Havers, Clopton

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Havers, Clopton

(b. Stambourne, Essex, England, ca. 1655; d. Willingale, Essex, England, April 1702)


Havers’ father, Henry Havers, rector of Stambourne, was ejected under the Act of Uniformity in 1662. Clopton was admitted to St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, on 6 May 1668 but did not graduate. He studied medicine under Richard Morton, an ejected minister who is remembered for his work on phthisis (1689). He was granted an “extra license” by the Royal College of Physicians for practice outside London on 28 July 1684; graduated from Utrecht on 3 July 1685 with a thesis, De respiratione, from which it appears that he accepted Robert Boyle’s teaching of the atomic constitution of the air; and was elected fellow of the Royal Society on 17 November 1686. He obtained the College of Physicians’ full license on 22 December 1687 and practiced thereafter in London.

Between August 1689 and August 1690 Havers read to the Royal Society five discourses which formed the substance of his book Osteologia nova, or Some New Observations of the Bones, published in 1691. This book provided the first full description of the microscopic structure of the bone lamellae and canals, with a discussion of bone physiology. It is arranged in five sections, of which the first is the most original: (1) microscopic structure; (2) growth, physiology, and pathology; (3) the marrow; (4) the synovial glands, rheumatism, and gout; (5) cartilage. Havers wrote of his most notable observation, the “canals”:

In the bones through and between the plates are formed pores, besides those which are made for the passage of the blood-vessels, which are of two sorts; some penetrate the laminae and are transverse, looking from the cavity to the external superficies of the bone; the second sort are formed between the plates, which are longitudinal and straight, tending from one end of the bone towards the other, and observing the course of the bony strings [Osteologia nova, p. 43].

Havers described the small, fibrous, penetrating prolongations of the periosteum and supposed that they conveyed “nervous spirits” to the bone in order to affect its sensibility and growth; their merely connective function was demonstrated by William Sharpey in 1848. Havers also described the intra-articular synovial fringes and folds, considering them to be mucilaginous glands for the secretion of synovial fluid. An engraved plate provided a clear schema of the structure he had discovered. He also corrected Glisson’s opinion that bones grow on their harder side when they develop unevenly in rickets but repeated the traditional belief that cartilage may change into bone, later corrected by Nesbitt.

A few of Havers’ observations were anticipated: Anton van Leeuwenhoek had reported in 1686 that he had seen the transverse canals and Malpighi had mentioned the bone lamellae incidentally in his Anatome plantarum (1675); Domenico Gagliardi discussed these more fully in his Anatomia ossium (1689). Nevertheless, Havers’ book was the first complete and systematic study. It made a marked impression, being immediately translated into Latin, reviewed at length in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, and praised by Giorgio Baglivi when he was elected professor of anatomy at Rome (1696). It remained the only detailed treatise on bone until Nesbitt’s lectures were published in 1736, the intervening books being purely descriptive; it was not superseded until the nineteenth century.

Havers contributed two papers to the Philosophical Transactions: a brief case history of a patient who shed tears of blood (1693) and a study of digestion (1699) based on experiments and explaining it as a fermentation of saliva and bile. He revised John Ireton’s English text for Johann Remmelin’s anatomical plates in 1695 and was appointed Gale lecturer on anatomy by the Company of Surgeons in June 1698. Havers contracted to write an English text for Stephan Blankaart’s anatomical plates; it was supplied after Havers’ death by James Drake (1707).

Havers married Dorcas Fuller, who survived him; their children died young. He died in 1702 and was buried at Willingale, Essex, where his father-in-law was rector of the parish.


I. Original Works. Havers’ writings include De respiratione (Utrecht, 1685); Osteologia nova, or Some New Observations of the Bones and the Parts Belonging to Them, With the Manner of Their Accretion and Nutrition (London, 1691), trans. into Latin by M. F. Geuder (Frankfurt-Leipzig, 1692), posthumously repr. in English (London, 1729) and Latin (Amsterdam, 1731; Leiden, 1734); “An Account of an Extraordinary Haemorrhage at the Glandula Lachrymosa,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 18 , no. 208 (1693), 51; a corrected version of Johann Remmelin, A Survey of the Microcosme, or the Anatomie of Man and Woman (London, 1695); Syllabus musculorum humani corporis (London, 1698), unsigned; and “A Short Discourse Concerning Concoction,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 21 , no. 254 (1699), 233–247. An autograph letter of 25 October 1699 from Havers to Hans Sloane asks to borrow books on pleurisy: British Museum, Sloane MS 4037, fol. 348.

II. Secondary Literature. William Sharpey describes the periosteal fibers in Jones Quain, Elements of Anatomy, 5th ed. (London, 1848), p. cxxxii, correcting Havers. See also M. Randelli, “Les observations microscopiques de Gagliardi et de Havers sur la structure des os,” in Comptes rendus, 85. Congrés des sociétés savantes (Paris, 1960), pp. 601–604. K. F. Russell, British Anatomy (Melbourne, 1963), pp. 125–126, nos. 394–399, records the various editions of Havers’ books. The Osteologia nova is reviewed in Acta eruditorum (1691), 573, and is analyzed in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 17 , no. 194 (1693), 544–554. Biographical articles are J. Dobson, in Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 34B , no. 4 (Nov. 1952), 702–707, with references to the earlier literature about Havers; J. F. Payne, in Dictionary of National Biography, XXV (1891), 182–183; and C. B. Reed in Bulletin of the Society of Medical History, 2 , no. 5 (Mar. 1922), 371–388.

William LeFanu