Dr Mantell: physician and accoucheur

house116Gideon Mantell was born 3 Feb 1790 in St Mary’s Lane, now Station Street in Lewes.  His early education has been well documented, see Mantell’s Life and Reputation for some key books on his life. At age six he attended a local Dame School, possibly in Fisher Street near by St Mary’s Lane where he was born and lived. It was said that on her death she left all her small wealth as a legacy to her young scholar.  In 1797 age 7 he moved on to John Button’s Academy opposite Cliffe Church. Here he was an exceptional student by all accounts. He stayed there until 1802 when he was sent to live with his uncle at Westbury near Swindon until 1805. There is a comprehensive description of his early education on page 24 of Gideon Mantell Momento Mori – 1 compiled by Anthony Brook of his obituary published in the Gentleman’s Magazine 38 (Dec 1852) 664-7.

At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to Dr James Moore, local doctor who lived on the High Street around the corner from his home in Lewes.

Country surgeon

This experience is described anonymously in 1845 by Mantell in his small booklet Memories of a Life of a Country Surgeon

He sets out how he experienced his apprenticeship with Dr Moore in Lewes, and after at London’s St Bartholomew’s under the famed John Abernethy. He returned to Lewes in 1812 to take up practice as local doctor to three parishes and as physician to the Royal Artilery Hospital at Ringmer. He also describes his need to carry out amputations, to attend to the soldiers following floggings and to women in childbirth.

Having received a certificate from the Lying-in Charity for Married Women at Their Own Habitation he was qualified as an accoucheur, or midwife, to women in labour. At a time when 14 women died for every 1,000 births, Mantell only lost two patients in 2,400 deliveries. In 1828 he published an article in the London Medical Gazette, vol 2 pp781-782 entitled ‘On the Secale Cornutum’, in other words on ergot of rye for use during delayed labour.

From his training in physiology and anatomy he was able to piece together and describe the ancient land dinosaur creatures he was finding from the fragments of fossilised teeth and bones found in the local Sussex clays.iguanodon-fossil-engraving-of-the-discovery-by-gideon-mantell-in-a-BA5R2M

For further reading see Papers in Volume 65, February 1972 Section of the History of Medicine Meeting June 19 1971 with the Brighton and Sussex Medico- chirurgical Society

Gideon Algernon Mantell LLD FRCS FRS(1790-1852) Surgeon and Geologist: ‘Wizard of the Weald’ [Abridged] by AD Morris MD (Eastbourne, Sussex)’

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