William O'Shaughnessy

SIR WILLIAM BROOKE O'SHAUGHNESSY (1808-1889) A FORGOTTEN GENIUS

Octobre 2012                    André J. Fabre 

O'Shaughnessy was born in Limerick in 1809 (or late 1808), and displayed such intelligence during his schooling that he was admitted to the best medical school in the world at the University of Edinburgh in 1827-quite unusual for a poor Irish lad barely 18 years old.

Médical studies

At Edinburgh he studied medicine, chemistry, and forensic toxicology with Sir Robert Christison, and anatomy with Professor Robert Knox, dissecting cadavers supplied by the infamous graverobbers Burke and Hare.

Graduating MD from the University of Edinburgh in 1829, O'Shaughnessy tutored chemistry students for a year, then moved to London, but was unable to get a license to practice medicine there. So he set up his own forensic toxicology lab, doing chemical analyses of blood, feces, urine and tissue for doctors, hospitals, and the courts. (Need work? Invent your own CSI lab.)

Treatment for Cholera, 1831 An outbreak of cholera in 1831, possibly introduced to England by soldiers returning from India, led O'Shaughnessy to investigate the blood of cholera victims. At the time it was not even known what caused cholera, an insidious disease that kills by dehydration due to uncontrollable diarrhea and vomiting. (Vibrio cholerae was first isolated in 1883 by the German scientist Robert Koch. Its primary vector of transmission is drinking sewage-contaminated water, as shown by John Snow in 1849. Snow plotted the incidence of cholera in London on a map, discovered that it clustered around public water pumps, and when he famously broke the handle off the Broad Street pump, the epidemic in that neighborhood subsided. It was the beginning of modern epidemiology.)

 On December 29, 1831, O'Shaughnessy sent to "The Lancet "one of the shortest and yet most significant letters ever sent to the journal" (Coakley 1992:151), presenting the results of his blood analyses. He showed that "the copious diarrhoea of cholera leads to dehydration, electrolytic depletion, acidosis and nitrogen retention," and that "treatment must depend on intravenous replacement of the deficient salt and water" (Coakley: 152).

 In January, 1832, O'Shaughnessy published the details of his discovery, and doctors began testing his suggestion-successfully saving the lives of nearly half their patients (Moon 1967, Gorman 1971). Intravenous electrolyte-replacement fluid therapy is still the modern treatment for cholera, using the same principle as contemporary athletes who drink Gatorade® to prevent dehydration. Moreover it was one of the first experiments in treatment by i.v. injection, before the invention of the hypodermic needle. It was the 19th-century equivalent of finding a cure for AIDS without knowing what HIV was.

 India

O'Shaughnessy's discovery came to the attention of Sir William Russell, M.D., a British physician who had returned from Calcutta to form the Cholera Commission in London. He obtained for O'Shaughnessy a commission as an assistant surgeon in the East India Company-a plum assignment for English aristocrats, much less a poor Irishman. O'Shaughnessy arrived in Calcutta in 1833.

Posted to various medical units of the Bengal Army, O'Shaughnessy moved around a lot, learned the rudiments of several native languages, made friends with local Ayurvedic and Islamic physicians, and helped found the Calcutta Medical College, where he became Professor of Chemistry and Materia Medica.

He was appointed first assistant to the opium agent at Behar and later (1840) chemical examiner for the Raj. In 1836 he married Margaret O'Shaughnessy and also arranged for his cousin, Richard O'Shaughnessy, to join him at the college. He wrote A Manual of Chemistry, in English, for his Indian students-one of the earliest textbooks of biochemistry-- and did experiments on electromagnetism and on the constituents of Indian medical plants, starting with opium. Almost as an aside, he invented a new way of extracting acids from charcoal to make gunpowder-a practical discovery much appreciated by the military.

In 1838 O'Shaughnessy discovered Narcotine (noscapine), a previously unknown alkaloid in opium, visited an opium den to see for himself how it was prepared, and wrote an elegant paper on "cases of real and suspected poisoning" in India in 1839. Then he widened his research into the Indian materia medica to demonstrate "the valuable therapeutic properties of some Indian vegetable remedies" … (and) "to construct a pharmacopoeia for the poor to whom the costly remedies of Europe and South America are inaccessible" (O'Shaughnessy 1838:13).

O'Shaughnessy's work over the next few years produced the first textbooks of Indian medicinal plants in English, the Bengal Dispensatory (1841-42) and the Bengal Pharmacopoeia (1844).

All three of O'Shaughnessy's books during this period were magnificent early examples of teaching science to students for whom English was a foreign language. Having textbooks in English overcame the barriers imposed by the 360 different languages spoken in India, making biochemistry and Indian medical lore available in schools and libraries throughout the subcontinent- indeed, throughout the Empire. This type of education, imperialist to the core, is one reason that English is spoken all over the world today.

End of life

knighted by Queen Victoria in 1856 for his work on the telegraph in India. He was also appointed Director-General of Telegraphs at this time..

O'Shaughnessy returned to India to supervise the rebuilding of the telegraph lines destroyed by the mutineers, and to train his successors. He departed India for London for the last time in 1860.

There he suddenly divorced his wife, married another (Julia Greenly), changed his name to Sir William O'Shaughnessy Brooke-perhaps to gain an inheritance from the Brooke side of his family -- and dropped out of sight.

There are many mysteries surrounding the last years of his life; we know nothing about what he actually did for 29 years before his death in 1889.

Dr. Mikuriya, following a lead that O'Shaughnessy Brooke was on the board of the Indo-European Telegraph Company, thinks that he may have traveled for them as an expert on laying lines in challenging terrains, particularly underwater. His friend Charles T. Bright was in charge of the Indo-European Telegraph to connect India to Europe through Turkey, and O'Shaughnessy's stay in England in 1857 had been extended pending arrangements for a line to India through Asiatic Turkey. One can only imagine the conversations between two geniuses - O'Shaughnessy and Bright-- who fast-forwarded the 19th century into the 20th-century world of almost instant intercontinental communications, a feat only surpassed by the global Internet of the 21st century.

During the following years O'Shaughnessy wrote on telegraphy-related subjects, including a book of Private Codes for encrypted telegraphy.

a Fellow of the Royal Society

His obituary in 19 january 1889 British Medical Journal reads

"SIR WILLIAMK OSHAUGHNESSY BROOKIJ, M.D., F.R.S.

The death is announced of Sir William O'Shaughnessy Brooke at Southsea after a short illness

 Sir William, who was born in 1809, and was consequently in his eightieth year, graduated MID, at Edinburgh University, and subsequently entered the Bengal Medical Service as assistant surgeon in 1833, he was appointed surgeon in 1848, and surgeon-major 1861

 He was appointed Superintendent-General of Telegraphs in India in 1852, but resigned in 1862, and retired from the Indian Medical Service

 Ile was the author of numerous works on scientific and engineering subjects, particularly one on the electric telegraph published in Calcutta in 1839

 He was knighted for his services in establishing the electric telegraph throughout India, and was a Fellow of the Royal Society

 The deceased married in 1835, as his second wife, the daughter of Mr  Francis O'Shaughnessy, of Curragh, County Clare, and his third wife was Julia Greenly, daughter of Captain Sabine"

 He lies in a vandalized grave in Highland Road Cemetery in Southsea,. Portsmouth. His gravestone in Southsea (Portsmouth, England) reads simply: "In Loving Memory of Sir Wm. O'S. Brooke, died January 8, 1889 in his 80th year."

O'Shaugnessy's works

IV fluids

On December 29, 1831, O'Shaughnessy sent to The Lancet "one of the shortest and yet most significant letters ever sent to the journal" (Coakley 1992:151), presenting the results of his blood analyses. He showed that "the copious diarrhoea of cholera leads to dehydration, electrolytic depletion, acidosis and nitrogen retention," and that "treatment must depend on intravenous replacement of the deficient salt and water" (Coakley: 152).

In January, 1832, O'Shaughnessy published the details of his discovery, and doctors began testing his suggestion-successfully saving the lives of nearly half their patients (Moon 1967, Gorman 1971). Intravenous electrolyte-replacement fluid therapy is still the modern treatment for cholera, using the same principle as contemporary athletes who drink Gatorade® to prevent dehydration. Moreover it was one of the first experiments in treatment by i.v. injection, before the invention of the hypodermic needle. It was the 19th-century equivalent of finding a cure for AIDS without knowing what HIV was.

Indian pharmcopoea

O'Shaughnessy's discovery came to the attention of Sir William Russell, M.D., a British physician who had returned from Calcutta to form the Cholera Commission in London. He obtained for O'Shaughnessy a commission as an assistant surgeon in the East India Company-a plum assignment for English aristocrats, much less a poor Irishman. O'Shaughnessy arrived in Calcutta in 1833.

Posted to various medical units of the Bengal Army, O'Shaughnessy moved around a lot, learned the rudiments of several native languages, made friends with local Ayurvedic and Islamic physicians, and helped found the Calcutta Medical College, where he became Professor of Chemistry and Materia Medica.

He was appointed first assistant to the opium agent at Behar and later (1840) chemical examiner for the Raj. In 1836 he married Margaret O'Shaughnessy and also arranged for his cousin, Richard O'Shaughnessy, to join him at the college. He wrote A Manual of Chemistry, in English, for his Indian students-one of the earliest textbooks of biochemistry-- and did experiments on electromagnetism and on the constituents of Indian medical plants, starting with opium. Almost as an aside, he invented a new way of extracting acids from charcoal to make gunpowder-a practical discovery much appreciated by the military.

In 1838 O'Shaughnessy discovered Narcotine (noscapine), a previously unknown alkaloid in opium, visited an opium den to see for himself how it was prepared, and wrote an elegant paper on "cases of real and suspected poisoning" in India in 1839. Then he widened his research into the Indian materia medica to demonstrate "the valuable therapeutic properties of some Indian vegetable remedies" … (and) "to construct a pharmacopoeia for the poor to whom the costly remedies of Europe and South America are inaccessible" (O'Shaughnessy 1838:13).

O'Shaughnessy's work over the next few years produced the first textbooks of Indian medicinal plants in English, the Bengal Dispensatory (1841-42) and the Bengal Pharmacopoeia (1844).

All three of O'Shaughnessy's books during this period were magnificent early examples of teaching science to students for whom English was a foreign language. Having textbooks in English overcame the barriers imposed by the 360 different languages spoken in India, making biochemistry and Indian medical lore available in schools and libraries throughout the subcontinent- indeed, throughout the Empire. This type of education, imperialist to the core, is one reason that English is spoken all over the world today.

physic

galvanic electricity, and underwater conduction

voltaic electricity

Telegraph

O'Shaughnessy had done experiments in electric telegraphy as early as 1838, without exciting much government interest. Nevertheless, his carrying of electric signals under Calcutta's River Hooghly in insulated iron wires in 1838 was the first successful underwater telegraphy in the world. O'Shaughnessy doubtless knew of Samuel F. B. Morse's successful transmission ("What hath God wrought?") in the United States in 1844, but his work was completely independent of Morse's.

When O'Shaughnessy returned to India in 1844, he effectively changed careers. Officially, he was assayist for the Mint, in charge of unifying India's dozens of different currencies with standard coinage. He also tackled a tricky problem in engineering: how to lay out telegraph lines in a country frequently ravaged by electrical storms, a land of treacherous rivers and bays, snake-infested swamps, wild jungles and arid plains, many languages, religions and cultures, dangerous assassins (the Thugs) and insurrectionist armies - Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu -- fighting desperately to keep the British from taking their lands.

O'Shaughnessy finally found his champion in Lord Dalhousie-James A.B. Ramsey, tenth Earl and first Marquess of Dalhousie (1812-1860)-who arrived as governor-general of India in 1848. Dalhousie is remembered as the man who expanded British control of India to practically its modern borders through military campaigns in the Punjab, Oudh, Kashmir, and Burma, and by annexing the lands of rajas who had no male heirs. He is even more famous, however, as the governor-general who built the civil infrastructure of modern India-the railroads, telegraph, public education (in English), cheap postage, irrigation and canals, suppression of thuggee and suttee (wives burning themselves on their husband's funeral pyre), and other programs to unite the country under the Raj (Arnold 1862/1865).

Dalhousie learned of O'Shaughnessy's idea of stringing the telegraph across India and instantly espoused it as his own. The Dictionary of National Biography says, "The introduction of the electric telegraph was Dalhousie's idea, and was carried out entirely upon his recommendation." He named O'Shaughnessy the first superintendent (later director-general) of telegraphy, and provided funding in 1850-52 for O'Shaughnessy to try an experimental line between Alipore (south of Calcutta) and Diamond Harbor. This first line was 27 miles long at a time when the only telegraph line in England was just 18 miles long (Gorman 1971).

The real challenge for O'Shaughnessy was to invent a telegraph that did not rely on copper wires, which were used in England and America but were too fragile for use in India. He had learned this in 1838, when fierce thunderstorms tore up his copper lines. Instead, he substituted iron rods 3/8 of an inch in diameter, carried underground in cement and overground mounted on bamboo poles. These were practically immune from damage by the elements, and "are not injured, although passengers, bullocks, buffaloes and elephants trample on them." (O'Shaughnessy 1852: 5.)

Moreover, the overground lines required no insulation: "The moment the rain falls we are almost safe, as the lightning which strikes the line escapes by the wet posts to the ground." He supervised the laying of seven routes in Bengal-including re-crossing the turbulent Hooghly with this new system-and in 1852 triumphantly gave Dalhousie his official Report on the Electric Telegraph between Calcutta and Kedgeree.

While in England being knighted (March 1856 to December 1857), O'Shaughnessy met Samuel F. B. Morse and many other telegraph experts such as Charles Tilson Bright, who had led the 1853 expedition to lay the telegraph between Ireland and Scotland. O'Shaughnessy and Morse "became good friends in London in 1856 and on the 1857 Atlantic Cable expedition" (Gorman 1971:593). This was the voyage of the HMS Agamemnon and the USS Niagara, the first attempt to lay telegraph across the Atlantic, which ended disastrously when the cable broke after only four days at sea.

The telegraph proved its worth to the Crown in 1857 during the Sepoy Mutiny, when hundreds of native soldiers rebelled against their British officers (allegedly because beef and pig fat were used to grease their cartridges) and captured the British posts at Calcutta and Delhi. A message got through to Army units stationed north and south of Delhi before the telegraph lines were cut, alerting the Raj to the uprising and enabling them to send troops quickly to quell the mutiny. Sir John Lawrence, commander of British forces in the Punjab, later wrote a poem, "The Telegraph Saved India" (for the British Empire).

Cannabis

Although cannabis was mentioned occasionally by early botanists and explorers describing their travels, little was actually known about cannabis therapy in Europe and America until O'Shaughnessy read a paper to a group of students and scholars of the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta in 1839. The 40-page paper was a model of modern pharmaceutical research. It included a thorough review of the history of cannabis medical uses by Ayurvedic and Persian physicians in India and the Middle East-some of whom (his local sources) were doubtless in the room.

O'Shaughnessy conducted the first clinical trials of cannabis preparations, first with safety experiments on mice, dogs, rabbits and cats, then by giving extracts and tinctures (of his own devising, based on native recipes) to some of his patients. O'Shaughnessy presented concise case studies of patients suffering from rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera, and tetanus, as well as a 40-day-old baby with convulsions, who responded well to cannabis therapy, leaping from near death to "the enjoyment of robust health" in a few days.

O'Shaughnessy appended a paper by his cousin Richard on a case of tetanus cured by a cannabis preparation. He also warned that a peculiar form of delirium may be "occasioned by continual Hemp inebriation," and cautioned doctors to start with low doses. O'Shaughnessy concludes that these clinical studies have "led me to the belief that in Hemp the profession has gained an anti-convulsive remedy of the greatest value." (O'Shaughnessy 1839a

Conclusions

Many medical marijuana patients know that Dr. William Brooke O'Shaughnessy (1809-1889) introduced cannabis to modern Western medicine, but know little else of this Irishman's extraordinary life. In addition to his pioneering work on cannabis therapy, O'Shaughnessy invented the modern treatment for cholera, laid the first telegraph system in Asia, and made significant contributions to pharmacology, chemistry, drug clinical trials, science education, and underwater engineering. There has never been a full biography of him, yet his genius shines through 19th-century science in all those fields.

 

a.fabre.fl@gmail.com

 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Lancet II, pp. 330-3 (1829-30) Nitric Acid Detection.

Lancet II, pp. 633-8 (1829-30) Potassium Iodide Detection.

Lancet I, pp. 33-5 (1830-1) Thiocyanates, Opium Analysis.

Lancet II, pp 193-8 (1830-1) Poisons in Candy Coatings.

Lancet I, pp. 806-9 (1830-1) Copper in Food Poisonings.

Lancet 1, pp. 366-71 (1831-2) Oxygenized Salts in Cholera.

Lancet 1, p. 490 (1831-2) letter re. Experiments: Blood in Cholera.

Memoranda on Indian Materia Medica, Oct. 6 1838

On the Preparations of the Indian Hemp, or Gunjah, Transactions of the Medical and Physical Society of Bengal, 71: 102, pp. 421-61 (1838-40) [This is the version from Marijuana Medical Papers: 1839-1972]

Newington Report, pp 156-158 (unknown date, mid-1800's) Report of Cases Detailed by Dr. O'Shaughnessy.

Items about O'Shaughnessy

Lancet I, pp. 158-9 and 188-9 (1854) The Electric Telegraph in British India. [This is a review of O'Shaughnessy's 1853 book.]

The Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review, p 68 (1-18-1889) O'Shaughnessy's Obituary

Proceeds of the Royal Society of London v46, no. 285 (1889) O'Shaughnessy's Obituary.

The Medical Reporter, pp 204-6 (March 1, 1895) Indian Medical Celebrities: Sir William O'Shaughnessy Brooke

Ajouter un commentaire

Vous utilisez un logiciel de type AdBlock, qui bloque le service de captchas publicitaires utilisé sur ce site. Pour pouvoir envoyer votre message, désactivez Adblock.

Date de dernière mise à jour : 29/07/2013

Créer un site gratuit avec e-monsite - Signaler un contenu illicite sur ce site