Tag Archives: Regius Professor of Medicine

Regius Professors of Physick

MS. Eng. d. 4073

Henry VIII founded the post of the Regius Professor of Physick (Medicine) at Oxford towards the end of his reign. A new item purchased by the library in 2010, the ‘Memoranda regarding the Regius Professors of Physick & the Readers in Anatomy in the University of Oxford’, lists and describes each post-holder from the first one in 1535 to 1792, when the memoranda was updated.

This small manuscript notebook makes fascinating reading. Its original author is unknown but internal evidence suggests that it was written in the 1770s and then annotated by the antiquarian and Registrar of Oxford University, John Gutch, in 1794.

The Regius Professor of Physick and the Reader in Anatomy were often the same person, and sometimes posts were passed down from father to son. The 7th Regius Professor, Thomas Clayton, is described as, ‘the Son of the first Reader, & the Office devolv’d upon him as Regius Professor: but being averse to the sight of a dead Body / Wood says of a timorous & effeminate Humour / he employ’d William Petty as his Deputy in whose Favor he resign’d the Readership in January 1650’.


Since the foundation of the post there have been 30 Regius Professors of Medicine at Oxford, the current one being John Irving Bell, the immunologist and geneticist. Saving Oxford Medicine has been tracing the archives of all the 20th Century Regius Professors and the results have been published on our website.


Smoking: Fifty years on

Sir Richard Doll

Fifty years ago today the launch of the Royal College of Physicians’ report, ‘Smoking and Health’, brought the dangers of smoking to the attention of the public at large. So began a major shift in attitude to smoking: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17264442

The scientific basis of the report had been laid over ten years earlier by the epidemiologist, Richard Doll (1912-2005), who, along with Austin Bradford Hill, established the link between smoking and lung cancer. Doll was Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford from 1969 to 1979 and was instrumental in the founding of Green College (now Green Templeton College) as a graduate college specialising in medicine. His papers are held by the Wellcome Library, London.

See also Conrad Keating’s Smoking Kills: The Revolutionary Life of Richard Doll (Oxford, 2009).

The archive of Professor Sir David Weatherall

In the late 1950s, David Weatherall, a Medical Officer on National Service with the RAMC, met Jaspir Thapa, daughter of a Gurkha soldier, in the children’s ward of the British Military Hospital, Singapore. Jaspir was profoundly anaemic and being kept alive by blood transfusions.  Weatherall studied the child and diagnosed her illness as thalassaemia. Thus began a distinguished research career.

The first portion of the archive of Professor Sir David Weatherall, molecular geneticist and Oxford Regius Professor of Medicine from 1992 to 2000, has been acquired by the Bodleian Library through an initiative of the Saving Oxford Medicine project. Sir David’s groundbreaking work on thalassaemia, a set of inherited blood disorders that affect the body’s ability to create red blood cells, has resulted in improved clinical treatment of the disease and the introduction of programmes for its management, particularly in developing countries. Largely due to him, Oxford University is recognised as a world leader in global health. Under his leadership, an Institute of Molecular Medicine was established at the University in 1989, renamed the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine on his retirement in 2000. Its scientists work on areas of molecular and cell biology that can improve the understanding and treatment of diseases such as cancer and HIV/AIDS.

Sir David with patients at a clinic in Sri Lanka

The sections of the archive now acquired include Sir David’s reminiscences of his time in Singapore and Malaya in 1959-61, correspondence regarding the setting up of the Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Programme at Mahidol University, Bangkok, in the late 1970s; papers relating to the development of the Institute of Molecular Medicine, beginning with Sir David’s initial proposal in 1983; papers relating to his evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology in the 1980s and 1990s, and to his roles as WHO consultant and lead writer of its Advisory Committee on Health Research report ‘Genomics and World Health’, 2002, and chair of the 2006 working group on the use of non-human primates in research. There is also material relating to his publications and contributions to conferences, meetings and medical debates, and his many appointments, honours and awards. Additions to these in due course will be Sir David’s scientific correspondence and laboratory records.

The archive will be catalogued before being made available to researchers in the Special Collections Reading Room.Listen to some of Sir David’s stories at:


Osler’s clock

Osler's Clock

Osler’s Clock
Copyright Bodleian Library 2011
Photography: Nick Cistone

Sir William Osler (1849-1919), Regius Professor from 1905 to 1919, is credited with pioneering bedside teaching, bringing medical students out of the lecture theatre and into the hospital wards. Osler was a prolific writer, author of The Principles and Practice of Medicine (Edinburgh, 1892) and many other works, and a regular user of the Bodleian Library. It was brought to our notice recently that a clock presented to the Library by him in 1912, which sits under the bust of Sir Thomas Bodley in Duke Humfrey’s Library, no longer chimed. We are glad to say that, as it approaches its centenary, the clock is chiming again and that an explanatory label is being designed. A file relating to the presentation of the clock survives among the Library’s records and shows that the clock was personally chosen by Osler, and purchased from R S Rowell, Jewellers, 115 High Street, Oxford, following the recommendation of Falconer Madan, Bodley’s Librarian, of
‘a clock with a good 18th century style of case, and striking hours and half hours on a gong with a non-irritant sound…’

The archives of the Regius Professors

Sir John Scott Burdon Sanderson (1828-1905), pathologist and physiologist, was the Regius Professor from 1895 to 1904.

In his earlier career as an experimental pathologist, Sanderson had advanced the understanding of the causes of infectious disease and the acceptance of germ theory in Britain. As a physiologist, he had undertaken research for Charles Darwin on the movement of the leaf of the Venus flytrap. In 1882 he was elected Oxford’s first Waynflete Professor of Physiology (a position endowed by Magdalen College in honour of their 15th century founder, William Waynflete).  Sanderson was instrumental in creating the Faculty of Medicine in 1885 and in reducing the length of the Oxford medical degree from eight to seven years.

Sanderson’s correspondence, diaries, notes and drafts of lectures and addresses and other papers are held by University College London. Further correspondence and papers are held by The National Library of Scotland and the Woodward Biomedical Library, University of British Columbia.

Caricature of John Scott Burdon Sanderson by Leslie Ward (‘Spy’) published in Vanity Fair, 17 May 1894