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John Douglas, surgeon





John Douglas (d. 1743), surgeon, was one of the seven sons of William Douglas (d. 1705) and his wife, Joan, daughter of James Mason of Park, Blantyre. James Douglas (bap. 1675, d. 1742) was his brother. In 1712 he became chirurgeon-general of the Leeward Islands, where his brother Walter was governor from 1711 to 1714; by June 1714 he was in Antigua. He was admitted a foreign brother to the Company of Barber–Surgeons in 1717. In 1719 Douglas was giving anatomical lectures at his house in Fetter Lane, London; he was living in Lad Lane, near Guildhall, in 1735, and Downing Street from 1739. Douglas's first publication was A syllabus of what is to be performed in a course of anatomy, chirurgical operations, and bandages (1719).

Douglas came to prominence in 1719 when he introduced the supra-pubic operation for the stone, details of which he published in his Lithotomia Douglassiana, or, An account of a new method of making the high operation, in order to extract the stone out of the bladder, invented and successfully performed by J. D. (1720). An enlarged second edition was published in 1723 and translations appeared in France (1724) and Germany (1729). Douglas's invention won him in 1723 the freedom of both the City of London and of the Company of Barber–Surgeons. It also brought him letters of congratulation from Boerhaave, Winslow, and Heister. Douglas's operation was, however, superseded in 1726 by William Cheselden's lateral operation, a development which caused Douglas much bitterness.

Douglas, who believed that he had never received due credit for his work on lithotomy, became embroiled in a number of medical controversies, one of them causing him to publish Animadversions on a late pompous book intituled ‘Osteographia, or, The anatomy of the bones’ by William Cheselden, esq (1735). Douglas, who had been appointed surgeon to the Westminster Hospital in 1721, then published A Short Account of the State of Midwifery in London and Westminster (1736), in which he attacked Edmund Chapman, William Giffard, and Hugh Chamberlen the elder, who had all criticized midwives and claimed that men-midwives such as themselves should be responsible for all difficult deliveries. Douglas considered that midwives, if trained correctly, could be responsible for most births, and put forward a five-point plan for their instruction (see Wilson, 111–12). Adrian Wilson argued that Douglas's defence of the midwives arose from a fear that the incursion into midwifery of practitioners skilled in the use of forceps would upset the traditional division of labour established between the midwife, who delivered live babies, and the surgeon, who delivered dead infants. Forceps practitioners would be able to monopolize most of the work carried out by both surgeons, such as Douglas, and midwives.

Douglas was married and had one daughter, who married the surgeon Robert Owen. Owen managed his father-in-law's practice during his illness and carried it on after Douglas's death on 25 June 1743. Douglas, who was survived by his wife, left Owen his silver, his prints, and his ‘fine coat-of-arms in the fore-parlour’





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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024