John Fothergill1712–1780

Quaker physician

Fothergill was a Quaker doctor from Yorkshire. His initial training was as an apothecary but, on moving to Edinburgh, he was persuaded by Alexander Monro primus to transfer to medicine and he graduated in 1736. After travels in Europe he settled in London, and became the first Edinburgh medical graduate to be elected as a Licentiate of the College of Physicians there. He formed medical societies in London with William Hunter and George Fordyce; these were modelled on the Edinburgh Medical Society. He encouraged Lettsom to found the Medical Society of London, and delivered many of his medical papers there. Fothergill fought against the perceived abuses of the Royal College of Physicians, both because of his Scottish medical degree and because he was not a member of the established Church. He cultivated a prized botanical garden, and his collection of shells was purchased by William Hunter. Fothergill gave a graphic description of migraine, with the visual precursors and the localized headache that follows as: “a singular kind of glimmering in the sight, objects swiftly changing their apparent position, and surrounded with luminous angles, like those of a fortification.” John Elliot collected and published three volumes of Fothergill’s Works in 1781, and Lettsom presented a volume of Memoirs shortly afterwards. In 1773 Fothergill gave the first full description of trigeminal neuralgia, which was, for a time, referred to as “Fothergill’s disease”. He is represented twice, together with detail from a frontispiece illustration of his Works showing a doctor treating his patient.