History of the RSM

Feature of the month - July 2008
John Bostock

John Bostock

Summertime, and the sneezing season is upon us. Eyes stream at the first sniff of pollen. It's misery all round for all who suffer from the seasonal affliction known as hay fever.

The first classic description of this all too common disorder appeared in 1819 in the pages of the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, the journal of the Medical and Chirurgical Society. John Bostock, a physician at Guy's Hospital, presented the paper to the Society on March 16th 1819. The patient he described, one "J.B. aet 46" turned out to be Bostock himself: "...of a spare and rather delicate habit, but capable of considerable exertion, and has no hereditary or constitutional affection, except various stomach complaints, probably connected with, or depending upon, a tendency to gout."

Bostock describes the symptoms of the complaint in its worst state, admitting that "indeed its violence is generally less than is here described." He lists various remedies including "topical bleeding, purging, blisters, spare diet, bark and various other tonics, steel, opium, alternative courses of mercury, cold bathing, digitalis, and a number of topical applications to the eyes…but it is doubtful whether any distinct or permanent benefit has been derived from any of them."

Nine years later, on 22nd April 1828, Bostock presented a further paper on the subject to the Medical and Chirurgical Society. He now proposed to name the condition "catarrhus aestivus" or Summer Catarrh. This paper examines twenty-eight cases of the complaint. Suggesting a socioeconomic element to its aetiology, Bostock writes: "It is remarkable, that all cases are in the middle and upper classes of society, some indeed of high rank…I have not heard of a single unequivocal case among the poor."

Bostock was born in 1773. He graduated in medicine at Edinburgh in 1794. After practicing medicine in his native Liverpool, he moved to London 1817. He was a prominent member of the Geological Society, the Royal Society, the Linnaean, Zoological, Horticultural, and Medico-Chirurgical Societies, as well as the Royal Society of Literature. He died of cholera in 1846 aged seventy-three.


John Bostock. Case of a periodical affection of the eyes and chest. Medico-Chirurgical Transactions. 1819; Vol. 10: 161-165.

John Bostock. Of the Catarrhus Aestivus or Summer Catarrh. Medico-Chirurgical Transactions. 1828; Vol.14: 437-446.


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