Who was James Paget?
EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“I live in Gorleston and often drive past the hospital. Who was James Paget?"

James Paget was born in Great Yarmouth in January 1814, the eighth of sixteen siblings to a one time mayor of Yarmouth. His family did well, with George, one of his older brothers, being a professor of medicine at Cambridge University. At the age if 16 James became an apprentice to a local surgeon and in 1834 went to study medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. He stayed there until 1871.

His extraordinary career began as a medical student when he was the first person to describe tapeworm infection in the body he was given when studying anatomy! He went on to become a surgeon where he was noted for his ability to charm and his pleasant bedside manner. He was also involved in translating medical textbooks and performing dissections for the Royal College of Surgeons’ museum to supplement his income (if you are ever in London, or on the internet, pay the museum a visit – it’s very fascinating but best of all, it’s free. www.rcseng.ac.uk/museums)

Eventually he became famous as a surgeon and became professor of surgery at St Bartholomew’s, all the while making important contributions to medical science. He has several diseases named after him, including osteitis deformans (Paget’s disease of bone) a disorder he described in 1877. He also described two diseases affecting the nipples, a blood clotting disorder, and several disorders of the skeleton.

He was honoured during his lifetime by being appointed vice chancellor of the university of London, as well as doctor of honour at law at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. He also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1851, going on to become President in 1875. He was also ‘surgeon extraordinary’ to Queen Victoria and ‘surgeon ordinary’ to the Prince of Wales. In 1877 he was created a Baronet. 

He was a contemporary of Charles Dickens, Louis Pasteur, and Florence Nightingale. In 1844 he married Lydia and together they had six children, one of whom went on to become Bishop of Oxford.

In 1871, he almost died after contracting an infection whilst performing an autopsy. He decided very quickly to stop operating, and just be a consultant. His fine way with words and his unrivalled depth of knowledge ensured that he remained prominent in medical circles for the rest of his life. James Paget died in on the 30th of December 1899 in London. Great Yarmouth should be rightly proud to have produced such an accomplished man.