Sitters: Sir Henry Thompson, 1st Bt. (1820-1904) & chauffeur.
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Sir Henry Thompson, 1st Bt. (1820-1904) photographed with his chauffeur in the 10 hp two-cylinder Panhard motor car with 2.4 litre engine capacity.
He was a famous Victorian surgeon and the first English urologist, who had among his patients King Leopold I of Belgium and the former Emperor Napoleon III. As well as achieving great professional eminence he also gained success in an extraordinarily wide range of endeavours, thanks to his boundless energy and a passion for delving deeply into anything that caught his interest. He was an amateur astronomer, an exhibiting painter, a collector of oriental china and an art connoisseur, who paid annual visits to galleries across Continent. He wrote frequently to The Times, The Lancet and other periodicals to share his views on diet, food and drinking, poultry farming, market-gardening and the need for cremation. The later subject became his crusade in the name of hygiene, and he founded and presided over the Cremation Society. A prolific author on the matters of his profession, he also penned two successful novels as well as numerous books, leaflets and addresses in his fields of interest.
Sir Henry Thompson was friendly with many of the famous men of science, art, letters, and politics and, through his pianist wife, music. Some of them would be invited to his celebrated ‘Octaves’ dinners, which were always staged to begin at eight o’clock for eight male guests, who would consume eight dishes. The guest list from one of the doctor’s parties, which has survived at the Lanman Museum in Framlingham, was not only signed by the king George V but also by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
It must have been no surprise to his acquaintances that at the age of 80 he eagerly took up a new hobby and in June 1901 bought his first motor car – “the 6.5 hp Daimler with Tonneau body, driven by petrol, ignited by electricity.” After engaging a chauffer, he then spent ten weeks driving 6,000 miles about the country testing his new vehicle and taking pictures with his Kodak camera equipped with Goertz lenses. As usual he then published his remarks in the press, declaring himself an enthusiast of a new way of transportation and giving practical advice on how to accustom horses to the motorists. In March 1902 he published a little book The Motor-car, an elementary Handbook on its Nature and Management, which nowadays throws an interesting light upon the difficulties met by the pioneers of amateur motoring. As a doctor he found that “the opportunity [a car] affords for filling the lungs with pure air during some hours daily is a valuable and health-promoting exercise, aerating the blood, and enabling it to eliminate waste products.” He advised, however, that in a long drive “one should get out and have a walk for a few minutes in order to keep the muscles of the legs in order”!
This photograph, taken on 5 October 1903, shows Sir Henry Thompson and his driver, in the 10 hp, two-cylinder Panhard et Levassor car with 2.4 litre engine capacity, which has been just delivered to him – hence no registration plates! Its coachwork is probably by an English builder and, although quite stylish, indicates a lower budget machine. This was Sir Henry’s third vehicle, the second being the 9 hp Daimler, which replaced his original 6.5 hp Daimler due to its “greater hill-climbing capacities.”
A version of this portrait was reproduced in The Car Illustrated magazine on 21 October 1903.
Biog: Surgeon & author.
Date: 5 October 1903.
Occasion: Photograph for The Car Illustrated magazine.
Descr: Exterior with 10 h.p. Panhard motor car.
Photographer: Lafayette Ltd., 179 New Bond Street, London.
No of poses: 2.
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Biog: Burke's Peerage; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition; Dictionary of National Biography; Who's Who; 'An Octogenarian Motorist', The Car Illustrated, Vol I, No 4, 18 June 1902, p 119; The Times, 19 April 1904, p 10a-d; T.H.S. Escott, Society in the New Reign, London, 1904, pp 240-2; Zachary Cope, The Versatile Victorian: Being the Life of Sir Henry Thompson, Bt. 1820-1904, London 1951.
See also, The Times, 27 August 1901, p 5e, 31 August, p 8e, 5 September, pp 6c & 7d-f, 6 September, p 9e, 21
September, p 11f; Sir Henry Thompson, The Motor Car: An Elementary Handbook on its Nature, Use and Management, London, 1902.
Reproduced: (version), The Car Illustrated, Vol VI, No 74, 21 October 1903, p 243.
To Do: Check London Library catalogue for T.H.S. Escott book - originally printed as "By a Foreign Resident".