Harley Street hero: Sir William Jenner


A Harley Street resident best known for discovering the difference between typhus and typhoid

Harley Street resident William Jenner is perhaps best known for discovering the difference between typhus and typhoid, but he was also physician-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria, president of the Royal College of Physicians, a fellow of the Royal Society, a professor at University College Hospital, and crucial to the development of the Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street. After a stellar career, he died in 1898 as Sir William Jenner, 1st Baronet of Harley Street in the Parish of St Marylebone.

Jenner was born on 30th January 1815, the year of Waterloo, in Chatham, the fourth son of John Jenner and his wife Elizabeth. Before studying medicine at University College London, he was apprenticed to a surgeon on Baker Street, near Regent’s Park. He graduated from UCL in 1844, was admitted to membership of the Society of Apothecaries and the Royal College of Surgeons, and set up his own general practice at 12 Albany Street, Regent’s Park. With his kindly, if autocratic, bedside manner and evidently efficient medical knowledge, Jenner’s practice prospered.

Profusion of disease
Three years later, in 1847, dissatisfied with the profusion of disease that confronted him on a daily basis, he began a detailed study of fever patients at the London Fever Hospital. Scrutinising more than 1,000 patients’ conditions, he proved “incontestably, so far as induction can prove the point, that the specific causes of typhus and typhoid fevers are absolutely different from each other, and to render in the highest degree probable that the specific cause of relapsing fever is different from that of either of the two former.” His studies established once and for all the distinction between the two conditions.

From here, Jenner’s career progressed rapidly. He taught pathological anatomy at UCL, and became a physician at UCH; he was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1853 and of the Royal Society in 1864; and he acted as president of several medical societies. After the founding of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in 1852, he became a resident doctor, and in the hospital’s first decade he was one of only three permanent staff.

In time, Jenner’s private life flourished as well. In 1858, he married Adela Lucy Leman, who gave him five sons and a daughter. He was very dedicated to his work, and prided himself on his common sense; when travelling he would pass the time with cheap novels, and was apparently inordinately devoted to drinking cups of tea.

Treating the Queen
In 1861, his fame reached royal ears, and he attended Prince Albert during the attack of typhoid fever that eventually killed him in December of that year. Despite his failure to save Albert, Jenner must have made a favourable impression, for in 1862 Queen Victoria made him her physician-in-ordinary, and the Prince of Wales followed suit a year later. Despite their differences in background, the Queen and her doctor became lifelong friends, and in 1868 she created a baronetcy for Jenner.

In 1890, ill health forced Jenner to retire, and he died eight years later in Hampshire, leaving behind the baronetcy and a fortune of £375,000. His work had changed medical practice significantly, improving the lives of some thousands of patients, and earning him the devotion of the Queen herself.