John Harley was born in Shropshire and received his medical education at King’s College, London, qualifying in 1858. After holding house appointments at King’s College Hospital, he was elected assistant physician in 1863, but left King’s eight years later to take up the same post at St. Thomas’s Hospital where he was promoted to full physician in 1879 and created consulting physician in 1893. He also served on the staff of the London Fever Hospital. He delivered the Goulstonian Lectures at the Royal College of Physicians in 1868 and the Lumleian Lectures in 1889. Harley expounded views on the origins of certain diseases that were so entirely unwarranted by contemporary discoveries in pathology and bacteriology that he made no disciples and indeed lost both professional respect and actual practice as a result. His geniality, genuine as it was, became something of an easily caricatured joke, particularly his habit of smiling, bowing, and vigorously shaking hands on every possible occasion with every acquaintance that he met. Outside medicine, he was interested in botany and geology and left a collection of geological specimens to the Ludlow Museum. He died at Pulborough in Sussex.
G H Brown
[Lancet, 1921; Nature, 29 Dec. 1921; Lyle, 122; Parsons, iii, 219]