Joseph Fayrer

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Sir Joseph Fayrer, 1st Baronet (6 December 1824 – 21 May 1907) was an English physician noted for his writings on medicine, particularly the treatment of snakebite, in India.[1]

Early life

Cover of his book on venomous snakes

The second son of Robert John Fayrer (1788–1869), a Commander in the Royal Navy and wife Agnes (d. 1861) he was born at Plymouth, Devon.[2] Fayrer's father was in charge of steamships after his retirement from the navy. The family lived for a time at Haverbrack, Westmorland where Joseph became acquainted with William Wordsworth, Hartley Coleridge and John Wilson. Joseph studied some engineering in 1840 and joined as a midshipman and in 1843 he travelled with his father to Bermuda. An outbreak of yellow fever made him interested in medicine. He joined to study medicine at Charing Cross Hospital, London in 1844 and his fellow students included William Guyer Hunter and Thomas Henry Huxley. He became a house surgeon at Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital in his second year and became MRCS in 1847. He was in 1847 appointed medical officer of HMS Victory. He then resigned his commission and travelled around Europe along with Ernest Augustus Edgcumbe, 3rd Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, in the course of which he saw fighting at Palermo and Rome. He then resumed his study of medicine at Rome and received an MD in 1849.[3]


Appointed an assistant surgeon in the Indian Medical Service of Bengal in 1850, he was posted at Chinsura, Cherrapunji and Dacca. He saw action as a field surgeon during the Burmese campaign of 1852. For his service, Lord Dalhousie made him political assistant and Residency surgeon at Lucknow in 1853. He married Bethia Mary, daughter of Brigadier General Andrew Spens at Lucknow, on 4 October 1855. During the Indian Mutiny, his home in Lucknow became a hospital as well as a fortress. It was at his home that Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence died. His wife and child survived and they were relieved on 17 November 1857. He left India on furlough in 1858 and obtained an MD from the University of Edinburgh Medical School in March 1859. Returning to India in 1859, he became professor of surgery at the Medical College of Calcutta, and was briefly a personal surgeon to Lord Mayo in 1869 and when the Prince of Wales made his tour in India he was appointed to accompany him as physician. He was later appointed Physician Extraordinary to King Edward VII in 1901.[4] Returning to England in 1872, he acted as president of the Medical Board of the India office from 1874 to 1895, president of the Epidemiological Society for 1879-1881 and on 7 February 1896 he was created a baronet.[2][3]

Fayrer's home in Lucknow (after 1857)

He was President of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1867 and proposed a scheme for a zoological garden in Calcutta. This was finally opened by the Prince of Wales in 1875. He took considerable interest in the wild animals and wrote a book on the tiger and procured living specimens of the Pygmy Hogs for the Zoological Society of London.[5] He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1877, wrote much on subjects connected with the practice of medicine in India, and was especially known for his studies on the poisonous snakes of that country and on the physiological effects produced by their venom (Thanatophidia of India, 1872). He researched snake venom along with Thomas Lauder Brunton in 1867 with assistance of Dr F. C. Webb. The book was printed by the Indian government and illustrated by artists from the Calcutta School of Art. In 1879, he spoke on The progress of epidemiology in India (published in 1880). In 1900 he published his autobiography, Recollections of my Life. Fayrer knew Persian, several Indian languages and Italian. He also took an interest in anthropology and interacted with Thomas Henry Huxley on the topic. He proposed that an Ethnological Congress be held by the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1866. Although this exhibition was not held, the idea of an Ethnographic survey was realized a few years later by Herbert Hope Risley.

After retirement he took an interest in deep-sea fishing and yachting. He died at his home, Belfield, Wood Lane, Falmouth, Cornwall, on 21 May 1907.[3]


On 4 October 1855, he married Bethia Mary Spens; they had six sons and two daughters. He was succeeded as second baronet by Sir Joseph Fayrer, 2nd Baronet.[6]


  1. Harrison, M (1992). "Tropical Medicine in Nineteenth-Century India". The British Journal for the History of Science. 25 (3): 299–318. doi:10.1017/S0007087400029137.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Anon (1906-7). "Obituary". Trans. Epid. Soc. 26: 78–79. Check date values in: |year= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 H.P. Cholmeley, rev. W. F. Bynum. "Fayrer, Sir Joseph, first baronet (1824–1907)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/33099.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. The London Gazette: no. 27300. p. 2194. 29 March 1901.
  5. Fayrer, J (1882). "Porcula salvania (Hodgson)". Nature. 26: 80. doi:10.1038/026080c0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Template:Cite DNB12

External links

Wikisource logo Works written by or about Joseph Fayrer at Wikisource

Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New creation
(of Devonshire Street)
Succeeded by
Joseph Fayrer