- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Joseph Sampson Gamgee

Born 1828
Died 1886

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English physician, born April 17, 1828, Livorno, Italy; died September 18, 1886.

Biography of Joseph Sampson Gamgee

Joseph Sampson Gamgee was the son of a British veterinary surgeon from Edinburgh who practised in Livorno (Leghorn), Italy. Following education on the continent he became interested in veterinary surgery and wrote several papers, the first when he was 16. His topics were the calcified testicle of a ram and ossified enchondroma of the testicle of a stallion. He studied veterinary medicine from 1846, qualifying in 1849, and then began medical studies at University College Hospital in London. For a period he shared lodgings with Joseph Lister (1827-1912) – later Baron Lister of Lyme Regis – the founder of antiseptic surgery. While he studied medicine, Gamgee practised as a veterinary. He became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1854, subsequently a Fellow of the College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. He worked at the Royal Free Hospital.

Being multi-lingual, Gamgee travelled widely throughout Europe for further studies in Paris, Brussels, Vienna, Florence and Pavia. In Paris he became a friend of Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) and worked at the University of Paris. Gamgee worked for a period as a surgeon at University College Hospital, and then tended the wounded from the Crimean War (1853-1856) at the Anglo-Italian Hospital in Malta.

Most of Gamgee's professional life was spent in Birmingham. He came there in 1857 and was elected to the medical staff of The Queen’s Hospital, founded in 1841. Here he performed a successful amputation of a man's leg at the hip joint. The man, a former coal miner, had an enormous growth on the femur with a weight of more than two thirds the weight of the man himself.

Gamgee was interested in all hospital matters and is remembered for his great efforts to improve hospital conditions, and occasioned the building of a new hospital wing. Due to ailing health he resigned his position at Queen's Hospital in 1881, when he was appointed consultant surgeon. Gamgee had a great knowledge of literature and was a busy and elegant writer as well as an outstanding speaker -and hard-working surgeon.

It has been said that John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) used the surgeon's name for Sam Gamgee, Frodo Baggin's faithful companion in The Lord of the Rings. However, this is not the case, according to one of Gamgee's descendants:

    "I had a great uncle Sam who wrote to Tolkien about this. Tolkien replied and said he was sorry, the name wasn't based on anyone, he didn't even know Gamgee was a real surname!" Ela Gamgee
In Birmingham, Gamgee is the local name for cotton wool.

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