Pereira, Jonathan, F.R.S (1804-1853), pharmacologist, professor of materia medica

  • Pereira, Jonathan, 1804-1853.
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


Letters by Jonathan Pereira to various correspondents, 1833-1850.

MS.8451/1: letter to an unnamed microscope maker, enthusing about a model that he has recently seen and would like to have copied. 1833.

MS.8451/2: letter to the publisher or seller of his The elements of materia medica and therapeutics, asking that a copy be sent to the Société de Pharmacie de Paris. 1839.

MS.8451/3: letter to an unnamed physician quoting and discussing the German physician Philip Phoebus's work on ergot. 1840.

MS.8451/4: letter to the miniature painter Henry Collen concerning a calotype Collen had produced of "our late friend Daniell", presumably the physicist and professor of chemistry John Frederic Daniell (1790-1845), and asking for his opinion of a bust of Daniell being produced by "Nixon", actually the sculptor Samuel Dixon (1808-1854). 1845.

MS.8451/5: letter to William Sharpey, professor of anatomy and physiology at University College London, asking about the physiological nature of "lyraceum", which he describes as "the dasjespies of the Cape inhabitants". 1850.



Physical description

1 file


The letters are held in chronological order.

Biographical note

Jonathan Pereira (1804-1853) was born in Shoreditch, London, of Sephardic Jewish descent, and educated locally. At sixteen he was articled to an apothecary in the City Road, then in 1821 became a student at the General Dispensary, Aldersgate Street. He attended courses in chemistry, materia medica, and practical medicine by Henry Clutterbuck, on natural philosophy by George Birkbeck, and on botany by William Lambe. Shortly before his nineteenth birthday he qualified as as licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries and became apothecary to the Aldersgate dispensary. Thereafter he also studied surgery at St Bartholomew's Hospital, qualifying as a surgeon in 1825.

Whilst at the Aldersgate dispensary he taught widely, giving private lessons to medical students and writing textbooks: he published Synopsis of the Chemical Decomposition that takes place in the Preparations of the London Pharmacopoeia in 1823, an English translation of the newly revised Pharmacopoeia Londinensis and Selectae e praescriptis (a selection of medical prescriptions) in 1824, A Manual for the Use of [Medical] Students in 1826 and A General Table of Atomic Numbers with an Introduction to Atomic Theory in 1827. He had succeeded Clutterbuck as the dispensary's lecturer in chemistry in 1826 and in 1828 began to teach materia medica. Teaching duties slowed down his publication schedule from 1827 to 1835 but proved lucrative.

In 1832 he was appointed professor of materia medica at the new medical school in Aldersgate Street and lecturer in chemistry at the London Hospital. In 1841 he became Assistant Physician to the London Hospital, having passed the examination to become a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians after a quick course of study, and obtained the degree of MD from Erlangen. In 1845 he became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and was made a member of the pharmacopoeial committee and curator of the museum. He became full physician at the London Hospital in 1851.

His work on The Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics first appeared in 1839, based upon his published lectures; an enlarged second edition followed in 1842. He spent much of the succeeding years working on the third edition but died before all parts were complete; it was published in 1853 having been completed by Alfred Swaine Taylor and George Owen Rees. The work improved upon all previous publications on materia medica through its scientific exactitude. During these years he was also closely associated with Jacob Bell in the setting up of the Pharmaceutical Society.

In 1838 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He was a fellow of the Linnean Society and a member of the Phrenological Society and the Meteorological Society.

He died in 1853.

Henry Collen (1800-1875) was a miniature painter and painting master to Queen Victoria. He was the first person to obtain a calotype licence from Henry Fox Talbot, the patenter of the process, and set up a studio in London in 1841, but this closed after a little over a year (helping to date the calotype referred to in item 4). More detail on Collen can be found in H. and A. Gernsheim, History of Photography (1969), pp.163-164.

William Sharpey (1802-1880) was an anatomist and physiologist, born in Arbroath in 1802. Sharpey's father died before he was born, and in 1806 his mother married again, to William Arrott, a medical practitioner. (Three sons of this second marriage also became doctors.) After qualifying in medicine at Edinburgh University Sharpey returned to Arbroath in 1824 and assisted his stepfather's practice for a short while but then devoted himself to anatomy and physiology, studying in Europe before returning to Edinburgh to earn a Fellowship at the College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1830 and then to work for the College as an extramural lecturer, 1831-1836. During these years he carried out reseach on cilia as a result of which he was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

In 1846 he became professor of anatomy and physiology at University College, London, where he remained until he retired. In this position he became the father of the discipline of physiology in Britain, as a result not of research or publications but through teaching and his inspiration of a generation of pupils, among them John Marshall and Joseph Lister. In particular, at his recommendation a lectureship in practical physiology was founded at UCL in 1855; its holders included Edward Schäfer (who changed his name to Sharpey-Schäfer as a mark of respect) and John Burdon Sanderson. Sharpey's influence was subsequently felt when former students became involved with the new schools of physiology at Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge. In 1871 a Sharpey scholarship in physiology was established at UCL in his honour. In 1875 he gave evidence to the Royal Commission on the use of animals in experimentation.

He enjoyed long-lasting friendships with Allen Thomson (1809-1884), anatomist and embryologist, and James Syme (1799-1870), surgeon.

In his later years he was looked after by his niece Mary Colvill (he never married). Following her death in 1878 he moved to 50 Torrington Square, close to UCL, where he died on 11 April 1880 from bronchitis. He was buried in Arbroath.

Related material

At Wellcome Collection:

MSS.5943-5944 comprise an incomplete copy of Pereira's The elements of materia medica and therapeutics, interleaved with notes and correspondence by Pereira and others. Further letters by Pereira are held as MS.7400/82-87.

At other repositories:

Letters from Pereira to Jacob Bell (1810–1859), pharmacist and politician, are held in the archive of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.


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Accession number

  • 1446