Benjamin Babington

Benjamin Guy Babington (1794-1866) 300

Benjamin Guy Babington (1794-1866) was an English physician and epidemiologist

Babington studied organic chemistry, then in its infancy and assisted Astley Cooper and Richard Bright in investigating diseases of the kidney by analyses of the blood and urine. 

A talented linguist he translated multiple texts including Hecker’s Epidemics of the Middle Ages (1844); Feuchtersleben’s Medical Psychology (1847) and translation from Tamul of The adventures of the Gooroo Paramartan (1822) 

Amongst his best known inventions was the first laryngoscope, the ‘glottiscope‘ (1829), but he also took out patents for a new design of pen (1843); a means of preventing incrusation of boilers (1850); and a facemask to protect the throat, chest, and mouth from atmospheric influences (1860)

  • Born on March 5, 1794 in in Guy’s Hospital, London; son of William Babington (1756-1833), physician to Guy’s Hospital.
  • Babington studied at Charterhouse School before becoming a midshipman in the Royal Navy serving at Walcheren and Copenhagen 
  • 1812 – East India Company College, Haileybury in preparation to join the Madras Civil Service. Earned a reputation as an oriental scholar translating various texts from Latin, Tamul and sanskrit
  • 1819 – Returned to England to study medicine at Guy’s Hospital, London, and Pembroke College, Cambridge 
  • 1825 – MB, Guy’s Hospital, London; Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • 1828 – Fellow of the Royal Society
  • 1829 – Exhibited the first laryngoscope – the ‘glottiscope‘ – to the Hunterian Society of London
  • 1830 – MD, Guy’s Hospital, London; elected Fellow of the College of Physicians (1831)
  • 1837-1840 Assistant physician to Guy’s Hospital, ahead of Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866)
  • 1841 – Croonian Lecturer, Royal College of Physicians 
  • 1840-1855 Full physician to Guy’s Hospital; physician to the Deaf and Dumb Hospital. Resigned from Guy’s in 1855 following a disagreement with the hospital administration over restriction of access of students to the hospital.
  • 1850 – First president and one of the founding members of the Epidemiological Society of London
  • 1863 – President of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society 
  • 1865 – One of the first to describe hereditary haemorrhagic telangiectasia
  • Died on April 8, 1866 in Hanover Square, London

Medical Eponyms

Despite good evidence to the contrary, the Spanish singing teacher Manuel Patricio Rodríguez García (1805-1906) is still credited by many to have been the discoverer of the mirror for inspecting the larynx in 1854.

In fact, 26 years prior to Garcia’s paper being presented to Royal Society of London, Babington had described to the Hunterian Society a similar device which had been used clinically on at least one laryngologist. Priority belongs to Babington


Dr. Benjamin Babington submitted to the meeting an ingenious instrument for the examination of parts within the fauces not admitting of inspection by unaided sight It consisted of an oblong piece of looking-glass set in silver-wire, with a long shank. The reflecting portion is placed against the palate whilst the tongue is held down by a spatula, when the epiglottis and upper part of the larynx become visible in the glass. A strong light is required, and the instrument should be dipped in water so as to have a film of the fluid upon it when used, or the halitus of the breath renders it cloudy. The doctor proposed to call it the glottiscope.

Hunterian Society, 1829
Babington Glottiscope first laryngoscope
Babington ‘glottiscope’ from 1828. Mackenzie 1865

Priority of publication has long been the established touchstone, by which the disputed claims of inventors have been tested. Tried by this criterion, Babington must be regarded as the inventor of the laryngoscope

Mackenzie 1865:13

Key Medical Contributions

In 1864, an anomalous exanthem was epidemic in the metropolis. Benjamin Ward Richardson (1828-1896) felt the exanthem was another disease emulating scarlet fever, but distinct from it, and proposed the term Rosalia idiopathica. Babington directed the attention of the Epidemiological Society of London to the outbreak:

From the general resemblance of this eruptive epidemic to rubeola I, would propose to designate it Rubeola notha, or bastard measles

Babington 1864

The disease was later termed Rubella, German measles or third disease

Major Publications



Eponymous terms


the person behind the name

Dr Rowan Lo LITFL AUthor

Emergency Medicine Registrar at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. BM BS, BMed Sci, MMed Sci from the University of Southampton.

Enjoying life in Australia currently with the view to returning to the UK to train in Anaesthetics and Intensive Care Medicine.

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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