Physician to the Forces John Davy FRS (1834) MD (Ed 1814)
24 May 1790 [Penzance] – 24 Jan 1868 [Lesketh How Nr Ambleside]
Physician to the Forces John Davy was the brother and biographer of Sir Humphrey Davy (1778–1829), a British chemist best known for his experiments in electro-chemistry and his invention of a miner's safety lamp. John Davy was himself eminent as a chemist, geologist and an experimental physiologist. He discovered phosgene in 1812. He also found that the venous blood of cholera patients contained less carbonic acid than in health. This led Dr Tunstall of Bath to administer petroleum mixed in brandy as a stimulant to his cholera patient, so as to supply the pure carbon which was lacking in their blood.
John Davy studied medicine in Edinburgh and took his MD degree in that university in 1814. He entered the army as a surgeon, and at the time of his death held the rank of Inspector General of Army Hospitals. In 1840, Dr Davy proceeded to Constantinople in command of a party of medical officers to help form a Medical Department for the Turkish Army, and to organise their military hospitals. He was under instructions from Lord Viscount Palmerston to ascertain whether it might be possible to engage at Malta, persons possessing a certain degree of education for employment in the Turkish Medical Services, and to employ them in Constantinople, should their services be required. Dr Davy remained nearly two years in Turkey but his mission was unsuccessful. Nonetheless he was enabled to acquire extensive knowledge of eastern affairs, of the peculiarities of the climate and of the resources of the country.1
John Davy was a most copious writer, having written several volumes on general subjects, besides a large number of papers ranging over the whole field of natural science. In his preface to the Notes and Observations on the Ionian Islands and Malta published in 1842 Davy encouraged the Medical Staff of the Army to interest itself in the countries it served and to embark on scientific observations. He wrote:
Amongst the advantages enjoyed by the medical officers of the army, the opportunity which the service affords of visiting distant countries may justly be ranked as one of the most considerable, combining the pleasure and profit of travel with professional duties and culture, so that individuals, if intent on self-improvement, may derive at the same time a double benefit. During a period of twenty six years of almost universal peace, when many hundred well educated and intelligent medical officers have been employed in our extensive colonies how little has been contributed by them to the general stock of knowledge.
Among his many presentations to learned societies were:
- 1812: On a Gaseous Compound of Carbonic Oxide and Chlorine. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 102 (1812): 144-151.
- 1846: On the use of the microscope as an aid in chemical inquiry. Paper read at the Royal College of Chemistry on 3 June 1846.
- 1846: Coke poisoning in a church at Ambleside, in Journal of Public Health and Sanitary Review No V pp 104 April 1856 London Thomas Richards.
- 1862: On some of the more important diseases of the army, with contributions to pathology.
- 1862: On the Question whether Oxide of Arsenic taken in very minute quantities for a long period is injurious to man. Paper read at Cambridge, at the meeting of The British Association for the Advancement of science.
- 1865: Leanness and animal food and the Effects of scanty and deficient food. Two papers read at Birmingham, at the meeting of The British Association for the Advancement of science
- 1867: On the influence of air on vital action as tested by the air pump. Paper read at Dundee, at the meeting of The British Association for the Advancement of science
Physician to the Forces John Davy died at his residence, Lesketh How near Ambleside Cumbria on 24 January 1868.
19 May 1815 Hospital Assistant.
9 Nov 1815 Staff Assistant Surgeon.
Aug 1816–Feb 1820 Staff Surgeon Ceylon. He accompanied the Governor of Ceylon on his tour of the Central and Uva provinces visiting Kataragama on 5 April 1819. In 1821, Davy published an Account of the interior of Ceylon and its inhabitants.
2 Nov 1820 Reduced to half-pay.
25 Dec 1820 Restored to full-pay.
29 Mar 1821 Staff Surgeon.
1 Feb 1821 Surgeon 15th (York, East Riding) Regiment of Foot.
1824–1835 On the Medical Staff of the Mediterranean.
8 Nov 1827 Appointed Physician to the Forces afterwards Assistant Inspector of Hospitals. The vacancy of Staff Surgeon was filled by Staff Assistant Surgeon John Hall.
Malta 12 Mar 1828 Arrived from Corfu and received pratique on 20 March.
20 Mar 1828–2 Nov 1829 On leave on the continent on urgent private business; (related to the illness and death of his brother Sir Humphrey Davy in Geneva on 29 May 1829).
Malta 2 Nov 1829 Returned to England.
Malta 3 Apr 1830 Returned from leave in England. Married Margaret Fletcher in England in 1830. His spouse, the daughter of an Edinburgh advocate Archibald Fletcher, accompanied him to Malta.
29 July 1830 Promoted Assistant Inspector of Hospitals. The pay according to rank was set by the Royal Warrant of 1830 to 19 shillings a day.
Malta 20 Apr 1831 Birth of Grace Davy daughter of Physician to the Forces John Davy MD and Margaret. The child was baptised on 12 June 1831 by the Rev John Cleugh Chaplain to Government.
Together with naval surgeon John Liddell, attended Sir Walter Scott who had arrived in Malta on HMS Barham in November 1831 for the recovery of his health. While performing quarantine in Fort Manoel, Scott collected material for his new novel The Siege of Malta. Scott remained in Malta for three weeks before departing for Naples.
Malta 27 Oct 1832 Birth of a daughter Elizabeth Mary Davy, who died in 1857 of consumption.
25 Nov 1832 Baptism of Elizabeth Mary Davy, daughter of Assistant Inspector of Hospitals John Davy and Margaret by the Rev John Cleugh Chaplain to Government.
Malta 1833 Assistant Inspector of Hospitals. Principal Medical Officer Malta Garrison.
5 Nov 1833 Birth of Archibald Davy, son of Assistant Inspector of Hospitals John Davy and Margaret.
Malta 1834 Assistant Inspector of Hospitals. Member of a committee for running The Malta Provident Bank for Savings. While at Malta he opened the first public dispensary at the Auberge D'Italie Valletta.
19 Jan 1834 Baptism of Archibald Davy by the Rev John Cleugh Chaplain to Government.
Malta 10 Apr 1835 Sailed for England for duty at Fort Pitt Chatham.
May 1835–Oct 1840 In charge of the General Hospital at Fort Pitt.
1837 Birth of a son Humphry Davy, who died from scarlet fever in 1842.
13 Oct 1840 Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals. In 1840, he was sent by the Foreign Office to Constantinople to set up a medical department for the Turkish army.
11 Jan 1842 Returned to England from Constantinople. Reduced to half-pay.
1843 Settled in the Lake District near Ambleside, Westmorland, where he became medical advisor to the poet William Wordsworth.
30 May 1845 Recalled from half-pay and appointed Inspector General of Hospitals in the Windward and Leeward Islands only vice IGH Hugh Bone who retired upon half-pay.
22 Dec 1848 Returned from the West Indies and retired to half-pay with rank of Inspector General.
25 Mar 1854 Repeatedly volunteered his services to join the expedition to the East and to serve in the war against Russia. His requests of 11 April 1854 and of 27 November 1854 were ignored. Director General Andrew Smith who had served under J Davy at Fort Pitt, acknowledged his letter of the 27th November to the Duke of Newcastle but did not feel
warranted to recommend him being restored to full pay for service with the army in the East.
24 Jan 1868 Physician to the Forces John Davy died at his residence, Lesketh How near Ambleside Cumbria.
- Drew R., 1968. Entry No: 3878. Medical Officers in the British Army 1660 – 1960. Volume 1: 1660 – 1898. London: Wellcome Historical Medical Library.
- TNA:WO 25/3900, Records of Service - Officers of the Medical Department (1790–1847).
- 1TNA:CO 158/112, Malta Original Correspondence to the Secretary of State, Foreign Office, Dr Davy's mission to Constantinople (30 October 1840).
- TNA:WO 156/594. No 2, Baptism Register 2 January 1820 to 29 June 1839.
- Remarks on the use of petroleum in asiatic cholera and the probable advantage of soda as a remedy. Br Med J (1848); s1: 503 (Published 6 September 1848).
- The British Association for the Advancement of Science Br Med J (1862); 2: 423 (Published 18 October 1862).
- The British Association for the Advancement of Science Br Med J (1865); 2: 376 (Published 7 October 1865).
- The British Association for the Advancement of Science Br Med J (1867); 2: 257 (Published 21 September 1867)
- Davy J., Notes and observations on the Ionian Islands and Malta; with some remarks on Constantinople and Turkey and on the system of quarantine as at present conducted. London 1842.
- Obituary John Davy. Br Med J (1868); 1: 110 (Published 1 February 1868).