Henry Thompson

Member of The Hundred

Henry Thompson
Birth and death
1820 - 1904
Profession details
Surgeon, Writer
Related place
Alistair Grant

Sir Henry Thompson, first Baronet (1820-1904) surgeon, and writer. He was one of the first surgeons to operate successfully for the removal of gallstones, operating on both Leopold I King of the Belgians and Napoleon III. Under the pseudonym Pen Oliver he published two best-selling medical novels: 'Charley Kingston's Aunt' (1885), and 'All but: a Chronicle of Laxenford Life' (1886). He experimented with and wrote about photography only two years after its introduction in 1839 by Louis Daguerre. He was a fine illustrator, illustrating his own medical textbooks, and painted, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and counting many well-known artists and writers amongst his friends. He painted portraits of Millais and Thackeray. He lived at 'Hurtside House' at East Molesey from 1880 where he built an observatory; his telescopes, of the latest design, were donated to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. He was a famous gastronome; his book 'Food and Feeding' (1880) went through twelve editions. In 1872 he began his famous 'Octaves': (male only) dinners of eight simple dishes, beginning at eight o'clock, for eight guests. Three hundred-and-one Octaves were held before he died in 1904, attended by famous men in the arts and literature, politicians and royalty. His greatest achievement was the introduction of cremation. Having seen an incinerator at the Great Exhibition in Vienna in 1873, he began to experiment by burning animal corpses, publishing a book, Cremation: the Treatment of the Body after Death (1874), and founded the Cremation Society, becoming its president. He helped establish the crematorium at Woking, but due to opposition it was not until 26th March 1885 that the first cremation was carried out. His interest in cremation was perhaps also driven by his bitter opposition to the extension of the cemetery at West Molesey, which brought graves almost to his backdoor!

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