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Royal College of Physicians

SIBSON, Francis (1814-1876)


Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-SIBSF

Held at: Royal College of Physicians

Title: SIBSON, Francis (1814-1876)

Date(s): c.1840-c.1860

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 8 map draws and 1 archive box containing c.380 drawings

Name of creator(s): Sibson | Francis | 1814-1876 | physician


Administrative/Biographical history:

Francis Sibson was born on 21 May 1814 at Cross Canonby, Cumberland (now Cumbria). He spent most of his childhood in Edinburgh, after his parents moved there in 1819. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to John Lizars, surgeon and anatomist. He received his diploma from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (LRCS) in 1831. He treated cholera patients during the 1831-32 epidemic, at Leith, Newhaven and Edinburgh. He then entered general practice for a short time at Cockermouth, Cumberland, before resuming his medical studies at Guy's and St Thomas's Hospitals in London. As part of his studies he spent some time, in 1833, in the pathology department of Guy's, where he became a friend and pupil of the curator Thomas Hodgkin, physician and philanthropist. Sibson qualified licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries (LSA) in 1835, and became resident surgeon and apothecary to the Nottingham General Hospital.

He published a number of papers on the physiology and pathology of respiration, which attracted attention to him and increased his reputation. His first paper, `A Flexible Stethoscope', was published in the Medical Gazette (1840). In 1843 he joined the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association (later the British Medical Association). In 1848 he left his position at Nottingham General Hospital and returned to London. He graduated MB and MD from London in the same year, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1849. It was also in 1849 that he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians. Sibson took a house in Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, and built up a successful private practice. During the winter of 1849-50 he gave a course of demonstrations on visceral anatomy. He also lectured on medicine at Lane's School, which adjoined St George's Hospital.

Upon the foundation of St Mary's Hospital in 1851 he was appointed one of its first physicians. Sibson subsequently lectured on medicine at the hospital's medical school. He delivered the Goulstonian Lectures at the Royal College of Physicians in 1854, where he had been elected a fellow the previous year. He authored the illustrated Medical Anatomy, which he published in sections (1855-69). This highly merited work was the result of enormous labour and research. He also contributed chapters on pericarditis and endocarditis to Sir John Russell Reynolds' System of Medicine (1866-79).

Sibson's main interest was in trying to envisage the viscera both in a healthy and diseased state. His idea of 'medical anatomy' was to teach the topographical anatomy of the healthy viscera on the dead body, in order that the pathology student was always familiar with the position and movement of the organs. It has been said that he was `a man of continuous industry, and his numerous papers contain elaborate series of observations' (DNB, 1897, p.187).

Sibson helped to carry into effect the new constitution of the British Medical Association (BMA) in 1856, and was an active member until his death. In 1861, and from 1864-66, he was chosen by the Metropolitan Counties Branch as a member of the General Council of the BMA. In 1865 Sibson was elected to the senate of London University, in which he opposed the admission of women to degrees. He also held the position of examiner in medicine. From 1866-69 Sibson served as president of the BMA's Council and on retirement from this office became vice-president of the Association for life. He was awarded the honorary degrees of MD by Dublin University in 1867, and LLD by Durham University in 1870.

In 1870 he delivered the Croonian Lectures at the Royal College of Physicians. The following year he retired from the active staff of St Mary's and became consulting physician. In 1873 at the BMA's annual meeting he presided over the Section of Medicine. The following year he proposed that a portion of the Association's funds be available for scientific research. In 1874 he delivered the College's Lumleian Lectures and held the office of censor, in the same year, and then curator of the museum. His last contribution to medical literature was his Harveian Lectures on Bright's Disease in relation to the heart and the arteries, in 1875.

Sibson married Sarah Mary Ouvry in 1858. He was a keen Alpine climber and died suddenly whilst on holiday at Geneva, on 7 September 1876. His Collected Works (1881) were posthumously published, by William Miller Ord.

Medical Anatomy, or, Illustrations of the Relevant Position and Movements of the Internal Organs (London, 1869)
The Nomenclature of Diseases, drawn up by a Joint Committee appointed by the Royal College of Physicians, Francis Sibson (ed.) (London, 1869)
Collected Works of Francis Sibson, W.M. Ord (ed.) (London, 1881)


Scope and content/abstract:

Sibson's anatomical drawings, c.1840-c.1860, both pathological and clinical, watercolours and pen and ink sketches, many are labelled and annotated. Many were used to illustrate his Medical Anatomy, or, Illustrations of the Relevant Position and Movements of the Internal Organs (1869) and various medical papers.


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:

Donated to the Royal College of Physicians by Mrs Sarah Mary Sibson, Sibson's widow, on 14 July 1877


Existence and location of originals:

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

There is material relating to Sibson held amongst the College papers in the archives, including a letter to Sibson from George Graham, Registrar General, refusing Sibson's recommendation of the gratuitous issue of the College's Nomenclature of Diseases to all medical practitioners, 1869 (MS2141/27-27a); Letter from James Cossar Ewart accompanying the donation of Sibson's preparations to the College Museum, 1877 (MS2001/30); Correspondence about donation of Sibson's papers to the College, between Sir Henry Alfred Pitman, Sir James Risdon Bennett, and Sarah Mary Sibson, Sibson's widow, 1877 (MS2002/3-5), and letters to the College from Sibson's widow about Sibson's coat of arms, 1887, amongst correspondence about the College's armorial window (MS1094/89-90). There is also a letter of Sibson's amongst the College's autographed letters collection (ALS).

Publication note:

Many of the drawings are included in the publication Medical Anatomy, or, Illustrations of the Relevant Position and Movements of the Internal Organs, Francis Sibson (London, 1869)



Archivist's note: Sources: Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 1826-1925, compiled by G.H. Brown (London, 1955) [Munk's Roll, 1955, pp.72-73]; Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. LII, Sidney Lee (ed) (London, 1897) [DNB, 1897, pp.186-87]; `Obituary - Francis Sibson', The Medical Times and Gazette, Vol. II for 1876 (London, 1876), p.450; `Obituary - Francis Sibson', British Medical Journal, Vol II 1876 (London, 1876), pp.446-48; The Royal College of Physicians and its Collections: An Illustrated History, Geoffrey Davenport, Ian McDonald, & Caroline Moss-Gibbons (eds.) (London, 2001).
Compiled by Katharine Williams

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 July 2003; Modified September 2003

Anatomy | Biology
Clinical medicine | Medical sciences
Drawings | Visual materials

Personal names
Sibson | Francis | 1814-1876 | anatomist

Corporate names
Royal College of Physicians of London