Alfred Swaine Taylor (1806-1880): Father of British Forensic Medicine
The drawings in this collection tell part of the fascinating story of the father of British forensic medicine, Dr Alfred Swaine Taylor. Taylor was a ground-breaking toxicologist and pioneer of photography, as well as being a talented artist. The pictures were executed during Taylor's travels on the Continent 1828-9, and around Scotland and the North of England in 1833.
The Continental subjects follow the progression of Taylor’s early medical study in France and then his remarkable homeward journey on foot from Naples. The British subjects date from when Taylor had taken up the professorship post of medical jurisprudence at Guy’s Hospital in London.
Alfred Swaine Taylor held this professorship at Guy’s Hospital from 1831 until 1877, during which time he became one of the foremost authorities on medical jurisprudence. He published works on forensic medicine, with a particular focus on poisons, achieving renown as the leading toxicologist in the country. He was much in demand as a witness in criminal investigations, and is remembered for his involvement in celebrated murder trials, including those of Drory, and the poisoners Tawell, Palmer, Smethurst and Catherine Wilson.
Born at Northfleet in Kent, Alfred Swaine Taylor was the eldest son of Thomas Taylor, a captain in the East India Company’s fleet and his first wife, Susan Mary, daughter of Charles Badger of Kent.
Aged sixteen he was apprenticed to a practitioner near Maidstone, then in 1823 he entered the United Medical School of Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospitals. He paid a visit to Paris in 1825, returning to receive the prize for anatomy at St Thomas’s. After qualifying in 1828, he was again drawn to Paris to attend the lectures of Orfila, Dupuytren, and Gay-Lussac. He made a brief geological survey of Auvergne and visited the Montpellier School before making an adventurous voyage to Naples, where he stayed for nine months and published two papers in Italian. His homeward journey on foot across the Continent took him to no fewer than eight medical schools. Taylor spent the winter of 1829-30 studying at Guy’s. In 1830 a stay in Paris, at the time of the Revolution, enabled him to watch the treatment of battle wounds by Manec and Misfranc. Then in 1831 the still young Taylor took up the professorship at St Guys.
Taylor produced books on medical jurisprudence which would become regarded both by lawyers and by physicians as standard works in his lifetime. The mid-19th century saw Taylor at the height of his career; he became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians in 1849, was awarded the Swiney Prize for his publications on Medical Jurisprudence in 1859 and published many more books and reports.
During the 1940s, Taylor was very taken with the new art/science of ‘photogenic drawing’ being pioneered by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839. Taylor began his own experiments and hit upon the use of hyposulphate of lime as a ‘fixer’, and recommended ammonia nitrate of silver rather than chloride of silver as a sensitiser. He published his findings in 1840 in a pamphlet, and shared his interest and discoveries with others, including chemist Michael Faraday and photographer John Werge.
In 1834 Taylor married Caroline, daughter of John Cancellor, a London stockbroker, by whom he had one daughter. He died at Regent’s Park, London in 1880.