Henry Martineau Greenhow (1829–1912)

During my thesis, one of my major research interests was medical men and women who produced literature. While some of these authors (such as Arthur Conan Doyle and W. Somerset Maugham) remain well-known today, others have faded into obscurity. I came across Henry Martineau Greenhow while researching fiction about medicine in India. He was a surgeon in the Indian Medical Service who later drew on his experiences to pen fiction about Anglo-Indian life.

Greenhow was born in 1829 to a prominent family. His father, Thomas Michael Greenhow, was an illustrious medical man, who co-founded Newcastle’s Eye Infirmary and the Newcastle University Medical School. Thomas worked at the Newcastle Infirmary (later the Royal Victoria Infirmary), and was crucial during its expansion. Thomas was married to Elizabeth Martineau, sister of the political and social theorist Harriet. Thomas and Elizabeth also had a daughter, Frances, Henry’s older sister. Frances would become known for her efforts to open up educational opportunities for women.

Newcastle Infirmary.jpg

Newcastle Royal Infirmary. Etching by J. Fittler (1758-1835) after himself. (Wellcome Collection.)

The young Greenhow became a student at the Newcastle School of Medicine in 1848 and at University College London in 1849. Four years later he became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. In January 1854, he entered the Indian Medical Service (IMS) on the Bengal side as an Assistant Surgeon. Three years later he served during the Indian Rebellion. He was part of the original garrison at the Siege of Lucknow, where he aided several wounded soldiers from the relieving force, for which he was promoted and awarded the Mutiny Medal with two Clasps and furlough for eighteen months counting as service. During furlough, he became a Fellow of the surgical Royal Colleges of England and Edinburgh. Greenhow was also promoted to the Brevet rank of surgeons, in recognition of his services at Lucknow. He became a Surgeon Major in 1873, before he retired three years later.

During his retirement, ‘he tried his hand at literature’, as his obituary in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) attests.[1] He published several novels of Anglo-Indian life, including The Bow of Fate (1893) and Brenda’s Experiment (1896), which was designed to tap into contemporary tastes. In an article for Blackwood’s, journalist Hilda Gregg described how there was a ‘flood of Mutiny literature’ in the 1890s. She wrote, ‘[o]f all the great events of this century, as they are reflected in fiction, the Indian Mutiny has taken the firmest hold on the popular imagination’.[2]

Brenda’s Experiment follows a young British woman, Brenda Mogadore, who marries a Muslim man, Ameer Ali. The novel’s title reflects how interracial marriage is framed as an ‘experiment’ trialled by Brenda and her bohemian parents. It proves to be an ill-fated match. While Ali initially presents himself as a liberal-minded convert to Christianity, this turns out to be a ruse. After settling his new wife in Rownpore, he reveals his true nature, introducing a second wife to the home and promising Brenda as a gift to his high-status cousin, the Nawab (the figurehead of the ‘Mutiny’). Reviewing the novel, Hearth and Home noted that, while the narrative was ‘readable and entertaining’, Greenhow had made ‘the Oriental’ (Ali) ‘such a brute that no woman could have been happy with him, whatever his race, rank, or religion’.[3] Similarly, the Speaker deemed the book ‘readable and interesting’, but complained that ‘we should like […] to meet in fiction with a Mahomedan who was not a villain’.[4] The novel’s treatment of race is crude and unpalatable, and I was intrigued to find that nineteenth-century reviewers were similarly frustrated by its Islamophobia.

Greenhow repeatedly deploys common Orientalist tropes, particularly in his representation of Muslim men as cruel and untrustworthy. Many of the Sepoys in the Rownpore Rangers – save for the loyal and courageous Sikhs – prove treacherous, and the ringleaders murder their British officers in gruesome and unprovoked attacks. Dillawur Khan attacks an unarmed Captain Wright, slitting his throat and then carrying his head on a stick as a ‘hideous trophy’.[5]

The novel’s title page identified the author as ‘Surgeon-Major Greenhow’, thus establishing it as the work of a medical man. While medical practice does not feature heavily in the narrative, Greenhow depicts two colonial medical men: the retired Dr Barton, a family friend of the Mogadores who returns to London after a lengthy career in India, and Assistant Surgeon Bolton, who helps the British military in its defence of the Residency. Barton warns Brenda’s parents not to trust Ali, and rigidly believes in ‘racial distinctions’. While Mogadore hopes that his daughter’s marriage will show that ‘the narrow limits of race are falsely drawn by the narrow prejudices of mankind’ (41), Barton remains convinced that the ‘mixture of certain races should be avoided’ (30). His advice stems from his position as doctor and family friend. Similarly, Bolton plays a minor but crucial role. He confronts and arrests the Nawab, restoring order to the colonial outpost. Greenhow positions a character of his own former rank as a military hero.

During his retirement, Greenhow lived at Esher in Surrey, where he died at the age of 83 on 26 November 1912. He was the last survivor of the medical officers who took part in the defence of the Residency. The Lancet printed a small obituary which recorded his service during the Rebellion,[6] while a longer obituary in the BMJ recalled both his military service and his literary activities.[7]

HMG Obituary

Greenhow’s obituary in the BMJ (1912)

It is unsurprising that Greenhow’s rather crude and distasteful narratives have not secured him longer-lasting literary recognition. Yet his decision to take up a pen after a prestigious military medical career is fascinating, showing the appeal that literary activity held for the medical profession at this time.

[1] ‘Obituary: Henry Martineau Greenhow’, BMJ, 14 December 1912, p. 1694.

[2] [Hilda Gregg], ‘The Indian Mutiny in Fiction’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 161 (February 1897), 218-231, (p. 224, 218).

[3] ‘Books and Authors by Paper Knife’, Hearth and Home, 9 April 1896, p. 836.

[4] ‘Fiction’, Speaker, 14 March 1896, pp. 324-5 (p. 325).

[5] Henry Martineau Greenhow, Brenda’s Experiment (London: Jarrold, 1896), p. 149. Further references are given after quotations in the text.

[6] ‘The Services: Deaths in the Services’, Lancet, 7 December 1912, p. 1609.

[7] ‘Obituary: Henry Martineau Greenhow’, p. 1694.


The Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation (1890-)

Ent Record no. 1

Title page of the very first number of the Entomologist’s Record

In 1890, a schoolmaster and lepidopterist named James William Tutt (1858-1911) established a periodical intended to ‘supply a magazine devoted entirely to the wants of British entomologists’. According to Tutt, the two other existing periodicals, the Entomologist and the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, contained far too much on foreign species that had no real use or application for the those whose collecting was limited to Britain. The Record allowed short notices in which entomologists exchanged information regarding their fieldwork, much in the same manner as they would through private correspondence. Tutt made this comparison explicit, claiming that much of the most important things he had learnt from others had been communicated ‘in a casual way’ through letters.

Ent Record v. 4

A coloured plate from volume 4 of the Entomologist’s Record (1893), showing the varieties of some British Lepidoptera

Tutt himself was a bullish character, and his forthright manner did not endear him to some. He was dedicated to a thoroughly scientific and biological approach to entomology, and the Entomologist’s Record reflects this. The very title of the periodical points to major shifts in the life sciences, particularly when compared to an earlier publication such as the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer (1856-61). While correspondents to the latter periodical had openly mocked Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species when it was published in 1859, the Entomologist’s Record was expressly intended to allow collectors to share information regarding the variations within species that form the basis of evolutionary theory. Much of the work done by entomologists during the nineteenth century was primarily concerned with the classification of species, determining and delineating the differences between insects and sorting them accordingly. This task was not a simple one, as insects exist in a multitude of forms that defy any attempt to arrange them into a satisfactory system. As much of this process was carried out through the study of dead and dried specimens, far less attention was given to the insect as a living organism. Furthermore, the question of how such a profusion of variation had come about was considered by many naturalists to be beyond the bounds of reasonable speculation. However, by the 1890s, a new generation of entomologists were seeking to address this issue, taking up the theories of Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, and placing a greater focus on understanding the physiology of insects.

The best illustration of this shift in emphasis is supplied by Tutt himself, who is perhaps best known today as among the first entomologists to observe and speculate as to the cause of industrial melanism that occurred in the peppered moth, which has become one of the most celebrated (and controversial) examples of natural selection. Moths of this species were observed to be of a darker colour in certain localities, and it was in the Entomologist’s Record that the implications of this difference were first seriously considered by Tutt and his peers. Various solutions to the question were suggested, including differences in climate or diet, but it is now considered to be the result of air pollution. The peppered moth had evolved to be light in colour, in order to be camouflaged against the lichens growing on the bark of trees, but the industrialisation of the nineteenth-century led to a decline in air quality, killing off much of the lichen and staining the tree trunks with soot. Within the affected areas, the moths adapted through natural selection to become almost black in colour, thereby ensuring greater protection from predators. The Entomologist’s Record and those who contributed to it were therefore key players in this now-famous discovery.

The distinctive cover image of the Entomologist’s Record was produced by Frederick William Frohawk (1861-1946), who became a distinguished entomologist and zoological artist. The Record continues to be published, and only recently ceased to use this illustration.

peppered moth.jpg

Lighter and darker varieties of the peppered moth, from Richard South’s Moths of the British Isles (1907-09)


Frederick James Gant (1825-1905)

Frederick James Gant first appeared on my research radar when I was examining attitudes towards women in medicine. In 1892, the British Medical Association (BMA) debated whether to admit women as members. Gant spoke passionately in support, noting that – though he had initially been unsympathetic to the cause – he felt medical women had acquitted themselves creditably. He argued that there could be ‘no doubt’ as to their ‘professional, social, and moral character’.[1] The BMA eventually voted in favour and Gant’s intercession may have exerted an important influence. He was a well-respected figure; his 1905 obituary in the Lancet recorded his ‘prominent position among London surgeons’ and that he was ‘well known as an industrious author’ on medical and non-medical matters.[2]

Gant was born in 1825 in Kingsland, London. His father was a military man; Lieutenant Colonel John Castle Gant of the King’s Own 2nd Light Infantry. As he would later record in his autobiography, the young Gant was a premature child ‘of puny body and weakly health’. He was sent to Eastbourne and then Hastings where he ‘acquired an intense love of nature and eventually more than average strength’, as the BMJ related in his obituary.[3]

Returning to London, Gant was educated at King’s College School. After losing his parents, he became assistant to a pharmaceutical chemist in Shoreditch. At the age of 16, he entered University College London as a medical student. He became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) in 1849 and would later become a Fellow (1861).

Gant began his medical career in relatively ‘straitened circumstances’ but conditions soon improved.[4] He took rooms in Old Cavendish Street and in 1852 began practising as a consulting surgeon. He also lectured at the short-lived Hunterian School of Medicine on Bedford Square, first on physiology and then on anatomy too. When the school closed, Gant moved (along with the students) to the Royal Free Hospital. The Royal Free was not recognised as a school by the RCS since its anatomy and pathology museum was deemed ‘insufficiently equipped’.[5] Although the students transferred to Middlesex Hospital in 1854, Gant remained as Surgeon to the Royal Free and worked to improve its museum.[6]

Pathology Museum, Royal Free

Royal Free Hospital, London: the interior of the museum in the pathological block. Process print, 1913. (Wellcome Collection)

In the last year of the Crimean War (1853-6), Gant acted as Civil Surgeon in the military hospitals in the Crimea and at Scutari, and he received a medal with a clasp for Sebastopol. He returned to England in May 1856, after a severe illness.

His first book followed soon after. It was inspired by a casual visit to the Smithfield Club Cattle Show in 1857, where he was struck by the obesity of the animals on display. The Evil Results of Overfeeding Cattle: A New Inquiry (1858) demonstrated that the cattle’s tissue had undergone fatty degeneration, indicating that prizes were being given for bulk and weight of fat over the quality of the meat. Gant’s report attracted letters of thanks from leading exhibitors and breeders, including the Prince Consort and the Duke of Richmond.[7]

Throughout his career, Gant published widely. His work on the Principles of Surgery (1864) spawned two later editions. The 1871 version contained one of the earliest notices of antiseptic treatment found in any work on surgery. The BMJ suggested it was the earliest, though this claim was queried by the Lancet.[8] This material was written from monographs sent by Professor Lister at Gant’s request. Gant also produced Diseases of the Bladder, Prostate Gland, and Urethra (1876); The Student’s Surgery (1890); and a Guide to the Examinations by the Conjoint Board in England and for the Diploma of the FRCSEng (1874), which reached seven editions by 1889. The BMJ’s reviewer was sceptical about whether students should rely on such guides rather than proper tuition, but acknowledged the ‘large demand’ for the book.[9]

Gant was also a frequent contributor and correspondent to the medical press, offering clinical lectures and letters on issues such as affairs of the RCS Council.[10] At one point, he wrote in defence of his own ‘professional honour’ in reference to an intraprofessional dispute.[11] Gant was also active in professional societies. He was President of the Medical Society of London in 1880-1 and was for two years Vice-President of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society.

Gant’s professional life was rich and varied. Around 1877 he became medical attendant to two famous pedestrian-athletes; the Canadian E. Payson Weston and the Welsh William Gale, both of whom won fame for the huge distances they walked. Gant tended to both during their public performances.[12]

Gant also wrote a diverse range of non-medical works, and it was this literary activity (and its reception by the medical press) that piqued my interest. The novel Perfect Womanhood (1895) follows the struggles and romantic adventures of a young medical man, and like its sequel The Latest Fruit is the Ripest (1898) it was semi-autobiographical. The Lancet praised the former for its ‘genteel’ female characters, reassuring readers that they would encounter ‘no woman with “views”’.[13] Perfect Womanhood was reviewed alongside another work of fiction by a medical man – Arthur Conan Doyle’s semi-autobiographical novella, The Stark Munro Letters (1895). Gant’s later work, The Lord of Humanity, Or the Testimony of Human Consciousness (1899), was a ‘statement of personal religious convictions’ which was received positively by the BMJ.[14] Mock Nurses of the Latest Fashion (1900) was a collection of short stories which lampooned nurses. It was written during a period of suffering and Gant’s BMJ obituary opined that this might have ‘coloured the author’s perception’ and ‘led to his sweeping denunciation of the entire profession because of the few examples with which he was brought into contact’.[15]

Gant continued working as senior surgeon to the Royal Free Hospital until 1890 and during his final 12 years he was involved in training early cohorts of women doctors. From 1878, students at the London School of Medicine for Women joined clinical training at the Royal Free. By his own admission, Gant was not originally in favour of the movement for women’s medical education but he revised his position through his observations and experiences. When he spoke in support of medical women at the BMA’s meeting, he claimed to know ‘something not only of their intellectual qualifications, but of their social and moral character’. His desire to defend them across all fronts illustrates the obstacles they faced in gaining professional recognition. Gant said that he had initially thought they might ‘seek to enter the profession upon the easiest terms’ but he reflected with admiration that they had ‘taken the hardest road in nearly every instance’. He dismissed the fact they had not yet been admitted by the RCS, describing it as ‘a slow-going machine […] old and rickety’. Moreover, he concluded it was ‘a waste of time’ to discuss women’s admission since the BMA could not ‘exclude any body of legally-qualified practitioners’. He asserted that he spoke not only as the women’s former teacher but because it was ‘a matter of right and justice’.[16] It is interesting that a medical man whose literary treatment of women was rather conservative had acted as a passionate defender of women’s rights within the profession.

Gant’s somewhat saccharine romantic tendencies might be traced to his personal life. In 1859, he married Matilda Crawshaw, who later inspired the character Mabel Carlton in Perfect Womanhood. Mabel is the wife of a young practitioner and the romance plot borrows heavily from Gant and Crawshaw’s own courtship. They were married for 40 years before her death in 1899 and they had a son who died in infancy. Both the Lancet and the BMJ’s obituaries emphasised the couple’s devotion and the former added that Matilda’s death came as a ‘serious shock’ to Gant.[17]

During his final decade, Gant’s health deteriorated. His BMJ obituary was remarkably graphic about his illness, detailing that he underwent lithotrity, a surgical procedure breaking down large calculi, and that he required daily catheterisation for some years. By this point, Gant had retired from active medical work but he maintained his ‘literary pursuits’.[18] Several months before his death he released an Autobiography. The Lancet’s review commended the author on setting forth his private and public life in a ‘modest and graceful way’.[19]

Gant Obituary

Gant’s obituary in the Lancet (1905)

He died at the age of 80, from pneumonia, at his home in Connaught Square in June 1905. The funeral took place in Richmond, Surrey where he was buried with his wife. He had placed the following words on her tomb: ‘To the unspeakable distress of her husband, his age and bodily affliction debar him from ever visiting her grave, at a distance of ten miles from London’.[20] The way in which this was recalled by the medical press shows its interest in humanising an eminent medical man.

[1] ‘British Medical Association: Admission of Women’, BMJ, 27 August 1892, pp. 481-2 (p. 481).

[2] ‘Obituary: Frederick James Gant, FRCS Eng’, Lancet, 24 June 1905, p. 1758.

[3] ‘Obituary: Frederick James Gant, FRCS Eng’, BMJ, 24 June 1905, pp. 1410-11 (p. 1410).

[4] ‘Obituary’, BMJ, p. 1410.

[5] ‘Obituary’, BMJ, p. 1410.

[6] ‘Obituary’, Lancet, p. 1758.

[7] ‘Obituary’, BMJ, p. 1410.

[8] ‘Obituary’, BMJ, p. 1410. ‘Obituary’, Lancet, p. 1758.

[9] ‘Notes on Books’, BMJ, 11 May 1889, pp. 1064-6 (p. 1065).

[10] ‘Correspondence: An Association of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons’, BMJ, 11 April 1868, p. 365. ‘Correspondence: The College Election’, Lancet, 20 June 1885, pp. 1146-7.

[11] ‘Correspondence: Medical Evidence at Coroners’ Inquests’, Lancet, 18 February 1865, pp. 188-9 (p. 188).

[12] ‘Obituary’, Lancet, p. 1758.

[13] ‘Library Table’, Lancet, 26 October 1895, pp. 1048-9 (p. 1049).

[14] ‘Reviews and Notices of Books’, BMJ, 26 April 1890, pp. 963-4 (p. 963).

[15] ‘Obituary’, BMJ, p. 1411.

[16] ‘British Medical Association: Admission of Women’, p. 481.

[17] ‘Obituary’, BMJ, p. 1411. ‘Obituary’, Lancet, p. 1758.

[18] ‘Obituary’, BMJ, p. 1411.

[19] ‘Library Table’, Lancet, 25 February 1905, pp. 506-7 (p. 506).

[20] ‘Obituary’, BMJ, p. 1411.