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Book Review : ‘Gratefull to providence’: the diary and accounts of Matthew Flinders, surgeon, apothecary and man-midwife, 1775–1802, vol. I: 1775–1784

Medical History
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date
  • Book Reviews
  • Medicine


Despite several decades of intensive research into the social history of English medicine, surprisingly few sets of practitioners’ papers have been printed. Matthew Flinders, a medical practitioner based in Donington, Lincolnshire, in the late eighteenth century, kept an unusually detailed record of his life and work, and this edition of his manuscript notebooks will be welcomed by all students of the period. Characteristically for its time, Flinders’ manuscript was a hybrid of account, diary and memorandum. Its main content is a record of his household’s cash receipts and expenses, in which his professional earnings and expenses are mingled. Alongside these financial records are a set of notes and records detailing aspects of his practice, which gradually diminish in scale until they disappear completely in the second volume (yet to appear), and diary passages recording the events of his life. Flinders was an able and helpfully brief diarist. His notes include topics such as the birth of his children, the death of his wife, the inoculation of his servants, his own health, his travels around the area, and major purchases such as a new horse or cow. He also regularly summarized his financial position, debts and credits, and interests in prose. As his accounts of his medical activities reveal, Flinders was an example of that fabled beast, the provincial general practitioner. He is labelled here variously as an apothecary, surgeon, and man-midwife, and described himself in those terms. The medical memoranda he wrote allow us some interesting insights into his relations with his patients and other practitioners, the intensity and range of his practice, and his midwifery work—including details of his use of forceps. They also give some sense of his expenditures, earnings and costs, such as the carriage of drugs. Flinders is an interesting figure in general. He came from a medical family—his father John had also been an apothecary in Donington and his brother succeeded him in his practice—and he traine

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