Bostock, John

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Bostock, John

(b. Liverpool, England, 1773; d. London, England, 6 August 1846)

medical chemistry.

The only child of Edinburgh graduate and Liverpool physician John Bostock the elder (d. 1774), John grew up amid the town’s active and prospering Protestant Dissenter community. Bostock enjoyed a good education, and in 1792 he attended Joseph Priestley’s cehmical lecture course at Hackney College. Further study with an apothecary and attendance at the Liverpool General Dispensary preceded his move to Ediburgh University in the autumn of 1794. Fellow medical students there included Alexandre Marcet, Thomas Thomson, and Thomas Young; and Bostock was elected a member, then a president, of the Medical Society. Granduating M.D. in 1798 with a thesis on the secretion of bile, he returned to Liverpool as a physician to the General Dispensary. Soon active in the town. Bostock played key roles in the formation of the Botanic Garden, the Fever Hospital, and the Philosophical and Literary Society, and he was also quickly launched on a career of prolific scientific publication.

For several years Bostock wrote nearly all the medical and scientific articles in the Monthly Review, as well as publishing a host of original papers in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, Nicholson’s Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts, and the Transactions of the London Medico-Chirugical Society. An early interest in physiology led to his Essay on Respiration (Liverpool, 1804). This was well received, a commission to write many medical articles for David Brewster’s Edinburgh Encyclopaedia being one result. Bostock’s most successful work was his three-volume Elementary System of Physiology (1824–1827), which enjoyed wide popularity and reached a fourth edition in 1844. He also wrote critical pamphlets on the new Edinburgh (Liverpool, 1807) and London (London, 1811) pharmacopoeias, a History … of Galvanism (London, 1818), a History of Medicine (London, 1835), and an incomplete translation of Pliny’s Natural History (London, 1828).

Bostock developed an extensive medical and chemical consulting practice; and in 1817, having made a secure fortune, he abandoned Liverpool medicine for London and the full-time pursuit of science in its social and administrative, as much as its laboratory, context. He soon succeeded his friend Marcet as chemical lecturer at Guy’s Hospital, and (with A. Aikin) he for two years edited the Annals of Philosophy, following Thomas Thomson’s move to Glasgow. His widening scientific activity is reflected in his work as secretary of the Geological Society (president, 1826), council member of the Royal Society (vice-president, 1832), and treasurer of the Medico-Chirurgical Society. He also served on the councils of the Linnean, Zoological, and Horticultural societies, and the Royal Society of Literature.

Bostock’s primary research interest was medical chemistry and he made valuable contributions to, inter alia, the study of body fluids and urinary components. He also gave the first complete description of hay fever. Equally interesting to the historian is the way that Bostock’s career typifies the scientific research and administrative opportunities available to the British medical man of the early nineteenth century. In this respect his life forms an instructive contrast to the activities of such less formally educated and more industrially oriented contemporary chemists as, say, Friedrich Accum and William Nicholson.


I. Original Works. Bostock’s separately published writings are Essay on Respiration (Liverpool, 1804); Remarks on the Reforms of the Pharmaceutical Nomenclature; and Particularly on That Adopted by the Edinburgh College (Liverpool, 1807); Remarks on the Nomenclature of the New London Pharmacopoeia (London, 1810); History… of Galvanism (London, 1818); Elementary System of Physiology, 3 vols. (London, 1824–1827; 3rd ed. 1 vol., London, 1876); and History of Medicine (London, 1835). He also was responsible for a partial translation of Pliny’s Natural History (London, 1828). An incomplete list of Bostock’s multitudinous journal and encyclopedia contributions is in T. J. Pettigrew, Biographical Memoirs of the Most Celebrated Physicians, III (London, 1839), sec. 4. 1–20.

II. Secondary Literature. Further information on Bostock’s life may be gleaned from the obituary notice in Proceedings of the Royal Society, 5 (1846). 636–638. His medical chemistry is evaluated in J. R. Partington. A History of Chemistry, III (London, 1962), 711–712.

Arnold Thackray