EDMUND HECTOR (1708 – 1794)
The memorial to Edmund Hector is situated on the left hand side of the central aisle of the Cathedral near the back, and a rough translation of the Latin reads:
Edmund Hector, born in Lichfield on 30th January 1708. He practised the art of a surgeon in Birmingham for 65 years. He died on 2nd September 1794 aged 85. An upright and benign man who was benevolent towards everyone, qualities which were born in him.
Edmund Hector and Dr. Johnson
It is little known that a friend of Samuel Johnson is buried in the Cathedral. Edmund Hector and Dr. Johnson were schoolboys together at Lichfield Grammar School, and were friends all of their lives. When Johnson contacted him in 1756 he wrote, “I long to see all my friends…and particularly you whom I always think on with great tenderness.” In 1781 Johnson, preparing to visit Hector, said to Boswell, “Hector is an old friend, the only companion of my childhood that passed through school with me. We have always loved one another; perhaps we may be made better by some serious conversation.” Of a previous visit in 1776 Boswell wrote, “It gave me pleasure to observe the joy which the Doctor and Mr. Hector expressed on seeing each other.”
In his later years Dr. Johnson had Boswell as a regular companion, and when Johnson died Boswell decided to write his famous Life of Samuel Johnson. Hector gave Boswell information about the schooldays of himself and Johnson, and it is from this book that we learn not only of Johnson but also of Hector.
On starting Lichfield Grammar School about the age of seven Hector was one of three schoolboys who would take Johnson on their backs to guide him to school, because of his physical difficulties. Johnson’s appearance and manners were particularly unprepossessing yet he was, nevertheless, revered by his school friends and many others for his intellect; both Hector and Boswell marvelled at Johnson’s rapid and extensive memory. But the relationship between the Johnson and Hector families lay at the very beginning of Johnson’s life when George Hector, the surgeon uncle of Edmund Hector, had acted as a “man midwife” at his birth, which had been particularly difficult. Johnson later said that as George Hector was his physical midwife, so Edmund Hector was the midwife of his literary life.
Johnson left Lichfield at the age of fifteen to go to another school, helped his father in the Lichfield bookshop for two years and then managed to go to Oxford for one year, which he left on account of poverty. Meanwhile Hector, who came from a family of medical men, when he left school was apprenticed to a surgeon, (whether to his father or another is unknown), this being the normal form of qualification at the time. If his memorial stone is correct and he had practised for sixty-five years, he must have been in Birmingham by 1729, where he lodged with a bookseller called Thomas Warren whose house and business stood in High Street, near the Swan tavern where the Rotunda now stands. It has been stated that Warren was both the first bookseller and the first printer in Birmingham, but Johnson’s father had sold books in Birmingham market and his father’s brother, Andrew, had a bookshop in High Street up to about 1731, situated very near Warren’s shop, and we know that Andrew Johnson printed at least one book. Warren has the distinction, however, of being the printer of the very first Birmingham newspaper.
Towards the end of 1732 Hector invited Johnson to stay with him in his lodgings because his friend was suffering from what we would call depression, and was then called melancholia. Johnson was unemployed, his father had died, he had been forced to leave Oxford and his family was poverty stricken. To pass the time he was in the habit of walking to Birmingham and back to visit his friend; such behaviour had begun when he was at Oxford and had walked to Birmingham to visit his godfather, after whom he was perhaps named, Dr. Samuel Swynfen, who lived in The Square. His friend’s landlord, Warren, clearly was taken with Johnson, and invited him to contribute to the first Birmingham newspaper called The Journal, although none of the articles Johnson wrote has survived. (The only remaining copy of the newspaper is housed in Birmingham Reference Library.) In later life Johnson became renowned for his contributions to London journals.
Both Warren and Hector encouraged Johnson to find the writing work he most wanted, and eventually Johnson settled on the translation into English from a French translation of a book entitled Journey to Abyssinia by Jeronimo Lobo, a Jesuit, which he had read in Oxford. Hector then went to the trouble of obtaining the book from Oxford, and Johnson set about translating it for Warren to produce. He began the task eagerly enough, but was overcome by depression. Hector urged him to continue by pressing on him the plight of the printer who would be impoverished if the work was not completed, and the translation was eventually finished because Hector took dictation from Johnson who was lying in bed. This was Johnson’s first book, and its production illustrates Hector’s very kind nature.
After staying six months in Hector’s lodgings, Johnson moved into lodgings in Bull Street; he stayed another six months in Birmingham and made the acquaintance of Mr. Porter, a friend of both Warren and Hector, who owned a draper’s shop in High Street (which was situated probably in the building where Andrew Johnson formerly had his bookshop). Porter’s sister was the second wife of the headmaster of Lichfield Grammar School, who would be known to both Hector and Johnson. Mr. Porter died and his wife Elizabeth became Johnson’s wife in 1735, despite the fact that she was about twenty years his senior. Johnson had by this time left Birmingham and he married “Tetty” in Derby. Many years passed before Johnson was to become well known for his essays, Dictionary, Lives of the Poets, and an edition of Shakespeare. In 1562 Johnson eventually received a royal pension and became able to afford to travel, and it was then he started visiting his old friend again. They had, however, been in touch by letter at least since 1755 when Johnson asked him to help sell his Shakespeare, which did not actually appear until 1765.
Hector by this time lived at 1, The Square, where Johnson visited both with and without Boswell, and after his last visit in 1780 died only a month later. In 1860 a plaque was put on Hector’s house by the Birmingham Shakespeare Society recording these visits. The plaque was placed in Aston Hall after The Square was demolished, together with panelling from the house. Today Hector and Johnson are memorialised in the sculpture in the island named “Old Square” at the top of Priory Queensway.
The Life of Edmund Hector
His early life
The Life of Samuel Johnson gives us a picture of schoolboys in Lichfield, going for walks, skating on ice, and being taught a rigorous curriculum of classics at Lichfield Grammar School. As young boys Hector remembered buying pies at Dame Read’s shop with Johnson, and as Johnson received private education as a small boy to learn to read, presumably Hector also did so. The facts of Edmund Hector’s genealogy give a picture of a secure professional family, saved from the threat of poverty which hung over Johnson. We are told that Johnson would go to Hector’s family home to escape the atmosphere of his own home.
We do not know when Hector left school; there is some flexibility in the length of time of an apprenticeship which was supposed to last seven years, and in the age at which boys would leave school. However, it is reasonable to suppose that by the age of twenty- one in 1729 he may have come to Birmingham, and if he had undertaken an apprenticeship with his father Benjamin Hector, also a surgeon, his apprenticeship would fit neatly between the two apprentices his father is recorded as having taken on. In becoming a surgeon he was following in the profession not only of his father, but also of his grandfather and uncle; later some of his cousins and nephews also became either physicians or surgeons.
Edmund Hector (died 1709), the grandfather of the Birmingham surgeon, was a person of significance in Lichfield. He was a sheriff and a member of the corporation in 1682, a junior bailiff in 1685 and senior bailiff in 1690 and 1699, and by profession was a surgeon. He and his wife Dorcas or Dorothy had thirteen children, all of whom were baptised in St. Mary’s next to Samuel Johnson’s birthplace, and most of whom were dead by the time of the death of their parents. This church had no burial grounds, and some of his children are buried in St. Michael’s on the edge of the town. His will of 1709 mentions only his sons George and Benjamin, and the grandchildren of one of his daughters, Ann, who married Henry Boylston, a member of a family also involved in the local government of Lichfield. Similarly the will of his wife Dorcas in 1726 leaves her household goods to Benjamin and two silver spoons to her grandson Edmund, as well as gifts to her son George and her Boylston grandchildren.
George Hector (1675-1763), the uncle of Edmund, was the man midwife who delivered Samuel Johnson. He had a responsible position in Lichfield, being a J.P. and member of the corporation by 1714, and was then senior bailiff in 1719, as well as being a churchwarden at St. Mary’s for several years. In 1728 he resigned and moved to Lilleshall in Shropshire where he continued to work as a surgeon. George Hector’s wife was Elizabeth Brooks, and he named one of his two sons Brooke. Brooke Hector (1700-1773) was a well-known physician in Lichfield (he took an Oxford degree), and both he and his two wives were buried in Lichfield Cathedral. Brooke Hector’s grandson Benjamin Hector became a surgeon in Atherstone. Of George Hector’s thirteen children, five are are known to have died young and as one daughter cannot be traced, the number is probably six.
His daughter Sarah (baptised in 1708, the same year as her cousin Edmund) married Edmund Withering in 1734 and became the mother of William Withering. William Withering’s father Edmund had been the apprentice of George Hector for five years from 1730, and in 1765 Edmund Withering took as his apprentice Benjamin Hector, who was the grandson of George Hector.
A nineteenth century book, Stemmata Botevilliana, which traces the genealogy of William Withering, states that George Hector’s daughter Ann married the brother of the bishop of Worcester, and his daughter Charlotte married a Dr. Seagre of Atherstone, but I am uncertain if this is correct. There is an Ann Hector who married one Thomas Ebdell at Stretton, Staffordshire in 1737, who was firstly the headmaster of Lichfield Grammar School, and then the vicar of Caldecote in Warwickshire and took over the parish of Ansley in Staffordshire on the death of his vicar father. Similarly there is a Charlotte Hector who married William Herner at Shifnal in Shropshire in 1732, but I cannot trace a marriage to Dr. Seagre.
George Hector had a son also named George, and by him had a grandson called Benjamin who became a surgeon in Longdon, Staffordshire. Edmund Hector’s will states that he owned land in Longdon, and his parents seem to have retired there.
Benjamin Hector (1682-1757), the father of Edmund who was also a surgeon, married Mary Walton (1685-1763) in Longdon in 1707 and their first son Edmund was christened there in 1708. Their next three children, Ann (1711), Mary (1714) and Philip (1720) were, however, baptised at St. Mary’s Lichfield, where the family presumably had moved. Johnsonian Gleanings states that the family lived in Sadler Street, now called Market Street. (The Johnson family house was on the corner of Sadler Street and Market Square.) Mary was buried in 1716 and Philip was buried soon after birth, both of them at St. Michael’s, and the impression is that Edmund and Ann’s lives seem to have been drawn closer together on the death of their siblings. The family seems to have been professionally successful, as in 1727 Benjamin Hector was mayor of Lichfield. Both he and his wife were buried in Sandon, Staffordshire, where his daughter Ann was living, suggesting that he moved out of Lichfield as did his brother George, and as the burial register states that they were from Longdon, one assumes that they moved back there. It may be that when Edmund’s parents moved to Longdon, Edmund moved to Birmingham.
Ann Hector (1711-1788), the daughter of Benjamin, may have lived with her brother before her marriage, as in the register at Coleshill on 13th December 1738 both she and her husband, Walter Carless, are listed as being of the parish of St. Philip’s. Her brother Edmund is listed on the special licence for the marriage. Walter Carless (1714-1757) was the only child of Richard Carless by his first wife, Ann Moseley, whose father was the son of Sir Edward Acton of Aldersham; Richard Carless is said to have been a Birmingham attorney and the family owned property at Five Ways. Richard Carless married twice, and his second wife, Elizabeth nee Banner, was also married before. By her first marriage she had a daughter, Elizabeth Gibbons, whom Edmund Hector married. Walter Carless was therefore the step brother of Edmund Hector’s second wife. By his second marriage Richard Carless had three daughters, two of whom married clergymen.
Ann’s husband Walter was a clergyman who eventually became the vicar of Sandon in Staffordshire; records state he was also a vicar in Birmingham and Harborne. At the beginning of their marriage he and Ann nee Hector seem to have been living in Lichfield, as their children Richard and Ann were baptised in St. Mary’s in 1739 and 1743 respectively. He died in 1757 and Edmund Hector was the executor of his will; their son Richard only lived to early adulthood and was buried in Sandon in 1764. Their daughter Ann married in 1770, at which point Mrs. Carless seems to have moved in with her widowed brother, his wife having died the previous year.
Dr. Johnson had known Ann Carless in Lichfield and met her again in 1770. He writes to his friend Mrs. Thrale, “I have passed one day at Birmingham with my old Friend Hector – there’s a name – and his Sister an old love. My Mistress is grown much older than my friend.” His visit with Boswell in 1776 is better known, as he told Boswell, “She was the first woman with whom I was in love. It dropt out of my mind imperceptibly, but she and I shall always have a kindness towards each other.” Boswell informs us that “…though much advanced in years (she) was a genteel woman, very agreeable, and well-bred.” Near the end of his life Johnson was brooding about her, as he told Boswell that if he had married her it would have gone well. It amused me to read Boswell’s comment, “His juvenile attachments to the fair sex were very transient”, as most commentators fail to note that Johnson was not only attracted to other women in his youth, but that at the time of his brooding about Mrs. Carless he was hurt by the behaviour of Mrs. Thrale – her husband had recently died and Johnson wished to marry her but was rejected. Nevertheless in 1784 Johnson wrote to Hector, “I send my kindest respects to dear Mrs. Carless”, and she seems to have had equal regard for him, sending a present to Mrs. Thrale who visited The Square with Dr.Johnson.
His sister’s children were to prove important to Hector, as it was Ann’s descendants who would become his heirs. In 1770 the daughter Ann Carless married George Hopper of Welwyn in Hertfordshire, who was a surgeon. Edmund Hector’s name is once again upon the special licence which states that Ann had stayed for a sufficient time in Birmingham, where the couple married on 2nd November 1770 at St. Philip’s. They lived in both Welwyn and Durham, and had a son named Walter Carless Hopper in 1772, who would become Edmund Hector’s heir, both of his parents being dead and buried in the churchyard of Sandon by the time of Hector’s own death.
No.1 Old Square, pictured with its plaque.
His adult life
Edmund Hector, Benjamin’s surviving only son, seems to have prospered after his days with Warren and Johnson: by 1736 he is listed in the Poor Law levy in both the New Street quarter and Bull Street quarter, suggesting that he may have lived in one property and worked in the other. Clearly his practice was flourishing. Like his sister, he got married by special licence in a church with which he seemed to be unconnected; in his case the licence is made out for Sheldon or Temple Balsall, but I have not been able to trace a church register. The licence is dated 12th May 1740, and the date would suggest that he had left getting married later than most of his contemporaries. His wife, Elizabeth Power (1714–1741) of Kenilworth, was probably the daughter of an attorney named Anthony Power, and she had a brother who is said to have been a surgeon in Polesworth. The licence states that Hector was “thirty upwards” and his bride twenty-five. The marriage was sadly short-lived, as the register of St. Nicholas in Kenilworth has two devastating entries on the same page; his wife was buried first on 30th March 1741, having died presumably in childbirth, and then on 15th April 1741 his son, Power Hector, was buried.
Hector seems to have decided to remarry shortly afterwards, and took out another special licence dated 16th August, 1742. He married Mary Gibbons (1706-1769) in St. Philip’s on 17th August 1742, and around this date he seems to have moved into his house in The Square, which he rented before buying. No. 1 The Square was owned by John Pemberton, a Quaker, who had purchased the Priory lands and organised the building of The Square, which was designed by William Westley; when his son died, John Pemberton arranged to let the house, which Hector then stayed in until his death.
Mary Gibbons’ father had died in 1714 and is said to have been an attorney with a large practice, and whose mother was related to a lord. Mary’s mother had then remarried Richard Carless in 1718 at Castle Bromwich. Mary and Edmund do not seem to have had any children, and after twenty-seven years of marriage she was buried on 30th June 1769 in St. Philip’s; in her will she left a bequest to St. Mary’s, Lichfield, for the poor of the parish, which may indicate that the couple kept in touch with Hector’s home town. In his will Hector makes arrangements for the £1,000 she brought to her marriage, a demonstration of her family’s wealth.
The Lunar Society
Edmund Hector was of a different generation to members of the Lunar Society, but seems to have links with several of them.
Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802)
We know that Samuel Johnson knew Erasmus Darwin after Darwin arrived in Lichfield in 1757 (he left in 1780), and visited him, so Hector was certainly likely to know of him; whether he actually knew him is a matter of conjecture, but given that there were still members of Hector’s family living in Lichfield, it seems possible. When Small died in 1775, it was Darwin who recommended Withering to take on Small’s medical practice and welcomed him into the Lunar Society. Darwin’s daughter married Samuel Tertius Galton, the son of Samuel Galton who lived in The Square.
William Small (1734-1775)
William Small came to Birmingham in 1765 and died from malaria in 1775. He was buried in St. Philip’s graveyard, and prior to his death had practised in Temple Row as a physician with Dr. Ash. He and Ash were prime movers from 1769 in getting the General Hospital built, and their first subscription contains Hector’s name. As well as these likely connections through work and worship, we know that Small was initially introduced to Matthew Boulton and then became a leading light of the Lunar Society, and we know that Hector also had connections with Matthew Boulton.
William Withering (1741-1799)
Erasmus Darwin recommended that William Withering take the place of William Small after the latter’s death, both in the Lunar Society and in Small’s medical practice in Birmingham. Withering had family connections with Hector, and he is sometimes described as Hector’s cousin, but in fact it was his mother Sarah who was Hector’s cousin (as stated above), which made him Hector’s second cousin. In 1775 Withering lodged in The Square at no. 10 for a while, and took over Small’s consulting rooms at 9 Temple Row, which he shared with Dr. Ash (1723-1798), who was the prime mover for the General Hospital, and therefore it is more likely than not that Hector also knew Ash quite well. Edmund Hector was on the committee for the General Hospital which urged that Withering should take the place of Small, and we know that Withering spoke warmly of him. Withering later bought 15, The Square, and when, in 1786, he purchased Edgbaston Hall he continued to use his house in the Square as his town house. In the last year of Hector’s life, Withering wrote to him from Portugal, where he was attempting to cure the TB which eventually killed him.
Another connection with Withering was through St. Philip’s, where Withering was a churchwarden. Temple Row, opposite the church, together with The Square, housed so many leading physicians and surgeons it is unnecessary to list them, but there is a high likelihood of them all knowing each other both through work and through church .
During the Priestley Riots of July 1791 the rioters, protesting against dissenters and such progressive views as siding with the French Revolution, targeted Withering’s house, Edgbaston Hall, right at the end of the riot. They were bribed to prevent the house being destroyed as Priestley’s had been. Withering was an Anglican member of the Lunar Society, but presumably held some of the Lunar Society’s progressive views which had incensed the crowd. It has been suggested that Hector was a Tory rather than a Whig, and the same has been said of Dr. Johnson, but many of their friends and associates were Whig.
Samuel Galton junior (1753-1832), another member of the Lunar Society, lived in The Square from 1780, although he also leased Great Barr Hall; he was a Quaker who was condemned for his gun making, and also a banker. There were only sixteen houses in The Square, and it therefore seems likely that Hector would have known him, possibly through his connections with the Quaker Lloyd family who lived on the Square and were friends with both Hector and Johnson.
Matthew Boulton (1728-1809)
Matthew Boulton’s father of the same name originated from Lichfield, and on moving to Birmingham lived around Snowhill, which is both near St. Philip’s, where his son Matthew was christened, and near The Square.
His son, Matthew Boulton, when he moved to Soho, used several doctors including Small, but the book Matthew Boulton: Selling What All the World Desires, includes the catalogue of the exhibition held in 2009 which lists an item dated 1792 from Hector. This is the bill for £7 11s 6d for thirty-one visits to Soho House between 1790 and 1792 and includes an entry “For the cure of Miss Boultons Toe”.
Matthew Boulton was one of the major proponents for the building of a general hospital beginning around 1769.As Hector is named on the original subscription list it seems likely that they did know one another at this date, and may be the reason that Boswell and Hector, and on another occasion Dr. Johnson, were able to visit the Soho works, a fairly new attraction which had opened in 1765. Boswell states that Boulton said to him, “I sell here, Sir, what all the world desires to have – power.” Hector accompanied Boswell on his trip to the works and in the carriage was pumped for information by Boswell on Dr. Johnson’s early life.
Boulton played a part in the music festival started to raise funds for the General Hospital, which took place in St. Philip’s. The festival raised enough money to get the hospital built in 1779, after ten years of trying, and the Triennial Festivals continued to raise money for the hospital into the early twentieth century. As Hector worshipped at St. Philip’s, his parish church, and worked at the General Hospital, it is possible that he was involved with the musical festival along with Boulton.
There is another link with Boulton which is not wholly explicable; among the Boulton papers in the Reference Library is listed the marriage contract of Hector’s great-nephew Walter Carless Hopper, suggesting a close connection between the two families.
William Baskerville (1706-1775)
In 1755 Johnson mentioned in a casual way in a letter to Hector that he had been to see Baskerville, suggesting that both of them knew him. As he remembers drinking with Warren in the Swan tavern in the same letter, he and Hector may have known Baskerville since the 1730s. Hector would have a church connection with Baskerville also, as Baskerville was a church warden at St. Philip’s, presumably before he became an atheist. (Dr. Johnson presented one of Baskerville’s first volumes, Virgil, to Trinity College, Oxford.)
Other friends and acquaintances
In modern parlance, Hector could be said to have had a large network, which might be loosely grouped into three. Firstly there were the people he might hear of, if not personally know, through Dr. Johnson. Johnson formed a literary club which had as members the leading figures of the time: Oliver Goldsmith, Joshua Reynolds, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Edmund Burke, David Garrick, Edward Gibbon and Adam Smith. Towards the end of his life in particular, Johnson contacted many people in Lichfield, both those with whom he had gone to school and others. He also had as good friends and benefactors the Thrale family. Mr. Thrale was an M.P. who owned a brewery and his wife, Hester Thrale, was someone of whom Johnson was very fond; he recommended Hector as a surgeon to her, and Hector and his sister sent her a present of crockery. Johnson lived in Gough Square, off Fleet Street in London, and supported in his house a motley array of dependents, whom Hector may have met when he visited Johnson at least once in 1782 on the way to visit his sick niece.
One of the three schoolboys who helped Johnson to school was John Taylor (1711-1788), whom Johnson visited when he also visited Hector. Taylor was vicar of Market Bosworth, chaplain to the Duke of Devonshire, held a prependal stall in Westminster Abbey and, from 1784, was minister of St. Margaret’s Westminster. Although Hector had been at school with Taylor, there is no clear evidence of continuing friendship; Taylor grew up in Ashfield, Derbyshire and was again living there at the time Johnson began to visit him, on the way to visiting Lichfield. It was John Taylor who conducted Johnson’s burial in Westminster Abbey. Towards the end of his life Johnson exhibited great curiosity about people he had known in his youth, and Boswell mentions several of his old schoolfellows whom Johnson contacted in Lichfield, but we do not know of Hector exhibiting any interest in them.
Sampson Lloyd (1699-1777) was the founder of the first bank in Birmingham, together with John Taylor (1711-1775), a manufacturer of buttons, both of whom lived in The Square. They are mentioned in Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson as entertaining Dr. Johnson when Hector was not at home, which suggests that they were acquaintances of Hector. Both of them were leading citizens of Birmingham.
Secondly, there were the great number of surgeons, doctors and apothecaries Hector would meet through his work, especially from the beginnings of his connection with the General Hospital in 1769. Given that so many surgeons and doctors lived near St. Philip’s, these relationships might well have overlapped with the sociability of church attendance. It is also possible that as his reputation spread, Hector would number many of the wealthy citizens of Birmingham as both patients and friends.
Thirdly, there were the array of people known through family and former Lichfield citizens who had moved to Birmingham. Matthew Boulton, Dr. Swynfen and Andrew Johnson have been mentioned, but there were many more, including the first rector of St. Philip’s. Hector’s sister Ann seems to have moved near Birmingham early on, and Hector was on good terms with her family. His will hints at his relationships with his extended family of cousins, and his cousin Richard, son of George Hector, was a surgeon in Birmingham before moving to Shropshire.
Hector’s professional life
During the eighteenth century the practice of medicine began to differentiate and professionalise and the surgeon apothecary became the equivalent of a general practitioner. Whereas physicians usually attended a university, used the title “doctor” and were considered gentlemen, surgeons would serve an apprenticeship lasting seven years, after leaving grammar school, and were considered “trade” because they worked with their hands. (There is a memorial stone within St. Philip’s to Francis Rogers, a physician who studied at Glasgow and died in 1804.) Hector may have served as an apprentice to his father, another medical relation or even to a member of his future wife’s family, but we do not know.
The medical profession was in flux, with some apothecaries and surgeons also taking university degrees after apprenticeships, as did William Withering and Edward Jenner. Apothecaries would prepare medicines and sometimes prescribe them; in country areas they sometimes practised as doctors in all but name, and usually had a shop, the equivalent of a chemist. Hector was certainly qualified as an apothecary, as he was so described when taking on an apprentice. When, late in his career, he was appointed a consultant surgeon for the General Hospital, it is notable that surgeon apothecaries were separated from surgeons. Throughout the eighteenth century, as more hospitals were established, it became more common for surgeons to spend time “walking” a hospital after their apprenticeship, and at the end of the century the need for medical lectures and medical schools was gradually emerging.
Midwifery had been a primarily female profession, but in the eighteenth century more surgeons became midwives. There are no references to Hector acting as a midwife, as there are no direct references to him having an apothecary’s shop. I would assume that he therefore belonged to the category of surgeon apothecaries who prepared their own medicines for their practice, using mostly plants. A directory of 1774 lists Robert Mynors as a surgeon and man midwife living at 14 The Square, who would write Practical Thoughts on Amputations in 1783 and, in 1785, History of Trepanning the Skull, which illustrate the 18th century thirst for scientific knowledge extending into the medical sciences.
We may think of amputations in the eighteenth century as being the prime function of a surgeon, but this clearly was not so. They frequently dealt with such things as eye and ear problems and broken bones, operated for stones, and treated disease by the common treatment of bleeding, as well as attempting to deal with the scourges of the period such as typhoid, cholera, cancer and tuberculosis. Hector’s uncle, George Hector, a surgeon in Lichfield, worked for The Conduit Trust and there is an interesting list still in existence showing work for which he needed to be paid by the trust, having served the patients free of charge. His work included a number of broken legs, a broken arm, draining an ulcer and treating scrofula. The art of surgery was to cut into the body, which was supposed to be done with a physician present. It was not until the nineteenth century that the importance of sterilisation and the understanding of the cause of disease came about, but towards the end of the century there was an initiative towards inoculation for smallpox.
An instrument case belonging to Hector is preserved in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, and is described as being of pocket size and made of white metal with silver plating, covered with polished shagreen. It contains two pairs of scissors, one curved, dressing forceps, a combined earscoop and director, and a spatula for spreading ointments.
Apart from Matthew Boulton, I have only been able to find one instance of a patient whom Hector treated, Sir Walter Gough of Perry Hall. Hector’s bill of around 1748 lists “a wound upon Michael’s knee 7/6d,” “Mrs. Gough’s eye 1/3d”, “a mixture for the neck 1/2d” and “opeldodoch 2/4d”.
It should be noted that Birmingham was late in acquiring a General Hospital and a Dispensary; Bristol, for example, had a General Hospital in 1737. The purpose of such hospitals was to provide care for the poor at a time when industrial towns were growing, and Hector’s compassion for people who could not pay seems to have been as great as that of Withering, who was renowned for treating people of all classes in the same way. Surgeons and physicians at Birmingham General Hospital were allowed apprentices, but we do not know of any taken on by Hector at this late stage of his life. We do know that prior to this period he had at least three distinguished apprentices. One would assume that for him to be appointed a Consultant Surgeon at the General Hospital when it opened, he was held in high esteem and kept abreast of changing practices.
These three apprentices were Robert Ward, John Nott and Christopher Wren. Robert Ward came from the family after whom Ward End is named, and became one of the surgeons at the General Hospital. It is said that he and Withering admitted the first forty patients when the hospital first opened.
John Nott (1751-1825) was an intriguing figure. Born in Worcester, he was the son of a German courtier. After serving his apprenticeship with Hector from 1767, he went to London, Paris and Europe, then to China for the East India Company, and learned Persian. From 1789 to 1793 he was attached to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, but is most remembered for the large number of books he wrote. We know that Hector subscribed in 1787 to Selected Odes from Hafiz by his former apprentice.
Christopher Wren (probably 1747-1797) was apprenticed in 1762, and it seems possible that he was part of the Wren family who lived at the Wroxall estate in Warwickshire. This estate had been bought by the famous architect of St. Paul’s, who had himself been apprenticed to a surgeon. He is most likely to be the grandson of the architect, and attended Solihull school, but I have not found any evidence of him practicing surgery.
In his will Hector names “Mr. – Taylor, now apothecary at the General Hospital near Birmingham” and leaves him “all my instruments, drugs etc. belonging to my surgery”. The instrument case mentioned above is said to have been left to the Royal College of Surgeons by a Thomas Taylor, apprentice to Edmund Hector, but as his dates are given as 1796-1890 this clearly cannot be true; another source states that his uncle was apprenticed to Hector. I cannot find a Taylor in the Medical Register for 1783 which lists the hospital staff, but he may well have been appointed at a later date.
When the General Hospital opened in 1779 Hector was already in his sixties. We have seen that he was treating Matthew Boulton in 1792 and the impression is that he was able to continue to practise until his death at the age of eighty-five.
His later life
Hector’s second wife died in 1769, not long after the death of his mother in 1763 and his nephew Richard Carless in 1764 (who had died of an accident). Ann Carless, after the marriage of her daughter in 1770, moved into his house and died in 1788, a year after the death of her daughter’s husband George Hopper in 1787; her daughter Ann Hopper had died in 1782. Because the son of Ann Hopper, Walter Carless Hopper, attended King Edward School in Birmingham, it is possible that he lived with his great uncle after his mother’s death; he matriculated from Oxford in 1794, and had come of age by the time of Hector’s death, enabling him to inherit the estate. Dr. Johnson died in December1784, and visited Hector for the last time in November: on returning to London and in great pain, he wrote to Hector on 17th November, “Let us think seriously on our duty…we have all lived long and must soon part.” Despite all these deaths, Hector seems to have remained active and cogent to the end of his life, writing to Boswell after the publication of his famous Life of Samuel Johnson in 1791, telling him how much he had enjoyed it. Even in January 1794, shortly before his death, Hector was corresponding with Boswell concerning the correct attribution of a juvenile poem of Johnson’s.
We know little of Hector’s life, but some fragments remain. His house in The Square is known to have had a large garden (a warehouse was built there after his death), and, according to Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, there was a fire in the house in 1751. In 1770 Hector finally bought the house for £605. We learn more of his life from his will written in the last year of his life, which gives the impression of a wealthy man. As well as leaving his house in The Square to his great-nephew, he owned two houses in High Street and a freehold house and farm in Longdon, Staffordshire (which one assumes was inherited from his parents). Should his great-nephew die, he wishes his property to be given to “my cousin Elisabeth Pierson, wife of John Pierson of Tettenhall, Staffs”, and his cousin Thomas Walton of Longdon. The latter was clearly a relation of his mother, giving an indication that he was in contact with her side of the family. The residue of his estate, should his great-nephew die, is to go to “the five children of my late cousin George Hector, brother of the late Dr. Brooke Hector”. “To my friends Thomas Smith of Birmingham, Dr. in Physic, and Robert Ward £50 each”, which was for the trouble of being his executors; and finally he leaves one year’s wages to his three servants. Robert Ward, his former apprentice and now a surgeon at the General Hospital has been mentioned before; Thomas Smith was a consultant physician at the hospital who took his degree in Glasgow.
His “cousin”, Elizabeth Pearson, was the daughter of Penelope Hector who was the daughter of his uncle George, and married John Leake of Salters Hall in Shropshire. Elizabeth was her parents’ sole heiress, and married Thomas Pearson of Tettenhall in Staffordshire. In May 1776 William Withering’s wife went to stay with them there. Their son, John Pearson, became the Advocate General of Bengal, and their daughter married Dr. Johnstone, who was a physician of Birmingham General Hospital, became President of Queens College and later helped found Queens Hospital. In 1808 Johnstone bought Edgbaston Hall, formerly owned by Withering, and prior to this, in 1805, had moved into The Square.
Hector’s heir, Walter Carless Hopper, inherited property at Five Ways from his Carless relations as well as Hector’s property, and eventually went to live in Durham after he sold 1 The Square in 1796, where he became a Deputy Lieutenant to the county. He married Margaret Shipperdson and his eldest son named Edmund Hector Hopper changed his name to Shipperdson and became a clergyman. The daughter of the latter, Mary Adeline, married Sir Henry Pottinger and her daughter became Lady Knaresborough.
By the time of his death Hector was sufficiently well known to merit an obituary in The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1794:
“September 2nd, 1794. At Birmingham in his 85th year, Edmund Hector, esq., the school-fellow, and, through life, the intimate friend, of the late Dr. Samuel Johnson; a gentleman eminent for skill and assiduity in his public character as a surgeon, and much and deservedly esteemed in private life for his benevolence of disposition, liberality of sentiment, and urbanity of manners.”
This old postcard depicts the so-called “Johnson’s room” in Aston Hall, which contains the pannelling from Edmund Hector’s house.