Hunter Jackson Barron, 1857 – 1888
by Brian Stevenson
last updated August, 2010
Much can be learned from microscopic examination of healthy and diseased tissues of humans and other animals. Histology has therefore been an important part of medical education since the Victorian era. As a result of 100+ years of medical studies, there is now an abundance of amateurish slides prepared by and for students, most of which are poorly made and of little value to collectors. Less frequently, modern-day collectors will find high quality, professional histology slides that were provided by experts such as A.C. Cole and/or retailed through microscopy supply houses such as Beck, Watson or Baker. Far less common are expertly-made slides prepared by physicians, anatomists, etc. for their own reference use. Rare indeed are those for which the maker can be identified. These include microscope slides from Dr. Hunter J. Barron’s collection (Figure 1). Barron was a notable physician, an expert on mollusks, and quite famous as an early advocate of swimming for fitness.
Figure 1. Microscope slides made by Dr. Hunter J. Barron. The neatness of the finish and use of personalized labels suggest that these were made for Barron’s personal use as reference material. The upper row are 1 ½ by 3 inches in size, a standard slide size for the time. The lower row are all 1 x 3 inches.
Hunter Jackson Barron was born March 31, 1857, apparently the eldest child of Edward J. and Eliza Barron. Father Edward was a notable London lawyer. Edward was also a significant member of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, serving as Vice President and Council member for many years. Hunter received his early education at the Charterhouse, one of the oldest private schools in England.
Barron initially studied medicine at St. Thomas's Hospital, and matriculated at the London University. Although he left that school before completing his studies, Barron served as a steward at the St Thomas’s Hospital Old Students’ Annual Dinner in 1885. Having decided that the London course was “too protracted”, he transferred to Edinburgh. Barron there received his M.B. (Bachelor of Medicine) and C.M. (Magister Chirurgiae – Master of Surgery) degrees in 1883, and M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) in 1885. He also received a Pattison Medal in medicine. One of his obituary notices reported that Barron donated his own blood to a patient when it became necessary during a surgery. After graduation, Barron returned to the London area, establishing a practice in Finchley. He was elected a Fellow of the Obstetrical Society of London in 1886.
In addition to his medical interests, Barron was a keen student of zoology. While at Edinburgh, in 1879, he received the Sir Wyville Thomson Silver Medal for Practical Zoology. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh in 1880, and of the Linnaean Society in 1887. Barron formed an extensive collection of British mollusks, which was donated to the Linnaean Society after his death. It was then presented to the Mason Science College, Birmingham. He also contributed mollusk specimens to the British Museum.
Swimming was one of Barron’s greatest passions. His obituary in the Transactions of the Obstetrical Society of London stated, “Dr. Barron was distinguished in athletics as well as in science. He had been a good swimmer from a very early age, and was well known in the swimming world as a firstrate amateur in the art. He took very great interest in this pursuit, and did all that he possibly could to encourage it. He had been captain of the Otter Swimming Club (ed. note: in 1878. The Otters is one of the oldest swimming clubs in England), and also hon. secretary of the Swimming Association of Great Britain from 1880 to 1883, and president in 1884 and 1885, doing much in both those capacities for the encouragement of the art. On his resigning the position of president in 1886, he was presented by the delegates of the Association with a handsome testimonial, in appreciation of his efforts to promote and popularise swimming generally. Portraits and memoirs of him as an amateur swimmer appeared in the 'Bicycling and Athletic Journal' of November, 1880, and the 'Sporting Mirror' of May, 1882, and he had from time to time contributed articles on his favourite pastime to the 'Field ' and other papers. His love for swimming as a sport was subordinate, however, to his desire to encourage it as a health-giving, life-saving art, and he was never more pleased than when lecturing to a school or institute on the subject, or framing rules for their guidance in forming clubs”.
Barron was clearly a healthy man in his youth. Modern English Biography noted that he walked from London to Portsmouth, a distance of 72 miles/116 kilometers, in only 23 hours on 9-10 August, 1879.
His obituary in the Transactions of the Obstetrical Society of London reported that “Dr. Barron suffered much mental anxiety in the year 1886”, with symptoms of diabetes appearing during that autumn. However, “he never deceived himself as to the result, but preferred to work on until the end, rather than give up. As a matter of fact he visited patients two days before his death, and the final end was due to his catching cold on his rounds.” Hunter Barron died on February 9, 1888, at the age of 31.
Figure 2. Hunter Jackson Barron. From the Bicycling and Athletic Journal, Nov. 4, 1880.
Many thanks to Maureen Carter for images of Hunter J. Barron’s microscope slides.
Alphabetical list of graduates of the University of Edinburgh from 1859 to 1888 (1889) page 20. The University of Edinburgh.
Bicycling and Athletic Journal (1880), Our Portraits: Mr. H.J. Barron, Nov. 4, page 19. Reprinted in Mike Huggins (2004) The Victorians and Sport, Continuum International Publishing Group, London.
The Lancet (1885) St. Thomas’s Hospital Old Students’ Annual Dinner, Vol. 2, page 34, Sept. 26.
List of past officers of the Otters Swimming Club, accessed through www.otterswimming.com/myotter/pastofficers-template.asp
Modern English Biography, Vol. 4, supplement Vol. 1, A-C (1906) by Frederic Boase, Netherton and Worth, Truro. Page 285.
Nature (1887) report of the April 7 meeting of the Linnaean Society, Vol. 35, page 623.
Proceedings of the Linnaean Society (1888) Obituary of Hunter Jackson Barron, Vol. 22, page 48
Proceedings of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh (1880) report of the March 17,1880 meeting, Vol. 5, page 379.
Proceedings of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh (1881) Vol. 6, page 293.
“Scrutator” (1880) Our contemporaries, The Lily, Vol. 1, page 83.
The Students’ Journal and Hospital Gazette (1883) Pass list of the University of Edinburgh, July 14, page 308.
Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society (1890) List of Officers, Vol. 6, and other issues of this journal.
Transactions of the Obstetrical Society of London (1886) report of the October 6, 1886 meeting, Vol. 27, page 15.
Transactions of the Obstetrical Society of London (1889) Annual address, Vol. 32, pages 90-91.
Vital statistics of England, accessed through ancestry.co.uk
Vital statistics of Scotland, accessed through scotlandspeople.gov.uk