04 June 2022

How Dr De’Ath died working
to reduce mortality rates
in Victorian Buckingham

Hamilton House was the home of Dr George De’Ath (1861-1901), a pioneering doctor who worked to reduce the high incidence of early mortality in Buckingham in the late 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The former British Foreign Secretary, Lord (David) Owen, was one of the ‘Gang of Four’ who left the Labour Party to form the Social Democratic Party. A medical doctor, his saturnine countenance led him to be dubbed ‘Doctor Death’ by the veteran Labour politicians Dennis Skinner and by the satirical magazine Private Eye.

But Buckingham had its own Dr De’Ath over 100 years ago, who was a pioneering doctor who worked to reduce the high incidence of early mortality in the town at the end of the 19th century.

Are people pushed towards careers that reflect their names? The term for this idea is nominative determinism, a phrase popularised by a recurring column in the New Scientist. This refers specifically to the theory that people are drawn to jobs that match their names.

This is part of what researchers call ‘implicit egotism’ – the idea that we are attracted to things that remind us of ourselves, whether it is marrying a person who shares the same birthday, or moving to a place with a phonetically similar name.

Hamilton House on West Street, Buckingham, is a late 19th century architect-designed house, built in 1898 for a local doctor and now used as a nursing home.

The west end of West Street is dominated by Castle House and Hamilton House, both substantial buildings set within sizable grounds beside each other on the north side of West Street.

The other historic properties at the west end of West Street are primarily residential. Many are detached, and are relatively widely spaced apart and situated within spacious grounds. At this end of the street, limestone as well as brick is used for the buildings and boundary walls. This create a very different character from the brick and render dominated elevations at West Street’s east end with built frontages of buildings close to the back edge of the pavement.

Hamilton House is one such example of a large, detached, late 19th century building situated back from the road behind a stone wall with brick coping.

The house, which is now used as a nursing home, has been heavily extended in more recent years, but the original range is quite a flamboyant building, built of brick with applied decorative timber.

The original house has an attractive entrance which is emphasised by a flat lintel porch resting on wooden corbels and supported from above by wrought iron braces. Above the porch is a large arched window ornamented with decorative and coloured glass.

Hamilton House is important because it was the home of Dr George De’Ath (1861-1901), a pioneering doctor who worked to reduce the high incidence of early mortality in Buckingham in the latter half of the 19th century.

Dr De’Ath was a son of Robert Death, later De’Ath, a surgeon in Buckingham. Dr De’Ath worked with Florence Nightingale, to improve hygiene and sanitary conditions in peoples’ homes and cottages and he established the first ever Conference of Rural Health Visitors at Buckingham Nursing Home in 1892.

He established the town’s first sewage farm, and it paid for itself by growing mangel-wurzels.

Tragically, Dr De’Ath died prematurely in 1901 at the age of 39, possibly of overwork; Florence Nightingale died the same year at the age of 90. When Dr De’Ath died, the Royal Latin School in Buckingham created the De’Ath Memorial Prize, still awarded today.

Despite the addition of modern extensions, Hamilton House contributes to the character of the Conservation Area in this part of Buckingham by virtue of its associations with Dr De’Ath, the attractive boundary wall enclosing its grounds, the trees and vegetation in its gardens and the views afforded across the grounds of Castle House.

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
4 June 2022 (Psalm 101)

‘I will sing of loyalty and of justice’ (Psalm 101: 1) … the statue of Justice by John Van Nost (1721) in Dublin Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 101:

Psalm 101 is sometimes known by its Latin name Misericordiam et judicium. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, this psalm is counted as Psalm 100.

This is one of the psalms not included in the Revised Common Lectionary. But one way of reading Psalm 101 is to divide it into these sections:

1,, verse 1: God’s ‘loyalty and mercy’ or ‘mercy’ and ‘justice’ go together, for while justice may pronounce a penalty, mercy may grant relief. As king, David knows that before he could exercise mercy and justice, he had to understand and extol the mercy and justice of God.

2, verse 2: David is determined that his reign is marked by integrity and godliness, and to live a wise and holy life. As he came to a position of greater power, he experienced that power often exposes the flaws of character, if it does not actually help create them. His righteous life had to be real in his conduct within his own house, before it could be applied in the courts of his kingdom.

3, verses 3-4: one measure of a righteous life was what one chose to set before the eyes, as the lust of the eyes is a significant aspect of the lure of this world.

4, verse 5: to lie or speak in an evil way against another person is a significant and grievous sin and the worst of it is done secretly, so David was determined to oppose all who did so.

5, verses 6-8: Instead of looking at those who thought themselves better than others, David preferred to look at the faithful, deciding that they would dwell with him. David’s determination to rule in favour of the godly, made him decide to remove the wicked early on from the city of God.

‘A haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not tolerate’ (Psalm 101: 5) … street art in the Portobello area in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Psalm 101 (NRSVA):

Of David. A Psalm.

1 I will sing of loyalty and of justice;
to you, O Lord, I will sing.
2 I will study the way that is blameless.
When shall I attain it?

I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;
3 I will not set before my eyes
anything that is base.

I hate the work of those who fall away;
it shall not cling to me.
4 Perverseness of heart shall be far from me;
I will know nothing of evil.

5 One who secretly slanders a neighbour
I will destroy.
A haughty look and an arrogant heart
I will not tolerate.

6 I will look with favour on the faithful in the land,
so that they may live with me;
whoever walks in the way that is blameless
shall minister to me.

7 No one who practises deceit
shall remain in my house;
no one who utters lies
shall continue in my presence.

8 Morning by morning I will destroy
all the wicked in the land,
cutting off all evildoers
from the city of the Lord.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Global Day of Parents.’

This theme in the USPG Prayer Diary concludes this morning (4 June 2022), inviting us to pray:

Let us pray for everyone who has a difficult relationship with their parents, acknowledging this in how we talk to others.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org