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Thomas Bateman

Born 1778
Died 1821

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English dermatologist, born April 29, 1778, Whitby, Yorkshire; died April 9, 1821, Whitby, Yorkshire.

Biography of Thomas Bateman

Thomas Bateman was born in Yorkshire, the only son of a busy surgeon, and early decided upon a medical career. He was educated at two private schools, one at Whitby the other at Thornton, before being apprenticed to an apothecary in Whitby for three years.

In 1797 he began his studies in London, at the Windmill Street School of Anatomy, founded by Dr William Hunter (1718-1783) the celebrated anatomist. There he attended the lectures of Matthew Baillie (1761-1823), morbid anatomist. Simultaneously he attended the medical practice of St George's Hospital.

In 1798 he went to Edinburgh in 1798 to study, receiving his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh in 1801 with a thesis on Haemorrhoea petecchialis, Haemorrhoea Petechialis. The same year he returned to London to settle in practice and complete his studies. He became a pupil of Dr Robert Willan (1757-1812), a pioneer in the diseases of the skin, at the Carey Street Public Dispensary. In 1804, due to Willan's influence, he was elected physician at the Dispensary and the same year also became physician at the Fever Institution (later the Fever Hospital).

In 1805 Bateman was admitted a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. Based on his experience at the Fever Institution, between 1804 and 1816, he wrote a series of reports on the diseases of London and the state of the weather. He contributed these papers to the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, which he had jointly established in 1805 with Andrew Duncan junior (1773-1832), of Edinburgh, and Henry Reeve, of Norwich. The reports contributed to the establishment of his reputation, bringing him to the notice of a wider audience. The papers were later collected in one volume and published as Reports on the Diseases of London (1819).

At the Dispensary, under the tutelage of Willan, Bateman began to pay particular attention to diseases of the skin. Willan had been the first to describe these diseases in `a positive scientific manner, without being swayed by theoretical and formulistic conceptions, and Bateman followed in his footsteps, extending and perfecting his methodology.

With Willan's retirement in 1811, Bateman became the principal authority in London on all affections of the skin. Consequently Bateman built up a large, profitable practice. Bateman produced his magnificent atlas "Delineations ..." which includes Willan's previously unpublished engravings. It is the first dermatological atlas.

Bateman and his famous teacher and collaborator worked so closely together that it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify correctly their individual scientific accomplishments. Robert Willan is considered the founder of modern dermatology. His classification scheme and nomenclature system for skin disease are still in use today. However, his greatest work, On Cutaneous Diseases (1808) remained unfinished at his death.

Bateman, who had early recognised the shortage of teaching on diseases of the skin, completed Willan's work under the title of "A Practical Synopsis of Cutaneous Diseases According to the Arrangement of Dr Willan ..." in 1813, and completed the series of watercolour drawings that Willan had begun. The book became extremely popular, went through many editions, and was translated into French, German, and Italian. Its fame reached Russia whereupon the Czar sent Bateman a diamond ring worth 100 Guineas for his excellent work, and requested that all of Bateman's future works should be sent to him.

Around 1815 Bateman's health began to deteriorate, he lost the sight in his right eye, and the vision in his left began to be impaired. Unfortunately the use of mercury in his treatment led to an attack of mercurial erethism, which almost cost him his life. Bateman gave a description of the symptoms from which he suffered in the ninth volume of the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions. He rested for several months before returning to work at the Fever Institution in April 1817, due to an outbreak of a severe epidemic of fever in London.

In 1818 ailing health forced him to retire both from his posts and his practice in the capital and retire to Yorkshire – on which occasion he was appointed Life Governor of the Dispensary, and also received other honours. He died at the age of 42.

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