Thomas Addison M.D. was one of the great medical physicians of the 19th Century. His grave lies sheltered beneath the great yew tree at Lanercost Priory.
Born on 2nd April 1793 in Longbenton, near Newcastle upon Tyne, Thomas was the son of Sarah and Joseph Addison, a grocer and flour dealer. Decended from a family of Yeomen (landowning farmers) who had resided for many generations in the village of Lanercost in Cumberland.
Thomas Addison graduated in 1815 and joined the staff of St. George’s Hospital later the same year.
His career led him to be one of the most respected physicians at Guy’s Hospital.
Addison became fascinated by diseases of the skin (dermatology) and among other pathologies he discovered Addison’s disease (a degenerative disease of the adrenal glands) and Addisonian anemia or pernicious anemia, a disorder of the blood later found to be caused by failure to absorb vitamin B12.
Thomas Addison was noted for his accuracy of diagnosis, having no equals among his contemporaries and no superior. He held a quality important in a good physician; never to reason from a half discovered fact. Instead, he employed all of his dedication and energy into understanding the nature and causes of a condition.
He gave one of the first adequate accounts of appendicitis and wrote a valuable study on the actions of poisons. His major contributions to the recognition and understanding of many other diseases, included;
Alibert’s disease I, Allgrove’s syndrome and Rayer’s disease.
A long-time sufferer from depression, Thomas Addison committed suicide on June 29th 1860 by jumping from a balcony of the building where he resided in Brighton.
The inscription on the elaborately carved stone chest tombstone reads:
“In memory of Thomas Addison M.D.
Son of Joseph and Sarah Addison.
Died June 29th 1860 aged 66 years.
For 36 years physician to Guy’s Hospital London”.
Other members of the Addison family are buried alongside, some of the memorials gradually being reclaimed by the undergrowth.
A memorial dedicated to Thomas Addison M.D. can also be found on the western wall of the priory, just before the altar.
In the Chapel of Guy’s Hospital, there is also a marble tablet with the following inscription;
“In memory of
Thomas Addison, MD,
for 36 years Physician and Lecturer at this Hospital,
who died 29th June, 1860, aged 68 years.
Whilst earning for himself by his discoveries
a distinguished place in the records of Medical Science,
he no less effectually secured,
through the able and zealous discharge of his duties
at this Institution,
the attachment and esteem of the Patients and the Students.
As Lecturer, he attracted the admiration,
and won the confidence of the latter by his profound
knowledge and earnest eloquence.
As Physician he was beloved by the former
for the unwearied attention and kindness with which
he devoted his eminent talents to the
cure of their ailments
or the relief of their sufferings”.
Thomas Addison M.D. Biography – The Royal College of Physicians.
The Thomas Addison Unit – Dedicated to research of diseases of the Endocrine System.
Thomas Addison and the Background to Cortisone – BMJ article