James Bower Harrison

Scope and Content

Harrison's autobiographical writings offer a wider picture of life in Manchester for a 19th century doctor. Whilst liberal reference is made to medical events and colleagues there is also considerable focus on national and international events as well as aspects of his personal and family life.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Bower Harrison (1814-1890) was born in 1814, the son of a Unitarian minister, Rev William Harrison, and was part of a large clerical family and also the cousin of novelist William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882). He was apprenticed to the Manchester surgeon William R. Whatton (1790-1835) and then continued his medical studies in Manchester and at University College Hospital, London. He qualified LSA in 1836 after which he was appointed Resident Assistant Physician to the Manchester Royal Infirmary. He was also Surgeon to the Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary. On 7 July 1837 he became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and was elected a Fellow on 21 October 1852. He was awarded the MD from St Andrew's University in 1856 and also became a Member of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1859.

Harrison successfully established a large practice and in 1847 is known to have been operating from premises at 4 Old Roman Road, Bury New Road. An Obstetrical Society of Manchester was inaugurated in 1860 where Harrison was appointed one of its first vice-presidents alongside Edward Stephens (1804-1863). He published extensively during his career, including such studies as Popular Medical Errors (1851), Medical Aspects of Death and of the Human Mind (1852), On the Contamination of Water by Lead (1852), and Familiar Lectures on the Diseases of Children (1862). Many of his works were specifically aimed at laymen. He campaigned for the introduction of medical inspections to certain trades and manufactories and his efforts were significant in bringing about a Government inquiry into the condition of children employed in unhealthy occupations. This led to the Factory Act of 1847.

He married Catherine Evans, the only daughter of Shaw Evans of Chester, at Chester on 27 May 1857. Harrison died at The Mount, Higher Broughton, Manchester on 2 January 1890.

Related Material

A number of items of correspondence addressed to Harrison can be found amongst Biographical Files of the Manchester Medical Collection (MMC/2 ) where they have been redistributed amongst the files of the authors of the letters by the creator of the Manchester Medical Collection, Ernest Bosdin Leech.

The Wellcome Library, London hold certificates for Harrison's various professional qualifications (MS.5194) as well as his own copy of his 1851 publication Popular Medical Errors interleaved and annotated by him (MS.8482).

Manchester Archives and Local Studies hold two letters from the Royal Manchester Institution to Harrison, the first relating to his paper to a Conversazione, 1848 (M6/1/49/4/p404), and the second relating to an unknown subject (M6/1/49/4/p407). They also hold a handwritten prologue by Harrison written for a performance of Raising the Wind (M740/8/1/20).


The Royal College of Surgeons of England 'Harrison, James Bower (-1890)' Plarr's Lives of the Fellows Online 2012. 'Obituary: James Bower Harrison, M.D.St.And., M.R.C.P.Lond., F.R.C.S.Eng.' British Medical Journal 1890 1(1515) p.110.