Michael Underwood (physician)

Michael Underwood
Born1736 (1736)
West Molesey, Surrey, England
Died1820 (aged 83–84)
Knightsbridge, London, England
Medical career

Michael Underwood (1736–1820) was an English physician and surgeon, born in West Molesey in Surrey.[1] He is a relevant figure in the history of medicine and pediatrics for having given the first known description of several childhood diseases, infantile paralysis included.

Early career

In 1783 he published his first work, which was about leg ulcers and "in which former methods of treatment were candidly examined and compared, with one more rational and safe, proving that a perfect cure may generally be effected more certainly, without rest and confinement, than by the strict regimen in common use." He included "an introduction on the process of ulceration and the origin of pus laudabile: to which are added hints on a successful method of treating some scrophulous tumors and the mammary abscess and sore nipples of lying-in women." This work was reviewed in The English Review, where it was written favorably:

We recommend it as a very useful work to the practitioners of surgery, in which they will find some new and useful suggestions, many absurd and common prejudices successfully combated, and some almost obsolete modes of practice revived, and established upon experience, and upon principles in general new.

— The English Review, Or, An Abstract of English and Foreign Literature (1783)[2]

Career highlights

In 1789, he became the first person to give a clinical description of Poliomyelitis, which he referred to as "a debility of the lower extremities."[3] He was later elected a member of the Royal College of Physicians in London.[4]

In 1796, Underwood was chosen as accoucheur at the birth of the Princess Charlotte of Wales. In 1801, he fell sick and retired from his profession. That time was economically difficult for him, but, as a religious man, he later "regained its healthy tone, and he was enable to realize the hopes and consolations of the Gospel."[5]

Posthumous publication

In 1824, a collection of thoughts from his diary was published posthumously for the benefit of his widowed daughter. The full name of this book was Extracts from the Diary of the late Michael Underwood, M.D. consisting of Mediation, Critical and Practical Remarks on various Passages of Scripture, Miscellaneous Essays, and Occasional Hymns. A review from The Literary Chronicle read that:

[It] embraces a period of more than sixty years, during which it was the constant practice of Dr. Underwood to commit to paper the occurrences of each day for his own personal gratification; his domestic circumstances, professional visits, religious impressions, and Christian duties, were all entered as in a day-book without any regard to order or arrangement.[6]

A review of the book in The Monthly Repository described the physician as "a man of sincere and deep piety; his creed was highly Calvinistic."[7] The work was said to be mournful at times, and another review in The London Literary Gazette said that "its author seems to have overshadowed and bewildered his mind by painful metaphysical contemplation of the greatest mysteries of religion; but he displays a Christian, if a too intense, anxiety to arrive at truth and satisfy his soul."[8] He was buried in Whitefield's Tabernacle, Tottenham Court Road in London.[9]



  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. ^ The English Review, Or, An Abstract of English and Foreign Literature (1783). J. Murray. p. 352-357
  3. ^ Underwood, Michael (1789). A Treatise on the Diseases of Children …. vol. 2. London, England: J. Mathews. pp. 53–57. |volume= has extra text (help)
  4. ^ US National Library of Medicine. Michael Underwood, MD (1737–1820): physician‐accoucheur of London. National Institutes of Health
  5. ^ The London Christian instructor, or, Congregational magazine (1824), Vol II. Hamilton, Adams, and Co. Paternoster Row. p. 498
  6. ^ THE LITERARY CHRONICLE (1823); London. Davidson, p. 712
  7. ^ Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper (1823). The Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature, Volume 18 . p. 602.
  8. ^ The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, Etc (1823). H. Colburn.
  9. ^ ODNB

External links