John James Drysdale (1816-1890)John James Drysdale M.D. (29 November 1815 – 20 August 1892), was an eminent British homeopathic physician who worked for much of his career in Liverpool. Drysdale founded the Liverpool Free Homeopathic Dispensary in 1841. He remained associated with this institution when it became the Liverpool Hahnemann Homeopathic Hospital, and continued to do so until the end of his life. Drysdale was also a Member of the Management Committee at the North of England Southport Children’s Sanatorium.

In 1857, J. J. Drysdale was a founder member and President of the Liverpool Homoeopathic Medico-Chirurgical Society, where his colleagues included James P. Gelston, John William Hayward, John Murray Moore, Raphael Roche, Benjamin Simmons, Adrian Stokes, and Thomas Henry Willans. The name was later changed to the Liverpool Homeopathic Society and in 1885 it became the first regional branch of the British Homeopathic Society. He was also a founder member of the Hahnemann Publishing Society and member of The Association for the Protection of Homeopathic Practitioners and Students.

From 1846 to 1884, Drysdale was the co-editor of the British Journal of Homeopathy. He was also President of the Literary & Philosophical Society of Liverpool during 1877-8, and delivered a paper entitled “Is Scientific Materialialism Compatible with Dogmatic Theology?

Drysdale and his Liverpool homeopathic colleague Dr. John William Hayward were both part of the Domestic Sanitation Movement, and collaborated on a number of texts that resulted in the design and construction of their private homes based on the principles outlined in their books.

John James Drysdale was born in Edinburgh in 1815, the son of Edinburgh city treasurer, Sir William Drysdale (1781 – 1843) and his second wife, Jane Cochrane (d. 1818), daughter of Edinburgh physician and abolitionist, Thomas Cochrane M.D.

Drysdale studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where he was a student of James Young Simpson, alongside Thomas Skinner. He also knew William Henderson and fellow student and life-long friend, Robert Walker. Drysdale graduated M.D. in 1838.

After graduation, Drysdale and his Edinburgh friend, John Rutherfurd Russell, spent time at the homeopathic dispensary in Leipzig, and at the Gumpendorf homeopathic hospital in Vienna, where they studied under Friedrich Wilhelm Karl Fleischman. While in Vienna they met Robert Ellis Dudgeon, who at the time had not yet converted to homeopathy. The three remained in contact and later co-edited the British Journal of Homeopathy from 1846 to 1884.

Another Edinburgh friend who Drysdale and Russell met up with in Vienna was Canadian orthodox physician Arthur Fisher. Intrigued by their interest in homeopathy, Fisher accompanied them to observe the treatment of pneumonia cases at the Gumpendorf. The astonishing curative results helped convince Fisher to convert and he returned to Montreal as a confirmed homeopath.

In 1841, Drysdale settled in Liverpool where he set up in practice as an homeopathic physician. In November that year, Drysdale established the Liverpool Homeopathic Dispensary, initially on South Frederick Street, later at 14 Benson Street.

The Liverpool Homeopathic Dispensary had been a Free Medical Charity from at least 1842 and consisted of the following dispensaries. The South End Homeopathic Dispensary was established in 1841 at 41 Frederick Street by Dr Drysdale, later moving to a house in Benson Street, then to 2 Harford Street. Later, the Dispensary moved to a building in Hardman Street, erected by public subscription in 1860, and transferred to Hope Street when the Hahnemann Hospital was built in 1887.

Drysdale’s colleagues at the Dispensary included Matthew James Chapman, who joined him as a partner towards the end of 1841, James John Patterson Gelston, Richard Taylor Geoghegan, Henry Cresswell, Theodore D’Orville-Partridge, William Gwynn, John William Hayward, John Murray Moore, Joseph Hall-Platt, Raphael Roche, Adrian Stokes, Thomas Henry Willans, and William Wright.

In August 1848, Drysdale married Irish-born Mary Mortimer Boyd (1831 – 1864), only daughter of Reverend Hannyington Boyd, Rector of Dromara and Prebendary of Dromore. Their wedding was conducted by Mary’s father in Dromara Church. They had five children: Amy Constance (1850 – 1902), Mary (b. 1851), Herbert Mortimer (1852 – 1878), homeopath Dr. Alfred Edgar Drysdale (1854 – 4 February 1889), and Eva Mary Alice (1857 – 1935).

The Drysdales were friends of author Catherine Crowe and were familiar with her extended social circle, which included homeopath and publisher John Chapman, editor of the Westminster Review. Other members of this circle included Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin. Darwin was acquainted with Drysdale’s younger brother, the sex reformer George Drysdale (1824 – 1904), and was also close to his stepmother, Lady Elizabeth Drysdale (née Pew, 1788 – 1887). Elizabeth Drysdale was the third wife of Sir William Drysdale (1781 – 1847) and mother of Mary Margaret Drysdale (1823 – 1891), who was married to hydropathic specialist Edward Wickstead Lane. In the late 1850s, Charles Darwin visited Lane’s hydropathic establishment at Moor Park. In a letter from 1857, Darwin described Lady Drysdale, her daughter Mary and son-in-law Lane, as “… some of the nicest people I have ever met.”

John James Drysdale was a frequent visitor at Moor Park, and “made his brother in law’s home his own.” He often came with his younger brother, the engineer, physician, and public health advocate, Charles Robert Drysdale. It is not clear whether Darwin knew J. J. Drysdale personally, but he was aware of Drysdale’s scientific collaboration in natural history with Wesleyan minister and scientist William Henry Dallinger (1839 – 1909).

John James Drysdale was a mentor to many notable homeopaths, including James Compton Burnett and John Henry Clarke.

In 1871, Drysdale was one of the physicians, alongside Henry Thomas, who attended Chester homeopathic colleague Dr. John Edward Norton in his final illness.

Drysdale was also an active contributor to the homeopathic literature, and a prover of homeopathic remedies. He was the first homeopath to propose the remedy Kali bichromicum in 1846, and Pyrogen in 1880. He was also recorded as working with Tuberculinum ten years before Robert Koch.

In November 1882, Drysdale delivered a paper to the Liverpool Homeopathic Society, “The Chief Task of Homeopathy is the Perfecting of the Materia Medica.”

Drysdale also participated in many of the broader scientific debates of the day:

John James Drysdale in his Germ Theories of Infectious Disease in 1878, identified at least ten types of ‘infectious miasms’: ‘chemical ferments’, ‘organised ferments’, morphologically specific parasites, physiologically specific parasites, saprophytes, animal graft-germs, vegetable graft-germs and chemical septic products (liquid or gaseous).

Richard Hughes wrote, in A Manual of Pharmacodynamics:

“Dr. Drysdale also has laid much stress on what he calls “specificity of seat,” connecting it with the special irritability displayed by the various parts for their natural stimuli and for causes of disease, and extending it to the minutest localities or nerve-branches which have anything independent and special about them.”

Drysdale and his Liverpool homeopathic colleague Dr. John William Hayward were active in the Domestic Sanitation Movement. Hayward also went on to contribute to the design of the Liverpool Hahnemann Homeopathic Hospital, the first hospital in the country to contain hydraulic lifts and an innovative heating and ventilation system. They explained that as doctors, they saw the inside of many homes, and they criticised architects for placing their emphasis on aesthetics and not on health.

Drysdale built a home, Sandbourne House, in 1860, according to the principles later outlined in their 1872 book Health and Comfort in House Building. Hayward and Drysdale regarded physicians as primary agents for change, having unrivalled access to the homes of the population where they were able to identify causes of ill health in the construction and outfitting of buildings. Hayward and Drysdale explained that healthy houses were to be likened to healthy bodies and healthy living, indeed, they were “overlapping systems.” Their house designs were presented to the Architectural Society in Liverpool, claiming that living in such houses dramatically improved the health of the occupants.

Architect Peter Ellis worked with Drysdale in the design of the Hardman Street Homeopathic Dispensary. According to Robert Ainsworth and Graham Jones in their book In the Footsteps of Peter Ellis: Architect of Oriel Chambers and 16 Cook Street, Liverpool: “.. Peter Ellis was a keen supporter of homeopathic medicine and his death certificate was signed by John James Drysdale.”

John James Drysdale was a regular attendee at the annual meetings of the British Homeopathic Society and served as conference President in Manchester in 1853 and Birmingham in 1875. At the International Homeopathic Convention held in London in 1881, Drysdale was unanimously elected the UK representative on the list of honorary Vice Presidents.

One of Drysdale’s many notable patients was wealthy Liverpool cotton merchant James Maybrick, whose American wife, Florence, was imprisoned for fifteen years for allegedly poisoning him with arsenic. Drysdale gave evidence for the defence at Florence Maybrick‘s trial, observing that James Maybrick had consulted him from November 1888 to 7 March 1889. Intriguingly, the discovery of a diary in 1992 supposedly belonging to Maybrick identified him as one of the leading candidates to have been the Victorian serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Historian William D. Rubinstein conducted a thorough examination of the evidence, concluding that “I am personally more than 90 per cent convinced that James Maybrick was Jack the Ripper.” Remarkably, the cessation of the Ripper’s murderous rampage in the East End of London may very well have been a result of Drysdale’s homeopathic ministrations:

Why the Ripper stopped killing after November 9th, 1888, has always been one of the central mysteries of the Ripper question. With James Maybrick there is a good explanation. On November 19th, Maybrick changed doctors, consulting Dr. J. Drysdale, who treated him with homeopathic remedies. Drysdale treated James Maybrick five more times before his death, apparently with a gradual improvement….It is clear from the diary that James Maybrick slowly but surely lost interest in further killings, feeling considerable remorse just before his death.

In 1890, after almost half a century of service as a physician, Drysdale reluctantly acknowledged his failing health and engaged Dr. John William Ellis (1857 – 1916), formerly of the Liverpool Children’s Hospital and physician at the Homeopathic Dispensary, as partner in his private practice.

During his final illness, Drysdale was attended by Dr. Thomas Simpson of Waterloo, in consultation with Dr.’s Hayward and Ellis. John James Drysdale died at his home, Beech Lawn, Waterloo near Liverpool, on Saturday 20th August, 1892, and was laid to rest at Smithdown Road Cemetery, Toxteth, Liverpool.


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Of Interest:

Alfred Edgar Drysdale M.B. (1854 – 1889), son of John James Drysdale, died in Cannes at the early age of 34. Alfred E. Drysdale lived and practiced as a homeopath in Cannes. Alfred Drysdale proved Pyrogen in 1875. Alfred E. Drysdale translated History of Homoeopathy: Its Origin, Its Conflicts by Wilhelm Ameke.

George Robert Drysdale (1824 – 1904), younger  brother of Charles Robert Drysdale and John James Drysdale, who also became a doctor, and was the Founder of the Malthusian League. In 1854, George Drysdale wrote The Elements of Social Science. The book was controversial in its day, discussing in a frank and unsensational manner the various methods of contraception known to British and European doctors, with a view to teaching the poor how to limit their families.

Charles Robert Drysdale (1826 – 1907) was the younger brother of John James Drysdale. He was a physician with homeopathic sympathies who worked at the Farringdon Dispensary and was the Senior Physician at the Metropolitan Free Hospital in London and a Founder and President of the Malthusian League, the first organization in England dedicated to advocating the practice of birth control.

Charles Vickery Drysdale (1874 – 1961) was the son of Charles Robert Drysdale and his wife Alice Vickery. He also wrote many books, on Thomas Malthus and other subjects. Charles Vickery Drysdale took over as Malthusian League Secretary on his father’s death, and edited the Journal until 1921. He expanded the Malthusian League’s activities to include publishing and promoting contraception, and he opened birth control clinics.