Biography of Thomas Wharton
Thomas Wharton was the son of John Wharton and Elizabeth Hodson. He studied at Pembroke College, Cambridge, Trinity College, Oxford, and at Bolton, Lancashire. A supporter of the republican cause, Wharton obtained his M.D. at Oxford on May 7, 1647, after the city had surrendered to Cromwell’s army. Thereafter he had a medical practice in London, where he worked with John Bathurst, Oliver Cromwell’s physician and was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians on December 23, 1650. Wharton served as one of its censors six times between 1658 and 1673 and gave the Goulstonian lectures in January 1654. He was very successful and from 1649 was associated with St. Thomas’s Hospital, where he was appointed physician on November 20, 1657.
In 1656 he published, at his own expense, his Latin treatise Adenographia, “a description of the glands of the entire body,” which he dedicated to the College of Physicians.
Adenographia gave the first thorough account of the glands of the human body, which Wharton classified as excretory, reductive, and nutrient. He differentiated the viscera from the glands and explained their relationship, describing the spleen and pancreas.
Wharton discovered the duct of the submandibular salivary gland and the jelly of the umbilical cord, both of which are named for him; he also provided the first adequate account of the thyroid and gave it that name. He explained the role of saliva in mastication and digestion but considered that the function of certain glands, such as the adrenals and the thyroid, was to restore to the veins certain humors that were not useful to the nerves, and that one function of the thyroid was ”to fill the neck and make it shapely”. Much of Wharton’s research was performed on animals: he mentions dissection of calves, and Izaak Walton published his description of an anglerfish (Lophius).
Wharton’s son Thomas II became a clergyman, but both his grandson George and great-grandson Thomas III, became prominent London physicians.
We thank Dr. C. R. Sundaresan for information submitted.
- Adenographia: sive glandularum totius corporis descriptio.
Londini, typ. J. G. Impens. Authoris, 1656; reprinted in Amsterdam, 1659; Nijmegen, 1664; Wessel 1671; Leiden, 1679; Geneva 1685; Düsseldorf, 1730. Contains descriptions of “Wharton’s duct” on 128-137 and of “Wharton’s jelly” on 243-244.
In the preface to Adenographia he thanked Cromwell’s physician, John French, and his surgeon, Thomas Trapham (died 1683), for their help in his research.
- Joseph Frank Payne (1840-1910):
On Some Old Physicians of St. Thomas’s Hospital.
St. Thomas’s Hospital Reports, London, 1897; n.s. 26: 8-15. With portrait.
- Bertha Porter:
In Dictionary of National Biography. With references to sources and earlier studies.
- Izaak Walton (1593-1983):
The Compleat Angler.
1653. Chapter 19 describes Wharton as “a man of great learning and experience and of equal freedom to communicate it.”
- Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680):
Spicilegia bina ex vasis lymphaticis. Amsterdam, 1661.
Part 2, chapter 5, praises Wharton’s discoveries and “incomparable accuracy.”
- Girolamo Barbato:
Dissertatio elegantissima de sanguine et ejus sero. Pavia and Frankfurt, 1667.
Barbato, discoverer of blood serum, here mentions Wharton’s work several times.
- Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738):
Method of Studying Physick.
London, 1719. With praise of Adenographia (page 228).
- Elias Ashmole:
Autobiographical and Historical Notes.
H. Josten, editor, 5 volumes; Oxford, 1966.
- Sir Humphry Davy Rolleston (1862-1944):
The Endocrine Glands With an Historical Review.
Oxford, 1936. Discusses Wharton’s accounts of the thyroid (p. 142) and the adrenals (p. 317).
- H. Speert:
The Jelly of the Umbilical Cord.
Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1956, 8 (3): 380-382. Translates and comments on Wharton’s description.
- K. F. Russell:
Melbourne, 1963. Nos. 854-859 records the editions of Adenographia.