8th May 1826

Cancer pioneer Henry Littlejohn is born

At a time when smoking was seen either as elegant or – in some quarters – healthy, Henry Littlejohn was the first to explicitly link the consumption of nicotine with the subsequent development of lung cancer.

The 27 April 1900 edition of the Huntly Express printed his findings, noting that “it is a most disastrous result, too, if one is to believe Sir Henry Littlejohn [who] has just penned a formidable indictment against juvenile smoking”. His complaints against smoking were many and varied, including that it damaged the teeth and caused indigestion. “The practice is fraught with other dangers to society at large, owing to the secrecy with which the habit is carried on, the assembling at night, the tendency to visit ice-cream shops to assuage the heat of the mouth that has been engendered by the filthy practice…”

Smoking and cancer linked

His comments were also carried by the Shields Daily News three days later, with Littlejohn stating that “much is said at present to the increase of cancer and its causes; but there can be little doubt that the use of poisonous heated cigarettes must have a most pernicious effect on the lips and glands of the mouth”.

As well as a general practitioner and medical lecturer, Littlejohn was Edinburgh’s Medical Officer of Health for almost 50 years, as well as contributing greatly as a forensic pathologist. In this latter role, he was frequently called upon to testify in important cases, including that of the death of Elizabeth Chantrelle, who was murdered by her husband, Eugene. That case is said to have inspired the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Littlejohn’s death

Littlejohn died on 30 September 1914. The Midlothian Advertiser of 2 October noted that in his passing “one of the personalities of Edinburgh has been removed, one who may be said in his person to have connected the Edinburgh of a former age with the present day. The period embraced in his public life in the city marks an epoch of greater change in public matters of sanitation and health than any other period of our history.”

Many of the improvements to which the Midlothian Advertiser referred were thanks to Littlejohn himself. In his role as the city’s Medical Officer of Health, he had conducted extensive surveys of the city, the way its inhabitants lived and the effect this had on their health. Many improvements to sanitation, housing and food regulations were made on the back of his subsequent recommendations.



Other events that occured in May

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