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PAGET, Sir James (1814-1899)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-PAGEJ
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: PAGET, Sir James (1814-1899)
Date(s): c.1844
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 1 volume
Name of creator(s): Paget | Sir | James | 1814-1899 | 1st Baronet | surgeon


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sir James Paget was born on 11 January 1814 at Great Yarmouth, the son of Samuel Paget, brewer and ship owner, and one time mayor of Great Yarmouth. Paget was the eighth of seventeenth children, nine of which survived childhood, and brother of the eminent physician Sir George Paget. His early education was at a local private school. However his father ran into financial difficulties after the short boom of the post-Napoleonic War years, and Paget could not follow his elder brothers' route through Charterhouse and on to university. In 1830 he was instead apprenticed for five years to Charles Costerton, surgeon in Great Yarmouth. During his apprenticeship Paget wrote and published with one of his brothers a book on the natural history of the town.

In 1834 Paget became a student at St Bartholomew's Hospital (St Bart's), London, and took lodgings in the capital. The following year, whilst undertaking some dissection work, he noticed white specks in the muscles of his subject. On inspection through a microscope he found them to be cysts containing worms. Professor Richard Owen later confirmed his observations, and the parasite became known as Trichina spiralis. From 1835-36 Paget was appointed clinical clerk, under the physician Peter Mere Latham, because he could not afford the fee demanded by the surgeons of the hospital for the office of "dresser". Consequently he did not become a house surgeon. In 1836, at the age of twenty-two, Paget became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

He made a short study tour to Paris before settling in London, where he supported himself by teaching and writing. From 1837-42 he was sub-editor of the Medical Gazette, and also wrote for the Medical Quarterly Review. In 1837 he was also appointed curator of St Bart's Museum, and in 1839 was made demonstrator of morbid anatomy. In 1841 he was elected surgeon to the Finsbury Dispensary. At St Bart's he was promoted to the position of lecturer on general anatomy and physiology in 1843, and in the same year became one of the original fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons. Also in 1843 he was elected warden of St Bart's new college for students, which in addition to a salary included accommodation within the college. In 1844 he finally married his fiancÚ Lydia North, after an eight-year engagement.

In 1846 Paget compiled a catalogue of St Bart's Museum, the style and content of which laid the foundation of his reputation. He also prepared a catalogue of the pathological specimens housed in the Hunterian Museum, which appeared between 1846 and 1849. In 1847 he was appointed an assistant surgeon at St Bart's, after a severe contest. There was some opposition to his appointment on the grounds that he had not been a dresser or a house surgeon, and so did not hold the qualifications traditionally thought necessary for the post. From 1847-52 he was Arris and Gale Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons. The subsequent publication of these lectures, in his Lectures on Surgical Pathology (1853), gave a great impulse to the study of pathology, which had been waning for some time. In 1851 he was elected fellow of the Royal Society. In the same year he resigned from his post as warden at St Bart's, although he remained assistant surgeon and lecturer. Consequently he found he had the time to set up a consultant practice. He moved to Henrietta Street, to a house large enough to accommodate his growing family and practice.

In 1858, whilst still only an assistant surgeon, he was appointed surgeon-extraordinary to the Queen. He was surgeon to the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, and attended the Princess of Wales, later Queen Alexandra, during a long illness. Also in 1858 Paget moved to a larger property in Harewood Place, just off Oxford Street. In 1859 he resigned from his appointment as lecturer in physiology at St Bart's, owing to his burgeoning private practice. At the time his was the largest surgical practice in London. In 1860 he was appointed a member of the Senate of the University of London. He became full surgeon at St Bart's in 1861, and from 1865-69 lectured on surgery at the medical school. From 1865-89 he was a member of the council of the Royal College of Surgeons. From 1867-77 he held the post of Serjeant-Surgeon-Extraordinary. In 1869 he was made president of the Clinical Society.

Paget held great authority amongst his contemporaries, and it has been said that he was a surgeon who

`advanced his art by showing how pathology might be applied successfully to elucidate clinical problems, when as yet there was no science of bacteriology' (DNB, 1901, p.241).

He made great use of the microscope to determine the true nature of morbid growths. He was widely respected as a teacher, due to his eloquence and his ability to grasp the principles of his subject, and to discuss them briefly and clearly. His name is ultimately associated with a chronic eczematous condition of the nipple, which related to breast cancer, and with a chronic inflammation of bones, which was named Osteitis deformans.

Paget resigned as surgeon at St Bart's in 1871 and was immediately appointed a consulting surgeon of the hospital. In the same year he was created a baronet. He was vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1873 and 1874, and president in 1875. In the same year he was elected president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society. He had made numerous contributions to medical literature throughout his career and this continued after his retirement from the hospital. He wrote articles on various topics, including cancer, syphilis and typhoid, as well as surgical conditions. In 1875 he published a collection of his papers entitled Clinical Lectures and Essays. He was the Royal College of Surgeons representative at the General Medical Council from 1876-81, and was the Hunterian orator at the college in 1877. In 1877 he was also made Serjeant-Surgeon to Queen Victoria.

In 1881 Paget was president of the International Congress of Medicine at the meeting held in London. In 1883 he became Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, a post he retained until 1895. In 1887 he was president of the Pathological Society of London. Amongst his many distinctions he was awarded honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Dublin, Bonn and Wurzberg.

Lady Paget died in 1895. Paget began to deteriorate soon afterwards, never really recovering from the blow caused by his wife's death. He died at his house in Regent's Park, where he had moved on his retirement, on 30 December 1899. He was buried at Finchley cemetery, after a funeral service at Westminster Abbey. The Pagets' four sons and two daughters survived both parents, their son Francis became Bishop of Oxford, whilst Stephen followed in his father's path and became himself a distinguished surgeon.

A Sketch of the Natural History of Great Yarmouth and its Neighbourhood, containing Catalogues of the Species of Animals, Birds, Reptiles, Fish, Insects and Plants, at present known, James & Charles Paget (Yarmouth, 1834)
A Descriptive Catalogue of the Pathological Specimens contained in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons (Vol. I 1846; Vol. II 1847; Vol. III 1848; Vols. IV & V 1849; 2nd ed. 1882-85)
A Descriptive Catalogue of the Anatomical Museum of St Bartholomew's Hospital (Vol. I 1847; Vol. II, 1852)
Handbook of Physiology: assisted by J. Paget, William Senhouse, Sir James Paget (London, 1848)
Lectures on Surgical Pathology (London, 1853; 2nd ed. 1863; 3rd ed. 1870; 4th ed. 1876)
Clinical Lectures and Essays, Howard Marsh (ed.) (London, 1875, transl. into French, 1877)
The Hunterian Oration (London, 1877)
On Some Rare and New Diseases (London, 1883)
Studies of Old Case Books (London, 1891)
John Hunter, Man of Science and Surgeon, 1728-93; with an Introduction by Sir James Paget, Stephen Paget (London, 1897)
Memoirs and Letters of Sir James Paget, ed. by Stephen Paget (London, 1901) Posthumously published
Selected Essays and Addresses, edited by S. Paget, Sir James Paget, Stephen Paget (ed.) (London, 1902)

Publications by others about Paget:
Sir James Paget: The Rise of Clinical Surgery, Shirley Roberts (London, 1989)


Scope and content/abstract:

Sir James Paget's index to references for medical biographies, intended for the Biographical Dictionary of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1842-44), c.1844.

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:

Presented to the College by Dr J.F. Payne, July 1903

Allied Materials

Related material:

There is material relating to Paget held elsewhere in the College archives, particularly amongst other collections of personal papers, including letters from, and references to, Paget amongst the correspondence of Charles Edouard Brown-Sequard and family, including a testimonial to Brown-Sequard, 1852-94 (MS-BROWC/977/11-13, 17, 22, 27; 979/48, 136; 981/74-80, 89; 988/7-8; 999/6); Testimonial to William Baly, 1854, and reference to Paget amongst correspondence regarding Baly's memorial fund, 1861 (MS-BALYW/157; 715/384); Notes on Paget's lectures on surgical pathology in medical notebook of Sir Edward Sieveking, 1862-73, and references to Paget in Sieveking's diary, 1864-73 (MS-SIEVE/719; 726); Letters from Paget to Sir William Broadbent, 1886-89 (MS-BROAW/807/1-2); Reference to, and caricature of, Paget amongst Sir William Allchin's papers regarding the Sir Andrew Clark memorial, 1894-95 (MS-ALLCW/713/200; 714/24); Letter from Stephen Paget, Paget's son, to Robert William Innes Smith, regarding Paget's portrait, 1922 (MS554/223).

There is also material amongst the College's own institutional papers, including Paget's signature on a testimonial to George Henslow, 1868 (MS1011/82); Letters from Paget to Sir Henry Pitman, regarding the conjoint examination board scheme, 1873-77 (MS2023/75-77, 79-80, 82-83, 85, 88-91, 93-94); Letter from Paget accepting an invitation to the Harveian Dinner, 1884 (MS1024/111); Letter from Paget regarding the regulations of the Moxon Memorial Medal, 1887 (MS1002/13); There are also a number of Paget's letters amongst the College Autographed Letters Collection (ALS).

Some of Paget's correspondence and papers are held at the Royal College of Surgeons of England; Other correspondence and papers are held at the American Philosophical Society Library; Further correspondence and papers, 1830-1909, undated (6 volumes), and correspondence with Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer, 1884-94 (11 items) are held at the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine; Letters to Sir Henry Acland, 1874-98, are held at Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts; Letters to W.E. Gladstone, 1871-94, and to Sir Richard Owen, 1839-86, and correspondence with Florence Nightingale, 1859-88, are held at the British Library, Manuscript Collections; Letters to Thomas Huxley, 1853-95 (11) are held at London University, Imperial College Archives; Letters to the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, 1841-44, are held at London University, University College London Manuscripts Room; Letters from members of the Royal family and household, 1869-1909, are held at the Royal Archives; Letters to Sir Norman Moore, 1873-96 (29) are held privately (with enquiries to be made to the Historical Manuscripts Commission). 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: Dictionary of National Biography, Supplement Vol. III, Sidney Lee (ed.) (London, 1901) [DNB, 1901, pp.240-42]; Sir James Paget: The Rise of Clinical Surgery, Shirley Roberts (London, 1989); Plarr's Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, Vol. II, revised by Sir D'Arcy Power (Bristol, 1930), pp.138-41; `Sir James Paget', A. Batty Shaw, St Bartholomew's Hospital Journal, March 1969, pp.94-96; Historical Manuscripts Commission On-Line National Register of Archives.
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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