Benjamin Ward Richardson was born at Somerby in Leicestershire, the only son of Benjamin Richardson and his wife Mary Ward. He was educated by his mother and a neighbouring clergyman and then apprenticed to a Somerby surgeon. After an initiation into country practice, he became in 1847 a student at Anderson’s College, Glasgow, where he attended the anatomy lectures of the famous Robert Knox. An illness compelled him, however, to leave Glasgow and, although not yet qualified, he became assistant in turn to practitioners at Saffron Walden, Nar-borough near Leicester, and Barnes. At the age of twenty-two, he qualified at Glasgow, and four years later, in 1854, he took degrees in arts and medicine at St. Andrews University. While practising at Barnes he made the acquaintance of Douglas Jerrold, by whom he was introduced to Mark Lemon, George Cruikshank and Thackeray; and he maintained his connections with authors and journalists for the rest of his life.
In 1854 he moved to London and joined the staff of the Blenheim Street Dispensary, and two years later the Metropolitan, Marylebone and Margaret Street Dispensaries. In 1856, too, he became physician to the Royal Infirmary for Diseases of the Chest. Between 1854 and 1856 he lectured on forensic medicine, public hygiene and physiology, and acted as dean, at the Grosvenor Place School of Medicine. When the School was closed in 1865, he took up the study of anaesthetics, and was responsible for a useful modification in chloroform inhalers and the introduction of the lethal chamber for the painless slaughter of animals. His work on anaesthetics, the amyls and alcohols, led him to study the effects of alcohol on the human body and, as a result, he became an ardent campaigner in the cause of temperance.
In 1854 Richardson was awarded the Fothergillian gold medal by the Medical Society of London, and in 1866 he gave the Materia Medica Lectures at the Royal College of Physicians. He was knighted in 1893 in recognition of his scientific and humanitarian achievements. Throughout his life, he laboured for the efficiency and prestige of St. Andrews University, and it was chiefly due to him that the University obtained representation on the General Medical Council. For thirty-five years he was president of the St. Andrews Graduates Association. He was also an early advocate of bicycling. He married in 1856 Mary J. Smith of Mortlake and was survived by two sons and a daughter. He died at Manchester Square, London.
G H Brown
[Lancet, 1896; B.M.J., 1896; D.N.B., 1st Suppl., iii, 297; Sir A. S. MacNalty, Biography of Benjamin Ward Richardson, 1950]