Sue Young Histories

John Conolly 1794 – 1866

December 08, 2009

John Conolly 1794 – 1866John Conolly 1794 – 1866 MD Edinburgh 1821, was a British orthodox physician, Professor of the Practice of Medicine at University College, London, Editor of the British and Foreign Medical Review, and one of the founders of the the British Medical Association, who was the third Superintendent of the Hanwell Lunatic Asylum,

Under the guidance of John Conolly, the Hanwell Lunatic Asylum became world famous for being the first ‘large’ asylum to totally dispense with all mechanical restraints. (note Charles Augustus Tulk 1786 - 1849, a close colleague of  James John Garth Wilkinson, was Chairman of the Hanwell Asylum in the 1840s ref: The Swedenborg Society: a very short history by Richard Lines Company Secretary and past President of the Swedenborg Society.)

Homeopath John Rutherford Russell wrote a moving Obituary tribute to John Conolly (John James Drysdale, Robert Ellis Dudgeon, Richard Hughes, John Rutherfurd Russell, The British journal of homoeopathy, Obituary of John Conelly, Volume 24, (Maclachlan, Stewart, & Co., 1866). Pages 342-343) in which he praised John Conolly for his ‘unusual liberality’ towards homeopathy.

John Conolly was a friend of George Combe, John Forbes,

The other founders of the British Medical Association were John Forbes (one of the very few orthodox physicians who gave earnest consideration to homeopathy, despite vicious attacks from his colleagues for doing so), and Charles Hastings (who made vicious attacks on homeopath James Manby Gully),

John Rutherford Russell recounts that he was the homeopath of a mental patient who was placed under John Conolly’s care at Hanwell Lunatic Asylum. The family of the sick woman were keen advocates of homeopathy, and they asked John Conolly if John Rutherford Russell could treat her as she was not improving under orthodox medical care.

John Rutherford Russell asked John Conolly if he had any objection to his intervention, and John Conolly wrote:

From John James Drysdale, Robert Ellis Dudgeon, Richard Hughes, John Rutherfurd Russell, The British journal of homoeopathy, Obituary of John Conelly, Volume 24, (Maclachlan, Stewart, & Co., 1866). Pages 342-343. Hanwell Lawn House 9.2.1863: ‘My Dear Sir, I never object to anything that can by possibility be useful to any patient under my direction unless I think it sure to be mischievious; and in a case such as this the importance of what is done for the satisfaction of those dear to her cannot be overlooked.

‘Instead, therefore, of troubling the patient with a call tomorrow, I would propose that Dr. Russell should see her quietly, and, if it seems desirable, more than once, and that, aftrewards, I should have the pleasure of conferring with him anywhere and at any time that can be arranged.

‘I am sure that this will be the best plan to pursue.’

John Rutherford Russell explains that this plan was indeed put into effect, and the patient remained under the joint care of John Rutherford Russell and John Conolly until she recovered, much to the satisfaction of her family.

John Conolly graduated with an MD degree at University of Edinburgh in 1821. After practising at Lewes, Chichester and Stratford on Avon successively, he was appointed Professor of the Practice of Medicine at University College, London, in 1828. In 1830 he published a work on the Indications of Insanity, and soon afterwards settled at Warwick.

In 1832 in co-operation with Charles Hastings and John Forbes, he founded a small medical association with a view to raising the standard of provincial practice called the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association. His brother William Brice Conolly became the association’s ‘Widows and Orphans Benevolent Fund’ treasurer and secretary.In later years this grew in importance and membership, and finally became the British Medical Association.

Conolly and John Forbes went on to start a new publication in 1836: the British and Foreign Medical Review, or, A Quarterly Journal of Practical Medicine, for which they shared the editorship from 1836 to 1839.[ It was the first publication of its type, being aimed at sharing newly won medical knowledge with all its readers.

The British and Foreign Medical Review was read widely in Europe and America, and helped to promote modern methods of treatment and to enhance the reputation of British medicine. The BMA library still holds a complete set of its volumes.

In 1839 he was elected resident physician to the Middlesex County Asylum at Hanwell (now known as West London Mental Health NHS Trust’s St Bernard’s Hospital). In this capacity he made his name famous by carrying out in its entirety and on a large scale the principle of non-restraint in the treatment of the insane.

This principle had already been put into practice in two small asylums

  • William Tuke’s Retreat near York, and the Lincoln Asylum - but it was due to the energy of Conolly in sweeping away all mechanical restraint in the great metropolitan lunatic hospital, in the face of strong opposition, that the principle became diffused over the whole kingdom and accepted as fundamental.

Ironically perhaps for the ‘land of the free,’ many American doctors saw this doctrine as more of a ‘restraint’ upon their clinical judgment, so refused to introduce it.

In 1844 Conolly ceased to be resident physician at Hanwell, but he remained visiting physician until 1852.

On 21 July 1852 the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law was conferred on Conolly together with his two friends John Forbes and Charles Hastings.

He married Elizabeth Collins, by whom he had three children. Their only son, Edward Tennyson, was born whilst Conolly was working at Chichester in Sussex. Edward became a successful lawyer, having been called to the Bar on 30 January 1852. However, in 1865 he emigrated with his family to Picton, New Zealand. There he continued to practise law and became very active in politics. Following his father’s concerns for humane treatment of the incarcerated he introduced the teaching of trades to prisoners. He died in Auckland in 1908.

John Conolly’s elder daughter, Sophia Jane, married Thomas Harrington Tuke in 1852. Tuke ran a private Lunatic Asylum at Manor House in Chiswick, Middlesex. (This Tuke, it must be noted, is not related to the Tukes of the York Retreat).

Conolly’s youngest child, Ann, eventually married Henry Maudsley when she was thirty six, just two months before her father’s death.

Conolly died on 5 March 1866 at Hanwell, where in the later part of his life he had a private asylum called Lawn House. Henry Maudsley had by then taken over the running of Lawn House. Ann died on 9 February 1911 at the age of 81.

Of interest:

The (1st Middlesex) County Asylum at Hanwell, also known as Hanwell Insane Asylum, was built for the pauper insane and has evolved to become the West London Mental Health (NHS) Trust (WLMHT). The 2nd Middlesex was Colney Hatch Asylum, opened in 1851, and the 3rd was Banstead Asylum in Surrey, opened in 1877.

William Charles Ellis the first Superintendent of Hanwell Lunatic Asylum applied to Frederick Hervey Foster Quin for more information about homeopathy, and as a result, Frederick Hervey Foster Quin sent him his colleagues Guiseppe Belluomini, Harris F Dunsford, and Paul Francois Curie to assist him at Hanwell Lunatic Asylum (at William Charles Ellis’s invitation).

Homeopaths from America visited Hanwell Asylum, as the innovations of William Charles Ellis had already inspired other progressive facilities in America.

In 1865 John Gideon Millingen, Physician at Hanwell Lunatic Asylum spoke of homeopathy in glowing terms.


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