Graphical version

Royal College of Physicians

CLARK, Sir James (1788-1870)


Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-CLARJ

Held at: Royal College of Physicians

Title: CLARK, Sir James (1788-1870)

Date(s): 1847-1868

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 2 volumes (88 pages and 182 pages)

Name of creator(s): Clark | Sir | James | 1788-1870 | 1st Baronet | physician


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sir James Clark was born on 14 December 1788, in Cullen, Banffshire. He was educated first at the parish school in Fordyce, and then at Aberdeen University where he graduated MA. It was his initial intention to pursue a career in law but he found he had a preference for medicine. He went to Edinburgh to study, and in 1809 became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Immediately he entered the medical service of the Navy. He served at Haslar Hospital until July 1810, when he was appointed as assistant surgeon aboard HMS Thistle. The 'Thistle' was wrecked off the coast of New Jersey. Clark returned to England, was promoted to surgeon, and joined the HMS Collobree, which was also wrecked. He served on two more vessels until the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, and was then placed on half pay. During his time at sea he had sailed to Canada, North America and the West Indies. He returned to Edinburgh to continue his studies at the University, graduating MD in 1817.

In 1818 Clark took a phthisical patient to the south of France and to Switzerland, making observations on the effects of the climate upon phthisis (pulmonary consumption). He collected meteorological and other data with a view to studying their influences on that and other diseases. In 1819 he settled in Rome, the resort frequented by many of the higher echelons of English society, where he built up a practice and a steadily increasing reputation over the next seven years. One of his patients was the poet John Keats, who was far advanced in his suffering from phthisis, and died in Rome in 1821. Whilst there Clark had published his Medical Notes on Climate, Diseases, Hospitals, and Medical Schools in France, Italy, and Switzerland, comprising an Inquiry into the Effects of a Residence in the South of Europe in Cases of Pulmonary Consumption (1822). During the summers he visited various European centers and acquainted himself further with the English aristocracy. In particular he visited the mineral springs and universities of Germany. On such a visit to Carlsbad he met Prince Leopold, later to become King of the Belgians, who was greatly interested in Clark's examinations of the waters. When Clark returned to England the Prince appointed him his physician.

Clark returned to London in 1826, and was admitted a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. In 1820, on a visit to London from Rome, he had been admitted an Extra-Licentiate. He was appointed physician to St George's Infirmary, a small dispensary. His progress in London was slow but steady. His practice gradually built up, whilst he continued his research into the climate and phthisis. In 1829 appeared his 'best and most important work' (Munk's Roll, vol. III, p.224), The Influence of Climate in the Prevention and Cure of Chronic Diseases, more particularly of the Chest and Digestive Organs (1829). In it he gave a clearer, more correct, view of the powers of climate and of mineral waters in the treatment of disease, than had before then existed. Accordingly this work established Clark's reputation in London, with the public and with members of his profession. He employed the use of mineral waters in the treatment of disease in his practice. Clark became both famous and popular for the care he took in his prescriptions, masking the nauseous taste of the drugs for his patients.

In 1834 he obtained, via recommendation by the King of the Belgians, the appointment of physician to the Duchess of Kent. The appointment involved the medical care of Princess Victoria. Accordingly, this led to a large increase in his business and reputation. Upon Queen Victoria's accession to the throne in 1837, Clark was appointed the Queen's physician in ordinary, and was created baronet.

Unfortunately his prosperity and success were undermined by the case of Lady Flora Hastings. In 1839 Clark was called upon to express his opinion on her condition, when the growth of a fatal abdominal tumour led to suspicion that she was pregnant. Clark's erroneous opinion, possibly owing to his relative inexperience of the diseases of women due to his history as a naval surgeon, appeared to give support to the slander that was spread by others. He subsequently became unpopular with the public and lost many of his patients. It took years for the effects of the case to dissipate, but eventually it was widely understood that he had been wrongly blamed. Indeed it seems that if Clark's advice had been followed, Lady Flora's name would have been cleared. In the meantime, despite his professional mistake, he continued to be trusted at court. Upon the Queen's marriage in 1840 Clark was also appointed physician to the Prince Consort, Prince Albert, who also held him in high esteem. He became the person to whom all queries concerning medical matters and polity were addressed. It is stated that Clark 'was always ready with advice... and wise, carefully-considered counsel' (ibid, p.226). He also served on several Royal Commissions.

Outside of his role at court, Clark was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1832. He served on the Senate of the University of London, 1838-65. Indeed it is said that to him the medical section of the University owes its shape and usefulness (ibid). He also played an influential role in the establishing of the Royal College of Chemistry, in 1845. Clark also served on the General Medical Council, 1858-60.

Clark retired in 1860, giving up his practice at Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, where he had lived since 1841, and his duties as physician to the monarch. He moved to Bagshot Park, Surrey, which was lent to him by Queen Victoria for his life. He had married Barbara Stephen in September 1820, and they had had a son in July 1821. His wife, known to Clark as Minnie, died in 1862. Clark was 81 when he died at Bagshot Park on 29 June 1870. He was buried at Kensal Green on 4 July 1870.

Lettera al. Prof. Tommasini intorno alle sue Osservationi sulla Scuola Medico-clinica di Edinburgo (Rome, 1822)
Medical Notes on Climate, Diseases, Hospitals, and Medical Schools in France, Italy, and Switzerland, comprising an Inquiry into the effects of a residence in the South of Europe in cases of Pulmonary Consumption (London, 1822)
The Influence of Climate in the Prevention and Cure of Chronic Diseases, more particularly of the Chest and Digestive Organs (London, 1829)
Treatise on Pulmonary Consumption comprehending an Inquiry into the Causes, Nature, Prevention, and Treatment of Tuberculous and Scrofulous Diseases in General (London, 1835)
Remarks on Medical Reform (London, 1842)
Memoir of John Conolly, MD, comprising a Sketch of the Treatment of the Insane in Europe and America (London, 1869)


Scope and content/abstract:

Two journals of Sir James Clark, 1847-68, including notes on Clark's travel with the Royal family to Scotland and Ireland.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist.

Physical characteristics:

Finding aids:


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Purchased from Sotheby's, July 1966


Existence and location of originals:

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

There are a number of Clark's letters in the College's autographed letters collection (ALS). There are references to Clark in the diaries and correspondence of Sir Edward Henry Sieveking (1816-1904), physician in ordinary to the Prince of Wales, 1863-73 (MS718-719; MS728/1)), Clark wrote a testimonial to William Baly (1814-1861), 1854 (MSBALYW/157) and is referred to in the correspondence of Baly and his family, 1859-c.1860 (MSBALY/715/85, 95-98, 334);

Casebook belonging to Clark, 1807-8, is held at the Royal College of Surgeons of England; Clark's correspondence with Sir Edwin Chadwick, 1840-50, is held at London University: University College London, Manuscripts Room; his correspondence with Andrew Combe, 1841-47, is held at the National Archives of Scotland; his correspondence with George Combe, 1838-58, and with Leonard Schmitz, 1859, are held at the National Library of Scotland Manuscripts Division; his correspondence with Thomas Longmore and Sir James Gibson, 1863-70, and his letters mainly to Thomas Hodgkin, 1824-49, are held at the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine; his letters to James Forbes, 1853-59, are held at St Andrews University Library; his correspondence with Sidney Herbert is held at Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office; his correspondence with Florence Nightingale, 1857-69, and with Sir Robert Peel, 1843-46, are held at the British Library, Manuscripts Collections; and his letters to Queen Victoria and her children, 1839-1900, form a private collection (enquiries to the National Register of Archives of Scotland).

Publication note:



Archivist's note: Sources: Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 1801-1825, William Munk (London, 1878) [Munk's Roll, vol. III, pp.222-26]; Dictionary of National Biography, vol. X, Leslie Stephen (ed.) (London, 1887) [DNB, vol. X, pp.401-2]; Beloved Sir James, The Life of Sir James Clark, Bart, Physician to Queen Victoria, 1788-1870, George Whitfield (1982); 'Keat's Doctor in Rome', Lord Brock, Keats-Shelley Memorial Bulletin, no. 27, 1976; Further accounts of Clark's life can be found in Obituaries of Fellows of the Royal Society; Historical Manuscripts Commission On-Line National Register of Archives.
Compiled and modified by Cathy Thornton (March 2001). Modified by Katharine Williams (April 2003)

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: Compiled 1 March 2001; Modified 8 March 2001; Modified 11 April 2003

Diaries | Nonfiction | Prose | Literary forms and genres | Literature
Royal household | Public administration | Government
Royal physicians | Physicians | Medical personnel | Medical profession | Medical sciences
Primary documents

Personal names
Clark | Sir | James | 1788-1870 | 1st Baronet | physician

Corporate names

Ireland | Western Europe | Europe
London | England | UK | Western Europe | Europe
Scotland | UK | Western Europe | Europe