John Hughes Bennett

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John Hughes Bennett (1812-1875) is best known as the physician who, in 1845, first described leukaemia[1]

John Hughes Bennett was born in London on 31st August 1812, and received his early education at the Grammar and Mount Radford Schools in Exeter. His mother played an important role, nurturing his literary and artistic tastes and instructing him in elocution and histrionics. In 1829, Bennett became apprenticed to Sedgwick, a surgeon at Maidstone, Kent. In 1833, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh to study medicine, and in 1836 was elected as President of the Royal Medical Society and of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh and Vice-President of the Anatomical and Physiological Society. The same year, he published his first article in the London Medical Gazette (On the Anatomy and Physiology of the Otic Ganglion.)

in 1837, he graduated from Edinburgh University with the highest honours and a gold medal, with a dissertation on The Physiology and Pathology of the Brain. Over the next four years, he pursued postgraduate studies in Paris, where he was founder and first president of the English-speaking Medical Society, and in Germany. On his return to Edinburgh in 1841 he published a Treatise on Cod-liver Oil as a Therapeutic Agent. In the same year, he began to lecture as an extra-academical teacher on histology, drawing particular attention to the importance of the microscope in the investigation of disease. As physician to the Royal Dispensary, he instituted courses of "polyclinical medicine." In 1842 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1843, he was appointed Pathologist and Keeper of Statistics, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, and Physician to the Royal Dispensary and to the Fever Hospital. In 1845, he was appointed a lecturer in medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, and published Two cases of disease and enlargement of the spleen in which death takes place from the presence of purulent matter in the blood in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal. This was thought to be the first recorded case of leukaemia, then known as leucocythaemia. [2]

In 1846 he became Editor and later proprietor of the Monthly Journal of Medical Science and, in 1848, Professor of the Institutes of Medicine at Edinburgh. He maintained this position until 1874, when he resigned through ill health. During his tenure, he is known for his 1857 challenge to the then accepted practice of blood letting, and for his support, in 1869, for the admission of women medical students in Edinburgh.

He died on 25th September 1875 at Norwich, nine days after surgery to remove a stone by lateral lithotomy. He is buried in Edinburgh's Dean Cemetery.

". . . in the struggle between advancing science, and a routine practice, those who desire the welfare of the profession should never forget that it can only be maintained by an earnest love of truth. This is to be promoted not by vague assertion and vulgar douse but by rational investigation and sound argument" John Hughes Bennett[3]

In 1901, the University of Edinburgh inaugurated the John Hughes Bennett Laboratory of Experimental Pathology. A second laboratory with his name was opened in 1998, in a joint venture between the Leukaemia Research Fund, the University of Edinburgh and the Western General Hospital Trust [4].

His many publications include:

  • 1851 On Leucocythaemia or White Cell Blood, a collection of case studies. Founder and President of the Physiological Society of Edinburgh.
  • 1853 On the Pathology and Treatment of Pulmonary Tuberculosis.
  • (1850-1856),Lectures on Clinical Medicine which in second and subsequent editions were called Clinical Lectures on the Principles and Practice of Medicine, and were translated into various languages, including Russian and Hindu;
  • Leucocythaemia (1852), the first recorded cure of which was published by him in 1845;
  • Outlines of Physiology (1858), reprinted from the 8th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica;
  • 1866 The Restorative Treatment of Pneumonia, which had the rare distinction of being translated and published in Japan.*(1871-1872).Textbook of Physiology Published simultaneously in Edinburgh and America, and translated into French.


  1. John Hughes Bennett (1812-1875) Clinical Teacher of Edinburgh. JAMA 1969;208:857-8
  2. [ "John Hughes Bennett, Rudolph Virchow . . . and Alfred Donne : the first description of leukemia" editorial in The Haematology Journal (2001) 2:1]
  3. The John Hughes Bennett Laboratory Leukaemia Research Fund
  4. John Hughes Bennett Laboratory