Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Sir Anthony Carlisle (NZ364227)

Old Stillington – the original village, not the nineteenth century creation which jumps out at you from the map of today – lies a mile to the south-west of the modern affair on a quiet back road. Its simple layout has scarcely changed since the time of Anthony Carlisle’s birth there way back in 1768 – a young lad who would move onto the world stage during the course of his lifetime, yet is barely remembered today.

The son of Thomas Carlisle by his first wife (identity unknown), Anthony was apprenticed to medical practitioners in York and Durham, before completing his studies in London and being appointed Surgeon at Westminster Hospital in 1793. He remained there until his death in 1840.

But in the days when men of science dabbled in several disciplines, Carlisle’s mind often wandered. During one such ‘distraction’ he made the not insignificant discovery of the process of electrolysis with chemist William Nicholson in 1800 – this being the process of driving chemical reactions by passing electricity through a liquid substance*. In this case, it was the passing of a current through water, thus decomposing it into its basic elements of oxygen and hydrogen. Just as importantly (for him, at least) he got himself married in 1800, too, to one Martha Symmons.

Though he never followed through with his newly-created science, many others did to stunning effect. Carlisle’s contribution was acknowledged, though, when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1804 (and served as Professor of Anatomy of the Society during 1808-1824).

From 1815 he began a long association with the (Royal) College of Surgeons, serving as president in 1828 and 1839. He lectured widely and prominently**, and was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to King George IV(1820–1830) – and must therefore have known, quite intimately, the sufferings of the monarch’s father, ‘Mad’ King George III, prior to the man’s death in 1820.

Carlisle was knighted in 1821, and died, after a long and successful career, in London in 1840. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

* & ** Because of his association with electrochemistry, Carlisle has been labelled ‘The Real Mr Frankenstein’ (see here, and see also here – and scroll down), and his lectures were often especially graphic – and very popular! He may even be the author behind the 1797 gothic horror classic The Horrors of Oakendale Abbey, which tells of resurrected men and body-snatchers.

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