Feature Christmas 2010: History

A shopping list of doctors

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c5727 (Published 14 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5727
  1. C John Scott, retired consultant physician
  1. 135 Ashgrove Road West, Aberdeen AB16 5BB, UK
  1. cjohnscott{at}aol.com

The season of dietary indulgence seems a good time to celebrate doctors whose names have become linked with items of food and drink. From antiquity to the present, doctors have attempted to influence the diet of their patients. Some have developed foods that became so popular that they have achieved lasting commercial success. Although many are forgotten as doctors, their names remain well known to the public, becoming famous brand names and trademarks.

Christopher Rawson Penfold (1811-70) and Henry John Lindeman (1811-81)

Doctors played a major role in the development of the Australian wine industry, and two remain as popular brands today: Penfolds and Lindeman’s.

Christopher Rawson Penfold1 studied medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, graduating in 1838. For six years he practised medicine in Brighton, before emigrating to Australia in 1844 and settling close to Adelaide. He believed in the medicinal power of wine, particularly for the treatment of anaemia, and before he left Britain had obtained vine cuttings from France. In Australia he developed a successful medical practice and began to make wine. Originally this was intended for medicinal use, but demand understandably grew and soon his wine was being sold throughout the country. Although he reduced his clinical work as demands of the vineyards increased, he continued to practise some medicine until the year of his death. After his death, his wife, who had been involved in wine production from the beginning, took over the business. It has now become internationally successful.

Henry John Lindeman2 graduated from St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1834 and became a naval surgeon. Dissatisfied with his prospects in the navy, he left in 1840 for Australia, where he started a medical practice. He believed that the Australian climate made wine a healthier drink than spirits, and before leaving Europe had visited French and German vineyards and studied their wine making techniques. In 1843 Lindeman bought land at Cawarra where the soil and climate were suitable for growing vines. He was building up a successful business when a fire destroyed this property and stock of maturing wine. Undeterred, he went to the Australian goldfields, where he worked as both a doctor and miner until he had acquired sufficient funds to rebuild the winery. He expanded throughout Australia and soon had a reputation for producing wines of high quality.

William Oliver (1695-1764)

William Oliver3 was an English physician, philanthropist, and inventor of the Bath Oliver biscuit. He studied medicine at Cambridge and Leiden then practised for a time in Plymouth. In 1725 he moved to Bath, where he spent the rest of his life. He soon built up the largest practice in the city. Oliver had a wide range of interests outside medicine, including literature, art, and architecture. However, he is best remembered today for his invention of the Bath Oliver, a hard savoury biscuit, which he initially used in treatment along with Bath mineral water. He is also said to have invented the Bath Bun, a sweet fruit bun that his patients loved. They ate them to such excess and gained so much weight that he abandoned buns in favour of biscuits.

Shortly before his death Oliver gave his biscuit recipe to his coachman, along with £100 and a quantity of flour to set him up in business. The coachman opened a shop and soon made his fortune.

John Abernethy (1764-1831)

The Abernethy biscuit, a hard biscuit originally flavoured with caraway, is named after John Abernethy,4 an English surgeon who studied and worked for most of his life also at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. His robust sense of humour and histrionics made him a popular teacher. Abernethy was renowned for his rudeness to patients no matter what their social status or wealth, which paradoxically only served to increase his practice and income. He believed that disorders of the digestive tract were responsible for all diseases and that frequent purges and a restricted diet were vital in the treatment and prevention of disease. After his death his emphasis on diet led to the naming of the biscuit after him.

Thomas Richard Allinson (1858-1918)

Thomas Allinson5 was a British doctor who founded a bakery which still produces bread under his name, manufacturing the loaf that claims to have “nowt taken out.” He qualified in Edinburgh in 1879, and practised throughout his life in London. He was a vegetarian who condemned alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco, as well as meat, at a time when much of the medical profession was in favour of smoking as being beneficial to the lungs. He believed that the whole wheat grain was the perfect food for man and that bran was important to health, almost a century before the work of Dennis Burkitt convinced the medical profession. His outspoken criticisms of his medical colleagues and widespread self promotional advertising led to the erasure of his name from the Medical Register in 1892. Despite this he continued to practise successfully, to give public lectures, and to write on his methods of preventing and treating disease.

Joseph Fry (1728-87)

Joseph Fry6 was an English physician, businessman, and chocolate manufacturer. He served an apprenticeship to an apothecary and settled in Bristol, where he set up an apothecary’s shop and developed a large medical practice. He was a strong believer in the health value of cocoa powder, which in his day made a bitter, definitely medicinal drink. He began to make a chocolate drink in his shop in 1759. Fry was an astute businessman and soon abandoned medicine, except for charitable cases, in favour of various successful business activities. In 1761 he purchased a chocolate business, which was successful, and he was soon selling chocolate throughout the United Kingdom. In 1764 Fry passed control of the chocolate company to his wife and sons, while he concentrated on his other business activities, retiring only in the year of his death. His chocolate company continued to expand and became the largest manufacturer of chocolate in Britain. In 1847 the company was first to develop a technique for producing solid chocolate bars and in 1866 the Fry’s Chocolate Cream bar was invented.

John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943)

John Harvey Kellogg7 was an American surgeon, hygienist, and food manufacturer who accidentally invented cornflakes. He graduated in medicine from Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City in 1875 and the following year became superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, Michigan. He practised a brand of holistic medicine advocating a vegetarian diet, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, frequent enemas, and exercise. He believed most diseases could be alleviated by altering the intestinal flora. To this end he used, among other treatments, yoghurt enemas. In 1884 Kellogg obtained a patent for the manufacture of “flaked cereal.” Looking for a digestible bread substitute for use in the sanatorium he had accidentally left a pot of boiled wheat to stand. This wheat emerged from rolling as large, thin flakes, which, when baked, became crisp. His patients liked the result so much that he formed a company with his brother to manufacture and market corn flakes (although he and his brother later fell out and parted company). Kellogg also invented peanut butter.


Lists of doctors best known for their contribution to fields outside medicine—called medical truants by Lord Moynihan—are dominated by those who have achieved success in areas such as politics, literature, science, exploration, and natural history.8 9 It may be thought that commercial success makes doctors undeserving of professional recognition. This article attempts to rescue some from medical oblivion.


Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5727


  • Competing interests: The author has completed the Unified Competing Interest form at www.icmje.org/coi_disclosure.pdf (available on request from the corresponding author) and declares: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous 3 years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.