Friday, August 22, 2008

What do Mad Jack Fuller, Anorexia Nervosa, and Jack the Ripper have in common?

Sir William Withey Gull.

Gull rose from very humble beginnings to being physician to the Royal Family. He was born aboard The Dove, a canal barge, moored near St Osyth Mill, Saint Leonard, Colchester, Essex on 31 Dec 1816. He was a very wealthy man at the time of his death on 29 Jan 1890. When his will was probated he left an estate valued at just over £340,000 - an enormous sum in those days.
William Withey Gull became a Fullerian Professor of Physiology in 1847 and, in 1848, he gave the Gulstonian lectures (on paralysis) before the Royal College of Physicians.
Gull is also distantly related to Fuller - his daughter Caroline Cameron Gull married Dr. Theodore Dyke Acland who the first cousin three times removed of Fuller’s brother-in-law Sir John Palmer Acland. It was son-in-law Dr Theodore Dyke Acland who, continuing his father Sir Henry Wentworth Dyke Acland’s work, wrote the definitive biography of Dr Gull.
"Sir William Gull coined the name 'anorexia nervosa'. Examples of self-starvation appeared in the Hellenistic era. Holy anorexics abused their bodies, rejected marriage and sought religious asylum where many perished and became saints. The condition then paled into obscurity until the 19th century. Louis-Victor Marce (1828-1864) described such a patient in 1859, but Richard Morton is generally credited with the first medical description of anorexia nervosa in 1689." JMS Pearce, European Neurology, 2004;52(4):191-2. Epub 2004 Nov 10.
His name is given to Gull’s Disease (Myxoedema)– an adult form of hypothyroidism that affects females six times more frequently than males. He conducted extensive research into the causes of paraplegia and categorized it into three distinct types - spinal, peripheral and encephalic. For more on Gull's medical work read Sir William Withey Gull ( 1816 - 1890) by JMS Pearce.
Dr Gull’s service to the Royal Family led to two things – his being created a baronet, and speculation that he was involved with the Jack the Ripper case.
He was created baronet in 1872 after successfully treating the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (later King Edward VII) for typhoid, the previous year. He was also Queen Victoria’s personal physician. These two patients contributed to his becoming wealthier than any English doctor before him.
Royal and Masonic conspiracies abound in Jack the Ripper theories and have been much played up in fiction written about the "Whitechapel Murders". At the time of the first murder, 4 April 1888, Gull was 72 years old and already suffered partial paralysis from a stroke. Gull died more than a year before the final murder was committed on February 13, 1891.
In 1970, Dr. T.E.A. Stowell theorized that Prince Albert Victor (son of Prince of Wales, Albert Edward and grandson of Queen Victoria) was Jack the Ripper.
"Stowell claimed that Albert Victor had contracted syphilis after a visit to the West Indies, that it had driven him insane, and that in this state of mind he had perpetrated the five "canonical" Jack the Ripper murders. Stowell wrote that following the murders of 30 September 1888, Albert Victor was restrained by his own family in an institution in the south of England, but later escaped to commit the final murder on 9 November. Stowell further claimed that Albert Victor died of syphilis, and gave as his source an account written in private by Sir William Gull, a reputable physician who had treated members of the royal family." Source: Wikipedia
Gull’s role in this account can be easily dismissed – he died two years before the Prince and so did not witness his death.
Unfortunately, many writers refuse to let truth get in the way of a good story, and so the good name of a successful and learned physician, a Fullerian Professor who made great contributions to science, Dr William Withey Gull, has been co-opted in to the realm of thriller fiction.

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