Kipling and Medicine

Doctors in
the stories


(by Gillian Sheehan)
back to introduction



[June 23 2004]

Dr Ackerman In “Unprofessional” in Limits and Renewals he is called “Tacks”. “A St. Peggoty’s (Hospital) man” who had been left a few hundreds a year just after he had qualified, “and so had given up all serious work except gastronomy and the allied arts”.

Anthony of the Indian Medical Service in “The World Without”in Soldiers Three.

Baggs in “His Brother’s Keeper”, (Abaft the Funnel) he was the Civil Surgeon at Chemanghath.

Roger Bacon in “The Eye Of Allah” in Debits and Credits. (c.1214-1292). Scholar (doctor mirabilis) and often regarded as the first modern scientist. Appears to have come from a wealthy family. Studied first at Oxford and then at Paris (1234-50) under Peter Peregrinus. About 1247 he joined the Franciscan Order. He returned to Oxford in 1250 but his quarrelsome nature and independence of thought led him into conflict with his colleagues and he studied in isolation for many years. From 1277-91, he was virtually imprisoned by his order in Paris, and was only in favour for the short time Clement IV was Pope (1265-8). He returned to Oxford in 1292 but died the same year. [Information from Trevor Williams, editor, Biographical Dictionary of Scientists, Harper Collins, 1994.]

Bald The Leech-Book of Bald is mentioned in “The Knights Of The Joyous Venture” (Puck of Pook's Hill). Bald was probably a friend of Alfred the Great and the book dates from 900-950, which makes it the oldest surviving Saxon book on herbal use. “Leech” is from the Anglo-Saxon word, Laece, to heal. A number of leechbooks were compiled during the Dark Ages, containing some recognisable drugs, but mostly fanciful brews for warding off elves and goblins. According to Bald, disease was primarily due to “elf-shot” or “flying venom”, and his herbal brews were both protective and curative. [Information from John Mann, Murder, Magic and Medicine, Oxford University Press, 1992.]

Sir James Belton “Howlieglass”, Head of St Peggotty’s in “The Tender Achilles” in Limits and Renewals. Thought to have been modelled on Sir John Bland-Sutton.

Berkeley A surgeon in “The Tender Achilles” in Limits and Renewals.

Kit Birtle a doctor, son of Sir Harry Birtle, and a great friend of James Gravell in “Beauty Spots” in Limits and Renewals. “He had done time as an Army doctor, and now specialised in post-war afflictions visible and invisible.”

Dr Brake in “Marklake Witches” in Rewards and Fairies.

Sir Herbert Buskitt a specialist who figured in “Beauty Spots” in Limits and Renewals, and said 'Bloody Measles' was due to atonic glands.

Sir John Chartres a nerve specialist who had been consulted by Miss Henschil in “In The Same Boat” in "A Diversity of Creatures".

Nicholas Culpeper Physician-Astrologer and chief character in “A Doctor of Medicine”. When he becomes rather technical on astrological matters, Puck calls him, affectionately, “old Hyssop on the Wall”.

"Mark also ... that we are not your College of Physicians but only a lad and a lass and a poor lubberkin, old Hyssop on the Wall!"
Culpeper is also mentioned in “Wireless” in Traffics and Discoveries.

Dr Dallas at Friars Pardon in “An Habitation Enforced” in Actions and Reactions.

Major Devine the “medical Major” on the hospital-train in “The Way That He Took” in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides.

Dr Doughty In Kim, he was a doctor in the Mavericks. He certified Father Victor as medically unfit to go to the front.

Dr Dumoise A civil surgeon in “By Word Of Mouth” in Plain Tales from the Hills. Also appears in “The Mark Of The Beast” in Life's Handicap. His wife died of typhoid. He died of cholera.

Dr Julian B Emory a New Yorker on his first visit to England . He thought a drunken navvy had been poisoned in “My Sunday At Home” in The Day's Work.

Dr Ferrers the anaethetist in “Unprofessional” in Limits and Renewals.

Dr Frole the general practitioner in “Beauty Spots” in Limits and Renewals. He thought the orange and greenish-copper blotches on the healthy children were due to “errors of diet” and said there was no need to close the schools.

Gilbert the Physician He noticed that Rahere, King Henry’s Jester, was depressed, and followed him - in “Rahere” (which follows “The Wish House” in Debits and Credits).

Dr Rutherford Gilbert a nerve specialist who treated Conroy in “In The Same Boat” in A Diversity of Creatures.

Dr Gleeag the surgeon in “Dayspring Mishandled” in Limits and Renewals.

Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712) Mentioned in “Fairy-Kist” Limits and Renewals. He was educated at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, and then at the University of Leyden where he studied medicine and obtained the degree of M.D. in 1671. He settled in London where he developed a thriving medical practice and in 1680 was admitted to Honorary Fellowship of the College of Physicians. He was particularly interested in the anatomy of plants and read several lectures before the Royal Society. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1671.He is best known for his work (1682) entitled The Anatomy of Plants. [Information from Trevor Williams, Biographical Dictionary of Scientists, Harper Collins, 1994.]

Dr Harding the general practitioner who sent Jim Wickenden’s mother to Brighton hospital on a ticket in “Friendly Brook” in A Diversity of Creatures.

Dr Heatherlegh In “The Phantom Rickshaw” in Wee Willie Winkie and other stories he was:

“the dearest doctor that ever was, and his invariable prescription to all his patients was “Lie low, go slow, and keep cool...As well as his regular practice he kept a small private hospital - “an arrangement of loose boxes for Incurables, his friends called it" - but it was really a sort of fitting-up shed for craft that had been damaged by stress of weather”, by which Kipling meant overwork.
Dr Hennis the doctor in “Mary Postgate” in A Diversity of Creatures.

Apothecary Tobias Hirte Appears in “Brother Square-Toes” and mentioned in “A Priest In Spite Of Himself”, both stories in Rewards and Fairies. During the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia, he “went down to the City and bled ‘em well again in heaps”. He was also known as the famous Seneca Oil man. Possibly based on the famous Benjamin Rush.

Sir Thomas Horringe, K.C.B.: the surgeon in “The Tender Achilles” in Limits and Renewals, nicknamed “Scree”who operated (a Syme operation) on C.R.Wilkett He had been dresser to Sir James Belton in his younger days.

Dr Howlen the doctor at Simla who attended Dora Bent when she had diphtheria in “A Second-Rate Woman” in Wee Willie Winkie and other stories.

Dr Johnson one of the doctors on the hospital-train in “The Way That He Took” in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides.

Dr Karaguen ship’s doctor on the Embuscade in “Brother Square-Toes” in Rewards and Fairies. Tobias Hirte bought Pharaoh Lee from him for twelve dollars and a dozen bottles of Seneca Oil.

John Keats (1795-1821) in “Wireless” (Traffics and Discoveries). When Keats was orphaned at the age of 15 he was apprenticed to a surgeon in Edmonton. In 1816 he was appointed a dresser in Guy’s Hospital and later qualified as a surgeon. His mother had died of consumption in 1810 and he may have been infected by her. But his illness remained quiescent for several years until he attempted an overambitious walking-tour. He had to cut short this holiday on doctor’s orders and returned to London in time to nurse his brother, Tom, who was dying.

After Tom’s death he moved into the house of a friend, Charles Armitage Browne. He fell in love with Fanny Brawne, the daughter of a neighbour, and wrote “The Eve of St.Agnes” while staying at Browne’s house. By 1820 he knew he was dying and in a final attempt to improve his health he sailed for Naples. He died in 1821 at the age of 25 and was buried in the Protestant cemetery in Rome. [Information from Everyman’s Dictionary of Literary Biography, Dent, 1965.

Dr Robert Keede M.R.C.P.: addressed as “Robin” or “Robert”. Senior Warden of Faith and Works in “In The Interests Of The Brethren” in Debits and Credits. In “Fairy-Kist” (Limits and Renewals) he is “physician, surgeon and accoucheur”. In “A Madonna of the Trenches” (Debits and Credits)he is described as “our round, torpedo-bearded local Doctor”. He had been medical officer of a South London Battalion, during the last two years of the war.

René Theophile Hyacinthe Laennec (1781-1826), who figures in “Marklake Witches” (Rewards and Fairies). Born in Quimper, Brittany in 1781 and trained in medicine at the Charite hospital in Paris, qualifying in 1804. Invented the stethescope in 1816, and wrote his Traite de l’Auscultation Mediate in 1819. In “Marklake Witches” he is a prisoner-of-war in England. In actual fact he was never a prisoner-of-war, but in the story he is in the early stages of consumption, the illness that led to his death in 1826. [Information from Trevor Williams, editor, Biographical Dictionary of Scientists, Harper Collins, 1994.]

L’Espinasse In “Beauty Spots” (Limits and Renewals) he is a French specialist in the effects of poison-gas.

Loftie In “Unprofessional” (Limits and Renewals) he is a pathologist. “He had married the unstable daughter of one of his earlier London landladies and was bacteriological advisor to a Public Department, on five-hundred-and-seventy pounds per annum, and the prospect of being graded for pension”.

Lowndes In “Love-o’-Women” (Many Inventions) he was the Army doctor who diagnosed Larry Tighe’s illness and later paid for Tighe and Di’monds-an’-Pearls to be buried together in the Civil Cemetery. He ran away with Major Van Dyce’s lady later the same year.

St Luke mentioned in “The Eye Of Allah” and in “On The Gate”, both in Debits and Credits.

Macarnaght In “The Return Of Imray” (Life's Handicap) he was in the Indian Medical Service and had to beat Tietjens (a deerhound) over the head with a gun-butt because she wouldn’t let him attend to her master, Strickland, when he was ill with fever.

Mrs Macrae In “Garm - A Hostage” (Actions and Reactions she is “a lady-doctor who cured the sick wives of kings” and was one of those called in consultation to see Garm. She said he was dying of a broken heart. Possibly based on Dr Elizabeth Bielby MD, Professor of Midwifery, Lahore Medical School and Lecturer to female students ; the first woman doctor in the Pubjab. [Information from Thomas Pinney, editor, The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, Vol.1, p.112, note 24.]

E S Mellish in "A Germ Destroyer" in Plain tales from the Hills had spent fifteen years studying cholera on land of his own, in Lower Bengal, and had invented Mellish’s Own Invincible Fumigatory.

Robert Morison (1620-1683) Court Physician who, in 1669, became the first Professor of Botany at Oxford. He is mentioned in "Fairy-Kist" in Limits and Renewals. [Information from Christine Stockwell, Nature’s Pharmacy, Arrow Books, 1989, p.95.]

Paul of Aegina (640 A.D. approx.) mentioned in “The Eye Of Allah” (Debits and Credits). He studied and practised medicine in Alexandria. A follower of Galen, he wrote on gynaecology and poisons, but his only extant work is Epitome Medicae Libri Septum (Seven Books of Medicine). [Information from Roy Porter, The Greatest Benefit To Mankind, Fontana Press, 1999, p.89.]

Peter Peregrinus mentioned in “The Eye Of Allah” in Debits and Credits as teacher of the Oxford Friar, Roger Bacon. He was born c.1220. Place and date of death are unknown. He was a scholar and a soldier. He was in Paris about 1250 where he was the friend and tutor of Roger Bacon who said of him: “what others strive to see dimly and blindly like bats in twilight, he gazes at in the full light of day, because he is a master of experiments”. Peregrinus wrote the first serious work on magnetism Epistola de Magnete. He also constructed practical compasses to help astronomers in finding the meridian and determining the azimuths of heavenly bodies. [Information from Trevor Williams, editor, Biographical Dictionary of Scientists, Harper Collins, 1994.]

“Lalla Dhunpat Rai” In The Naulahka he had a Licentiate in Medicine from Duff College. He said he was the first native from his province to have taken the degree twenty years previously. He was in charge of the hospital at Rhatore. Kate found it badly run and filthy. According to Hobson-Jobson’s Anglo-Indian Dictionary:

“in Persia the word lalla was used for a kind of domestic tutor ; now for a male nurse, or as he would be called in India, ‘child’s bearer’. In N.India it is usually applied to a native clerk writing in the vernacular”. Rais, in Arabic, means the captain or master, not the owner of a ship. In India it generally means ‘a native of respectable position’.
Roger of Salerno (c.1180) Taught surgery at the medical school of Salerno in southern Italy, probably the most important centre of medical learning in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries, with great influence throughout Europe. Roger of Salerno is remembered for his famous textbook Chirurgia. Salernian anatomy was derived from Galen and pigs were used for dissection as it was thought that their anatomy most closely resembled humans’.

In “The Eye Of Allah” in Debits and Credits, Kipling portrayed him as being a proud and pompous surgeon, but as frustrated as his hosts at not being allowed to dissect humans; who annoyed John of Burgos by speaking a lot of Greek at the Abbot’s “wisdom”dinner and for bluntly telling the Abbot’s Lady, Anne of Norton, that she had cancer. John had no Greek and only school-boy Latin “gathered by the way from fools professing to heal sick women”. [Information from Albert S Lyons & R. Joseph Petrucelli, Medicine - An Illustrated History, Abradale Press, 1987, p.318-9, and Chambers’s Encyclopaedia, 1959, Vol.11, p.748.]

“Duck” Ruthven In “The Tender Achilles” in Limits and Renewals he was an elderly surgeon, “the final London word in trephining” who had come out (to France in 1916) “to show the young ‘uns how to do it”. He was doing one case every fifteen minutes whereas in his own theatre (back in London), with his own staff, he had thought an hour and a quarter good going for one case.

Stephen de Sautre Abbott of St Illod’s in “The Eye Of Allah” in Debits and Credits. He had been a Doctor of Medicine under Ranulphus, Canon of St Paul’s and his heart was more in the monastery’s hospital work than its religious.

Dr Sichliffe in “The Dog Hervey” in A Diversity of Creatures he is mentioned as having been a retired doctor who used to: "pick up stormy young men in the repentant stage, take them home, and patch them up till they were well enough to be insured. Then he insured them heavily and let them out into the world again - with an appetite”. He left his daughter a lot of money.

Dr Spurstow in “At The End Of The Passage” in Life's Handicap he was the doctor of the Gaudhari State Line which was under construction. He had treated an old man who had cholera with gin and Worcester sauce with cayenne. He tried to treat Hummil with morphine injections and photographed his eyes after he had died, but destroyed the photographs before showing them to anyone.

James Syme (1799-1870) 'Syme’s Amputation' is mentioned in “The Tender Achilles” in Limits and Renewals. Cases of disease or injury of the foot had usually been subjected to amputation below the knee. In 1844 Syme reported on his new operation with records of 14 cases all of which were successful. The operation consisted of amputation through the ankle joint and removal of the ends of the tibia and fibula. He obtained a comfortable stump by making a flap from the sole of the foot and the thick integuments of the heel. He used a small amputating knife of his own design (Syme’s knife).

He was born in Edinburgh in 1799 and had an interest in chemistry. He discovered that clothing could be made waterproof by application of a solution of india-rubber dissolved in coal-tar. But, being a medical practitioner, he had scruples about patenting the process and it was taken up by Charles Mackintosh. He was one of the boldest and most original surgeons of the pre-anaesthetic era. In 1823 he performed the first amputation through the hip joint which had been done in Scotland. He was one of the first European surgeons to adopt ether anaesthesia, and in 1868 adopted the antiseptic method of his pupil and son-in-law, Lord Lister. His contemporaries said he never wasted a word, a drop of ink, or a drop of blood. [Information from Hamilton Bailey and W J Bishop, Notable Names in Medicine and Surgery, H K Lewis, 1944, p.64.]

Thomas in “The Eye Of Allah” in Debits and Credits he was the ”meek but deadly persistent” infirmarian of St Illod’s.

Vaughan in “Unprofessional” in Limits and Renewals he was the Assistant Surgeon at St. Peggoty’s, and had a nursing home near Sloane Street. His friends called him “Taffy”.

Dr Warbottom in “On Greenhow Hill” in Life's Handicap he was the doctor who set Learoyd’s broken arm and who attended ’Lisa Roantree until she went to Bradford. “He was a high-larned doctor, but he talked wi’ poor folk same as theirsens.”

Dr Watson companion of Sherlock Holmes. He is mentioned in “The House Surgeon” in Actions and Reactions.

C R Wilkett Also known as “Wilkie” or “Wilks”, he was the bacteriologist who played a major part in “The Tender Achilles” in Limits and Renewals.


[G.S.]