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Jacob Augustus Lockhart Clarke

Born  1817
Died  1880

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English physician, physiologist, histologist and neurologist,born 1817; died January 25, 1880.

Biography of Jacob Augustus Lockhart Clarke

Jacob Augustus Lockhart Clarke lost his father while he was still a small boy. His mother, who had been left with adequate financial means, took her family of seven to France for their education. As a student in France, Clarke is said to have shown no unusual ability and to have been regarded by his family as rather indolent. But after returning to England in 1930, he displayed more interest in intellectual pursuits and later chose a career in medicine, a profession that had already claimed his grandfather and one of his elder brothers.

Clarke received his medical education at Guy’s Hospital and St. Thomas’s Hospital in London. He was licensed by the Apothecaries Society and subsequently went to live with his mother at Pimlico, where he established private practice. Besides his practical activity, while he was also active continuing his studies at the St. George’s Hospital, he commenced his now famous research on the central nervous system. These investigations were carried out in the period from 1851 to 1868, while Clarke was engaged in general practice. In 1854 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, which awarded him a gold medal in 1864. Three years later he was made Honorary Fellow of the The King and Queen’s College of Physicians, Ireland.

Clarke established the presence of the nucleus dorsalis, called by him the "posterior vesicular columns", and described the nucleus intermediolateralis. He was the first to distinguish the lateral from the medial cuneate nucleus. Today, however, the lateral cuneate nucleus is named after Constantin von Monakow (1853-1930) because it was he who traced its fibres to the cerebellum. He also introduced the method of mounting cleared sections in balsam, a major advance in histological technique.

In 1869 he obtained an additional medical degree from St. Andrews, and became a Member of the Royal College of Physicians of London. 1871 Clarke left general practice and assumed his most important position, at the National Hospital for the Paralysed and the Epileptic, now the National Hospital for Neurological disease, Queen's Square. Here he was to remain until the end of his life and had ample opportunities to conduct research:

Most of his numerous works were published in in the Philosophical Transactions (1851, 53, 58, 59, 60, 65, 68), in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (1857, 61), the Microscopical Journal, British and Foreign Medical Review (1864) and others. His earlier works concern the anatomy and the physiology of the medulla oblongata and the spinal marrow as well as the brain. His discovery of the Clark's column, also designated nucleus dorsalis, was done in this period. His later research is more concerned with pathological studies in his spesial field. he also published on tetanus, diabetes, paraplegias og muscular atophy.

Clarke was described as a man of the highest character, "with s singleness of purpose, of noble independence, honest and just, conscientious and intellectually keen, but with a singularly retiring and reserved disposition. He never acquired a large practice and is reputed not to have been well off financially.


  • Researches into the structure of the spinal cord.
    Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1851, 141: 607-621.
    With Clarke's columns and his method of mounting cleared sections in balsam.
  • On a case of muscular atrophy, with disease of the spinal cord and medulla oblongata.
    Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, 1867, 50: 489-496.
    First important account of syringomyelia. Obituaries:
    Medical Times and Gazette, London, 1880, I: 138.
    Lancet, London, 1880, I: 189.

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