A Brief Biography of Joseph Lister

By Tim Lambert

Joseph Lister is famous as the surgeon who invented antiseptic surgery. Lister was born on 5 April 1827 in Upton in Essex. He was one of 7 children and his father was a wine merchant. The Lister family were Quakers. At the age of 11, Joseph Lister was sent to school in Hitchin. Aged 13 he was sent to school in Tottenham. Then in 1844 when he was 17 Lister went to University College London. Lister excelled at his studies and he passed his medical degree in 1852. In 1856 Lister became an assistant surgeon at Edinburgh Royal University. Later he married Agnes Syme. They did not have children.

In 1860 Joseph Lister moved to Glasgow. At that time it was common for injuries to become infected after surgery but Lister thought of an answer. In 1865 Louis Pasteur published his theory that putrefaction is caused by germs. Lister tried treating injuries with carbolic acid and found that it was effective in preventing infection.

In 1867 Joseph Lister published papers in the medical journal The Lancet, describing his discovery. As a result of the method invented by Joseph Lister rates of death from infection dropped dramatically. Gradually his methods were adopted around the world.

In 1869 Lister moved back to Edinburgh. In 1877 he moved to London. However, Lister lost his wife in 1892. In 1893 Lister retired from surgery.

Meanwhile, Joseph Lister had become very famous. In 1883 he was made a baronet and in 1897 he was made Baron Lister of Lyme Regis. In 1895 Lister was made the president of the Royal Society (a scientific organization). In 1907 aged 80 Lister was given the Freedom of the City of London. However, in 1908 Lister moved to Walmer in Kent.

Joseph Lister died on 10 February 1912. He was 84. Lister was buried in Hampstead.