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East Lothian People > Movers and shakers > Dr. George Harley

Dr. George Harley

George Harley was born at Harley House, Haddington, on 12th February 1829 the only son of George Barclay Harley and Margaret MacBeath. His father was sixty three when George was born and he died when George was very young. George was educated at the burgh school in Haddington, and at age seventeen he went to Edinburgh University where he  graduated in 1850, age twenty one, with a medical degree. For 15 months he worked at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary as a house surgeon and resident physician. He then went abroad for further studies and spent two years working in laboratories in Paris, two years working at renowned German universities and also some time working in Italy. He returned to London and became the curator of the anatomical museum at The University College. During this period he lectured there in physiology and histology.
George developed an interest in poisons as a result of a famous trial in 1856 when a William Palmer was convicted of poisoning his friend John Parsons Cook with strychnine. George was the first person to show that animals poisoned with strychnine could be saved by administering the arrow poison curare.
In 1859 George became professor of medical jurisprudence at The University College. About this time he proposed that the reason the stomach itself is not digested is because it is protected by a layer of alkaline mucus, which itself is constantly being replaced. In 1864 he became a Fellow of The College of Physicians and the following year a Fellow of The Royal Society. He was also one of the founders of the British Institute of Preventative Medicine.
As well as his achievements in research and medical advancements George also ventured into medical instrumentation inventing a microscope which could be transformed from a monocular instrument into a binocular one. It could also be used as a polarising instrument of high or low intensity. He also wrote a book called “The Simplification of English Spelling …” which was published in 1877. He was an advocate of spelling reform, calling for the removal of all redundant consonants except for those used in personal names.
George died on 27th October 1896 at his home in Harley Street, London. His daughter, Mrs Alec Tweedie, wrote a biography of her father.
It has been said that Harley Street derived its name from George but this seems unlikely as the land it sits on was owned and developed in 1715 by Edward Harley, the second Earl of Oxford.

Further Reading
Tweedie, Alec, George Harley: The Life of a London Physician, Scientific Press, 1899.
Harley,George, The Simplification of English Spelling Especially Adapted for the Rising Generation. An Easy Way of Saving Time, Writing, Printing and Reading, Trubner,1877.

 

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