Professor F. C. Pybus

On top of everything, he was a pretty handsome guy!
On top of everything, he was a pretty handsome guy!

If you ever happen to study the history of medicine at Newcastle University, oddly specific I know, you will be unable to escape the name of Professor Pybus – there’s a Pybus Collection and a Pybus Room and a Pybus Seminar and the Pybus Papers and this list goes on. To paraphrase Jan Brady: Pybus, Pybus, Pybus! At first I didn’t think too much about it, but once I started looking into it, it turned out he was a pretty cool dude.

Emeritus Professor Frederick Charles Pybus was born in 1883 and lived until the ripe old age 92. He spent most of his professional career as a surgeon at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle upon Tyne and was considered an authority in cancer research, surgery and pediatrics. He is also well known for his research in organ transplantation. For example, in July of 1916, he attempted a transplant of pancreatic tissue on two patients; however, these procedures were, unfortunately, unsuccessful.

The good doctor also invented Lucozade.

lucozade-001

For those of you who don’t live in the UK, Lucozade is one of those sugary sports drinks, similar to Gatorade or Powerade – only fizzier. It’s also great for a hangover (not that I would know anything about that, Mom and Dad!). As I briefly mentioned above, Newcastle University’s Robinson Library houses the Pybus Papers and has recently featured this one from 1974, in which Professor Pybus reminisces about the development and manufacture of the drink, from the collection. Interesting side-note: The Robinson Library was recently successful in a bid to the Wellcome Trust for funding to archive (and I think digitize) the Pybus Papers – keep an eye on the Library’s website for more info.

Image courtesy of the Robinson Library, Newcastle University - use the link for a clearer, more readable image.
Image courtesy of the Robinson Library, Newcastle University – use the link for a clearer, more readable image.

From the document, the reader learns that England’s favorite hangover cure was initially developed by Pybus after he lost a pediatric patient due to a lethal combination of malnourishment and chloroform overdose. I should note that at the time (1908 to be exact), chloroform was some of the best anesthesia they had going for surgeries. Pybus, who was at the time a student working at the RVI, used this incident as his inspiration, creating a glucose-based drink to help keep his pediatric patients nourished prior to exposure to chloroform. What a guy.

Pybus then teamed up with a pharmacist named William Owen and the drink, which Owen called Glucozade (so close!), gained even more popularity, eventually being purchased, and renamed, by the Beecham pharmaceutical company in 1938.

The most amazing part? Even after the drink was sold to the Beecham Company, Pybus was never paid a dime (or pence as the case may be). Saving the kids was enough for him.

To add even more to his legendary status, in 1965 Pybus donated his amazing library to Newcastle University. Around 2000 books! Including priceless copies of canonical works like Andreas Vesalius’ De fabrica and William Harvey’s De motu cordis (note to self – I should totally do a post about Harvey and circulation). His contributions in research and research materials to both medicine and the history of medicine at Newcastle University are simply incalculable.

Needless to say, I think the old Prof deserves all his accolades and many more.


For more information on the various Pybus donations to the Robinson Library see: http://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/special-collections/collections/collection_details.php?id=36

You can also check out the archive of Pybus Seminars on the History of Medicine (some are even available via podcast – my favorite is Dr Elena Carrera on ‘Madness and Passions in Early Modern Spain’) on the Northern Centre for the History of Medicine’s website, here: http://www.nchm.ac.uk/podcasts.asp

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