Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dermatology Online Journal

Dermatology Online Journal bannerUC Davis

Thomas Beddoes (1760-1808)

Main Content

Thomas Beddoes Reviews
Barbara Burrall and Arthur Huntley
Dermatology Online Journal 8(1): 1

Department of Dermatology University of Calfornia Davis, and section of Dermatology Mather VA Medical Center

The span of approximately seventy years that preceded the mid-1800s is sometimes referred to as the Age of Reform. Significant changes in politics as well as in medicine took place during this time and impetus for these changes came first from France and then Great Britain. In Britain, three important parlimentary regulations, the Aapothecaries' Act, the Anatomy Act and the Medical Act brought regulation and organization into the practice and teaching of medicine. Also, prior to this period and since the Middle Ages, medical practices had been based upon a variety of forms of natural philosophy. The early nineteenth century brought with it the concept of "science" in medicine where detailed physical examination, elicitation of physical signs , and correlation with morbid anatomy began to take precedence over the patients' lay descriptions of their illnesses. Latin terms quickly replaced common English terms for descriptions and diseases. Though the British Medical Journal was already in existence, The Lancet, which originated during this period, was at the forefront in challenging many of the antiquated medical beliefs commonly held.

Thomas Beddoes, a British physician, was one of the radical leaders of reforms in the practice of medicine. He was born in 1760, received his BA degree at Oxford, and studied medicine at Edinburgh. From the early 1790s through the first decade of the 1800s he was a prolific writer. He championed a variety of causes and vehemently attacked the widespread lay practices of self-medication. He despised the proliferation and dissemination of popular kitchen manuals of medical treatment, which he felt were the cause of many needless deaths. He noted that the church graveyards showed the "fatal effects, arising from domestic errors." His opinion was that "the most obstinate belief is usually coupled with the most profound ignorance." He wrote extensively to promote public education concerning healthy living, exercise, and public health issues such as tuberculosis.

Beddoes also actively argued for creating a centrally organized system for collecting, indexing and disseminating important medical data to the community of physicians. He felt it was scandalous that valuable observations and data were being wasted. "To lose a single fact may be to lose many lives," he asserted.

Thomas Beddoes wrote more than thirty books and numerous articles urging these and other important idealogical changes. Therefore the Dermatology Online Journal introduces the Thomas Beddoes Reviews , which will contain reviews by experts on a variety of disease and treatment topics and is named in honor of this champion of the responsible collection and dissemination of medical information.


1. Porter R. The rise of medical journalism in Britain to 1800. In: Medical Journals and Medical Knowledge, Eds. Bynum WF, Lock S, Porter R. Routledge. London. 1992.

2. Porter R. Reforming the patient in the age of reform:Thomas Beddoes and medical practice. In: British Medicine in an Age of Reform. Eds., French R, Wear A. Routledge.London. 1991.

© 2002 Dermatology Online Journal