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Alexander Wynter Blyth


Alexander Wynter Blyth was an eminent Chief Medical Officer and Public Analyst who did ground-breaking work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His work is still quoted today.


He married Anne Elizabeth Morgan of Hill Farm, in 1864, when they were both only aged 20 and they had four children, two daughters (Julia and Rosa) and two sons (Stewart and Meredith).


His contribution to public health was very significant.


For fuller details of his work, please see Peter Selley’s page from his site: “The Medical Gentlemen of Bow” and the following article on the Journal of the Association of Public Analysts website.


A portion of the article is posted below:

Alexander Wynter Blyth, son of a medical practitioner of Woolwich (South East London) was born August 29th. 1844. He was educated for the medical profession at King’s College, London, where he showed his early interest in chemistry. He graduated in 1870 and the same year obtained Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons. Later, he studied law and was called to the Bar as a member of Lincoln’s Inn. In 1878 he was appointed Public Analyst for Totnes, and subsequently for the County of Devon, in 1879 for Tiverton, and in 1882 Medical Officer of Health and Public Analyst for the London borough of St. Marylebone. He occupied the dual post at St. Marylebone for 30 years, then resigned the medical portion but remained their Public Analyst until his death, at the age of 76.


In the early days of the “Sale of Food and Drugs” Acts (1860, 1875, 1879, 1899- ) the appointments of Medical Officer of Health and that of Public Analyst were frequently held by the same individual 3. It was quite a common practice for medical men to spend a few months in the laboratory of a chemist to acquire some idea into the duties of what was then regarded as a subsidiary appointment. Under such conditions it is not surprising that many of the early medical Public Analysts were not competent chemists, that their results were often challenged and that few improvements in the methods of analysis originated with them. However some were essentially chemists who had taken medical qualifications to devote themselves to questions of public health, because at the time there was little opportunity for success in the practice of purely professional as opposed to academic chemistry. The Society of Public Analysts was founded in 1874 to support the work of Public Analysts 3 and soon after, in 1877, the Institute of Chemistry to raise professional standards, more generally, in applied chemistry 4. In 1906 the Society of Public Analysts was incorporated as the Society of Public Analysts and other Analytical Chemists, indicating the increased width of its scope and activities.


Wynter Blyth was a man of great ability and untiring energy for in addition to his duties as Public Analyst he was a diligent and productive researcher, an influential text book author. In addition, he made time to serve many honorary positions connected with his professional interests. These include Presidency of the Incorporated Society of Medical Officers of Health, Registrar of the Royal Sanitary Institute, Council Member of the Institute of Chemistry (1891-1893, 1896-1898), Council Member (1877-1879, 1882-1883, 1886-1887 and 1897-1898) and Vice President (1880-1881, 1884-1885 and 1897-1898) of the Society of Public Analysts.


Further detail on his life can be gleaned from an obituary published in the Journal of the Chemical Society: You can log in to gain free access.


ALEXANDER WYNTER BLYTH.


BORN AUGUST 29TH 1844;


DIED MARCH 30TH , 1921.


ALEXANDER WYNTER BLYTH, who died in London on March 30th 1921, was the son of a surgeon of Woolwich and was educated at King’s College, London, where he early showed his interest in chemistry. Having obtained the membership of the Royal College of Surgeons, he devoted his attention to public health work and eventually became Medical Officer of Health and Public Analyst for St. Marylebone and Public Analyst for the County of Devon.


After occupying the dual appointment at St. Marylebone for upwards of thirty years, he resigned the medical portion, remaining Public Analyst until his death at the age of seventy-six.


Wynter Blyth was a man of great ability and untiring energy, and in addition to occupying most of the honorary positions connected with public health affairs, including the presidency of the Incorporated Society of Medical Officers of Health and the Registrar of the Royal Sanitary Institute, he found time to become a barrister-at-law of Lincoln’s Inn and to write four or five books on hygiene and public health.


As a chemist, Wynter Blyth was best known as the author of two standard works-“ Foods : their Composition and Analysis,” and “ Poisons : their Effects and Detection.” Both have passed through several editions, the last, on poisons, in the preparation of which he was assisted by his son, having only recently been published, and his death found him in the midst of the revision of “ Foods,’’ another edition of which was shortly to be issued. For both these books he did a large amount of original chemical work in the investigation of new processes or in the attempt to improve the older ones described therein, his most recent researches dealing with the reactions of the alkaloids and the separation of the acids of butter-fat. He was also engaged in experiments on microcrystallography and was keenly interested in spectroscopic work.


He was one of the pioneers of bacteriology in this country.


Outside his work Wynter Blyth took a lively interest in everyday affairs, was a genial companion, an enthusiastic motorist, and latterly a not unsuccessful farmer.


As a man of his energetic temperament would wish, Wynter Blyth died quite suddenly in the midst of his work. He leaves a son and two daughters and a large number of friends to mourn his loss, amongst the latter being many who were much indebted to him for the help and kindness he was ever ready to extend.


J. K. C.


Peter Selley’s site is worth looking at: He provided me with the following information, from his page http://www.medicalgentlemen.co.uk/aboutthedoctors/blyth


Alexander Wynter Blyth was born in 1845 in Woolwich, when his father was the naval surgeon on the convict hospital ship HMS Unite. His grandfather had also been a naval surgeon; his father and grandfather (both named Alexander) had previously worked together at Melville Naval Hospital in Chatham.


In 1864, with a medical background but without qualifications, he worked as an assistant in a practice in Aylesbury. That December he married farmer's daughter Ann Elizabeth Morgan in Glascoed, Monmouthshire. He then became a student at King's College Hospital in London, where he qualified LSA MRCS in 1870. At some stage he also became a barrister.


He then worked in general practice as the surgeon to the Worcester Amalgamated Friendly Societies. This was a club, members paying four shillings annually for their health care. In his report of 1872 he reported a local outbreak of smallpox affecting 32 patients, five of whom died.


In November 1873 he successfully applied for the new post of Medical Officer of Health for the Bideford, Southmolton, Dulverton, and Okehampton Rural Sanitary Authorities. The following year was also appointed County Analyst for Devon. He made his home in Barnstaple.


His job entailed investigating and controlling epidemics, removing “nuisances” e.g. sewerage contaminating water supplies, and analysis of foodstuffs for adulteration, identifying poisons etc.


Towards the end of 1879 some of the sanitary authorities decided that they couldn't afford his services. He therefore resigned but quickly was appointed to a similar post in Marylebone. He was retained as Devon County Analyst.


From 1876 he was a prolific author, writing articles on public health and analytical chemistry, particularly concerning adulteration of food. He wrote two major textbooks, “Foods: Their Composition and Analysis” and “Poisons: Their Effects and Detection”, the fifth edition of which was published in 2008. He even analysed “The Composition of Devonshire Cream”, A. Wynter Blyth (1879), Analyst, 4, 141).


RECORDS


Marriage entry


Census records: 1871, 1881, 1891.