John Bristowe was born in Camberwell, the son of Dr. John Syer Bristowe and his wife Mary Chesshyre. He was educated at Enfield and King’s College School. He studied medicine at St. Thomas’s Hospital and won most of the available prizes, including the Treasurer’s gold medal and the Apothecaries’ Society’s gold medal for botany. After qualifying and serving as house surgeon in 1849, he was made curator of the museum and pathologist at St. Thomas’s. His election as assistant physician in 1854 was followed by a number of teaching appointments—as lecturer on botany (1859), materia medica (1860), anatomy (1865), pathology (1870) and medicine (1876). He was full physician from 1860 to 1892. He was also medical officer to the Commercial Union Assurance Company and, for twenty years, physician to Westminster School. At the Royal College of Physicians, he was Croonian and Lumleian Lecturer in the years 1872 and 1879 respectively, and became Senior Censor. He examined candidates for the Royal College of Surgeons, Oxford and London Universities, and for the War Office.
Though a general consulting physician, he was principally known as a neurologist and for valuable reports on public health which he prepared for the Privy Council. He was president of the Society of Medical Officers of Health and other medical societies and gave the Lettsomian Lectures in 1893. A man of great energy—derived, no doubt, from his youthful prowess as a boxer and athlete—he found time to write a Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Medicine (1876), which ran into many editions and became one of the standard textbooks of the day. His Diseases of the Nervous System, published in 1888, gained almost equal recognition. As a teacher, he was undogmatic and, as a clinical observer, unhurried, cautious and methodical. He was indifferent to popularity and, in opposition to most of his colleagues, he advocated consultation with homeopaths if so requested. He married in 1856 Miriam Isabelle, daughter of Joseph P. Stearns of Dulwich, by whom he had five sons and five daughters. He died at Monmouth.
G H Brown
[Lancet, 1895; B.M.J., 1895; D.N.B., 1st Suppl., 293]