Hospital, 1875-76 (MS480); Photograph of Murchison amongst William Baly's personal papers, c.1860s (MS-BALYW/715/390); Reference to an autographed print of Murchison amongst correspondence of Robert William Innes Smith, 1921-24 (MS554/232). There are several of Murchison's letters amongst the College's Autographed Letters Collection (ALS).

There is also material amongst the College's institutional papers on the Murchison Scholarship (MS1004; MS2098)

Further Murchison papers, 1865-67, are held at the Geological Society of London; Notes on Murchison and photograph of him, are to be found amongst St Thomas's Hospital Group Archives, held at the London Metropolitan Archives. See the Access to Archives (A2A) on-line database for details

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XXXIX, Sidney Lee (ed.) (London, 1894) [DNB, 1894, pp.316-17]; Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, Vol. IV, 1826-1925, compiled by G.H. Brown (London, 1955) [Munk's Roll, 1955, pp.113-14]; `Obituary - Charles Murchison', British Medical Journal, Vol. I 1879 [BMJ, 1879, pp.648-50]; `Obituary - Charles Murchison', The Lancet, Vol. I 1879, pp.645-46; Access to Archives (A2A) On-Line Database.
Compiled by Katharine Martin

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 November 2003

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