Phrenological bust by LN FowlerPhrenological bust by LN FowlerThe History of Phrenology on the Web

by John van Wyhe

Davey, James George (1813-95)

James George Davey was born at Portsmouth in 1813. He was apprenticed to William Joberns of Ryde, surgeon 1827-31. He then studied at St. Bartholemew's hospital, and became Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries October in 1833. From February 1834 to 1835 he served as medical officer aboard a merchant vessel. He practised in Portsmouth from 1836-1840. In 1842 he became a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. Also in 1842 Davey published on phrenology in the medical journal The Lancet entitled 'The Responsibility of Criminals. Cerebral Conformation'. Davey's phrenological and medical interest in insanity may have led him to become an assistant medical officer under John Conolly at Hanwell Lunatic Asylum in 1844. Davey was latter appointed colonial secretary to Ceylon to look after the insane there and to superintend the erection of an asylum. He founded a general dispensary at Columbo. In 1850 he returned to London to become medical superintendent of the female department at Europe's largest asylum Colney Hatch, Middlesex. From 1852-75 he was proprietor of Northwoods private asylum at Winterbourne, near Bristol. In 1859 he became a Member of the Royal College of Physicians and became president of the Bath-Bristol branch of the British Medical Association. He received an MD from St. Andrews in 1863. From 1882-83 he was president of the Medico-Chirurgical Society.

Davey considered phrenology an essential tool for the diagnoses and treatment of the insane. He practised a form of phreno-mesmerism on patients. He acted as the referee for a debate between Jonathan Barber and John Brindley in Bristol in 1842. Davey was greatly influenced by the writings of George COMBE especially his Constitution of man (1828). Davey gave a lecture in Bristol in 1864 on the subject of COMBE's natural philosophy in which COMBE's work is represented as one of the most profound and revolutionary scientific works ever produced. Davey declared that it was COMBE's gift to mankind to establish the link between natural laws and human happiness. The evils men experience were the result of ignorance of the natural laws. Not surprisingly Davey saw the great power of COMBE's philosophy as a great boon to the study and treatment of insanity. Reform of society could remove many of these evils because man's character was made for him, not by him.


Medico-Legal Reflections on the Trial of Daniel M'Naughton, for the Murder of Mr. Drummond; with Remarks on the Different Forms of Insanity, and the Irresponsibility of the Insane (1843).

Contributions to Mental Pathology (1850).

On the Nature, and Proximate Cause, of Insanity (1853).

New Views of Insanity: The Duality of the Mind (1853).

The ganglionic nervous system: its structure, functions an diseases (1858).

'G. Combe and His Writings. A Lecture delivered at Bristol', Journal of Mental Science, 10 (July 1864), pp. 168-94.

Further Reading

Boase, Frederic, ed., Modern English Biography, 6 vols (1965).

Cooter, R., Phrenology in the British Isles: An Annotated, Historical Bibliography and Index (1989).

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