Medicine and Mission – the Blogs

Here is my first official review

Medicine and Mission by Robert Colledge is a biography on the life of Thomas Richardson Colledge, a nineteenth-century pioneering doctor. Amidst other interesting events in Thomas’s life, the book also covers his missionary and clinical work in China. This detailed account has indeed captured the ‘interesting’ times in the life of this unique and endearing personality.

Thomas Richardson Colledge is the great-great-grandfather of the author, Robert Colledge. He was raised in the Northamptonshire Village of Kilsby at the old manor house. He later got married to Caroline Matilda Shillaber. 

The author has left no stones unturned in obtaining Thomas’s history from trustworthy sources. This book gives a recap of Thomas’s time at Rugby school. At the young age of 15 years, he enrolled in the Leicester Infirmary and Fever House where he began receiving medical training. In 1817, he continued his medical training in London where he obtained his certificate of corporation of surgeons. Gradually, Thomas began the journey that eventually led him into the East India Medical Service. How did Thomas fare while in the employ of John Company? How did his relationship with his immediate and extended family turn out? What did his philanthropic work in China accomplish? These are intriguing questions answered in this book.

The quality that stands out in this book is honesty. The author is quite open about his sources of information. Thomas’ history is presented with specific dates, events, and even colorful pictures of places of interest which were illustrated by the author. For me, these pictures were the major highlights of this book. The information in the book is well-organized to prevent confusion. Little details give depth to the story. Some of these are found in the excerpts of writings from Caroline’s school friend, Harriet Low, who seemed to have a crush on Thomas. 

The author does not attempt to portray the main character as a Saint. When speculating about the motives behind Thomas’s letter to his brother, the author did not ascribe purely noble intents to Thomas. After reading this book, I came to new realizations. I understood the probable motives behind collaborations between Medical doctors and missionaries. The excerpts of letters of gratitude from patients who benefited from the free treatments in Macao also lends credence to this book. 

I would rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. I found some typographical errors in the narrative. This is the only dislike I have about this book. However, there is much to learn from the rich life of Thomas Richardson Colledge. Lovers of biographies relating to medical practice in the nineteenth century would find this book quite informative.

This blog entry features the help I received from a local historian in Thomas’s birthplace, Kilsby, Northamptonshire:

Grenville Hatton, a well-known member of the Kilsby community  was a supremely dedicated archivist and researcher into the history of both that Northamptonshire village  and its neighbour,  Barby.  When I set about researching the story of the man whom I am proud to call Kilsby’s most famous son, Thomas Richardson Colledge, Grenville invited me over to KIlsby.  

Even as I discussed the history of the villages and perused the wealth of historical information from parish records and articles written by Grenville on the village’s history, I could not fail to notice that he was not a well man, and sure enough he later wrote to tell me of his untreatable cancer and how it was affecting his ability to speak.  I was however lucky to be able to gain another opportunity to go through this immense amount of historical documentation with him – his indefatigable resolve to impart what he knew of Thomas and other family members buried in the churchyard of St. Faith’s Church was a clear indication of a dedicated historian. So thank you Grenville – I am only sorry that your early demise deprived you of the opportunity to read Medicine and Mission. Find out more about Thomas’s birthplace at:

Next, Rugby School, which features in the book: I never realised that it was as early as 1823 when the game of rugby football allegedly came into being, a mere dozen years after Thomas Richardson Colledge left that school.  Rugby is famous for more than that fortunate occurrence when William Webb Ellis ‘picked up the ball and ran’.  A glance at a catalogue  of old Rugbeians shows that the sciences are well represented, although Thomas Richardson Colledge is missing from Wikipedia’s list, a glaring omission I feel…

Anyway, Thomas was a foundationer at Rugby which meant that his parents paid no fees – I explain how this system developed in the book. I wonder if the Foundationer scheme carried on after Thomas left Rugby in about 1812? Any Rugbeians who would like to talk about this charitable aspect of Rugby School are welcome to contact me: [email protected]

Thomas’s training at a number of medical establishments in the United Kingdom was revealing. Here’s a note on the most famous teaching hospital in London. St Thomas’s Hospital Southwark – the hospital where Thomas Richardson Colledge underwent part of his medical training was featured in an archaeology programme  Britain’s Biggest Dig shown on BBC2 (a massive archaeological programme coinciding with the creation of the HS2 train link between Birmingham and Euston) which has involved the uncovering of a huge number of graves from the St James’s cemetery. The presenters looked at  St Thomas’s extremely  busy anatomy  classes ( exactly as I described in Medicine and Mission from an early nineteenth century student’s reminiscences) – the programme also went on to look at the macabre work of the Resurrectionists who provided a ready supply of corpses for use in anatomy lessons at London Hospitals to make up for the shortage of executed criminals normally used for this purpose.

Clayton Square, St Thomas’s Hospital in the early 19th century

The Medical Missionary Society of China – this was founded by Thomas Richardson Colledge in 1838 in collaboration with Dr Peter Parker an American missionary who had also trained as a doctor.  Parker was Thomas’s mentee (as they say in America), and founded a hospital in Canton.  It continued in existence in Canton modern Guanzhou) right up to the twentieth century. Read more about this on  which features Thomas and Peter Parker amongst others

Chinese artefacts

Take a close look at the gallery on the Contact page. This displays a number of Chinese objets d’art made of cinnabar, lacquer and mother of pearl. Some of these date to the eighteenth century (the cinnabar bowl is the best example) and were acquired by Thomas Richardson Colledge during his time in Macau and Canton. Click on each image to view close up the intricate workmanship.

2 Replies to “Medicine and Mission – the Blogs”

  1. Hi Robert
    Congratulations for reaching your objective of publishing your book, very excited to read your book. Purchased on Amazon a few minutes ago. I contacted Grenville during my Fish research in Kilsby. Unfortunately the timing was very poor, he wrote back to me informing me he was in the final stages of his illness and could not help me in any way. An absolutely terrible loss.
    Will contact you again after the book arrives.
    Regards for now.

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