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Dr John Burton (1710–1771) of York and his obstetric treatise
  1. P M Dunn
  1. Department of Child Health, Bristol University, Southmead Hospital, Southmead, Bristol BS10 5NB, UK
  1. Professor Dunn email: p.m.dunn{at}

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John Burton was born in Colchester on 9 June 1710. His father, John, was a London merchant and his mother, Margaret, the daughter of the Rev J Leake. After schooling at Merchant Taylor's, he graduated MB at St John's College, Cambridge in 1733. He then pursued his training abroad in Leyden, Paris, and also at Rheims where he obtained the degree of MD. Returning to England, he married Mary Henson in York Minster and settled in Wakefield. In 1738 he moved to York where in 1740, he was one of the prime movers in founding the York Hospital, becoming its first physician.

While Burton's reputation as a doctor, man-midwife, and public spirited person was high, he was a peppery sort of individual, conceited, hypercritical of the work of others, paranoid, and extremely sensitive to criticism. While he expressed admiration for Mauriceau, Deventer, La Motte, and Gifford, all other authors on midwifery were dismissed as worthless. Of his colleagues he commented: “…the frequency of the almost innumerable evils which daily befel the woman and their infants during labour, by the ignorance and mismanagement of the female-midwives . . . many of the male practitioners are no less excusable than the women . . . the weaker and more ignorant these men are, the more freely they use instruments, and that too, very often, to the destruction of the mother as well as the child . . .” In particular, he launched a vitriolic attack on William Smellie a year after the publication of the first volume of the latter's masterpiece in 1752. Perhaps it was for this reason that Sterne satirised Burton as Dr Slop in Tristram Shandy.

During the 1975 Jacobite rebellion, it is said that Burton joined the army of the young Pretender as it came south. His own …

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