William P. Hort

William Peter Hort (1799-1852) was an English born, American physician

On August 4th, 1829, Hort provided one of the earliest clinical case reports in America on the use of oral charcoal as an antidote for acute poisoning by ingestion of caustic sublimate.

  • Born on February 3, 1799 in Bristol, England
  • Educated at Oxford University in theology
  • 1824 – MD, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
  • 1832 – Married Ann G. Moore
  • 1837 – Assayer in the United States Branch Mint, New Orleans
  • 1850 – Medical Board of Examiners for the Eastern District of the State of Louisiana; an administrator of the University of Louisiana; member of the Board of Health of New Orleans
  • Died on February 8, 1852 in Orleans Parish, Louisiana, America

Key Medical Contributions

Hort and the first published use of charcoal as an antidote, in America, – a non-fatal case of mercuric chloride poisoning, 14 years after C.A.H.A. Bertrand (1777-1849) published his clinical and experimental cases

John Hidleston, a stout man, of robust constitution, about forty years of age, finding himself much indisposed, and supposing that he was very bilious, determined to take a dose of tartar emetic [antimony potassium tartrate]. Under the impression that the strength of his tartar emetic had become impaired he resolved that the dose should be unusually large…In about fifteen minutes he was alarmed by a burning sensation increasing rapidly in intensity, and extending gradually from the mouth to the stomach.

On examination he ascertained that he had taken **corrosive sublimate [mercuric chloride] instead, and immediately sent for me.

When I saw him on the 5th of August, early in the morning, his situation was extremely distressing. He complained of intense burning pain throughout the whole course of the alimentary canal; and the contracted state of the muscles of his face, and general appearance, clearly evinced the severity of his suffering: his skin was cold and clammy; his pulse small, hard, and increased in frequency: he complained of urgent thirst, but had not dared to drink any thing to allay it. He was bled copiously, probably to the extent of three pints, and I directed him to make free use of the white of eggs beat up with sugar.

On the 6th, in the morning, he was worse; his bowels were in constant action; the discharges were still bloody, and very offensive; his skin was cold and clammy; the pulse very feeble and frequent. He said the pain in the stomach and bowels was almost past endurance, and observed that the prescription of the white of eggs and sugar, had produced distressing nausea, and no mitigation whatever of his sufferings.

Convinced that the violent inflammation of the bowels was verging fast towards gangrene, and that the state of extreme debility, to which the constant purging and pain had reduced him, prohibited any further depletion. I ordered a teaspoonful of finely pulverized charcoal to be administered in gruel every hour, and left him, scarcely entertaining a hope of seeing him alive on the morrow.

The next day I called on my unfortunate patient about 10am and to my great surprise, on approaching his bed, was greeted with a smile; his first expression was, that the charcoal had saved his life. He assured me that shortly after taking the first dose, he had experienced very sensible relief, and that he perceived a regular alleviation of pain after every succeeding dose. He was evidently much better, and unexpectedly rescued from the grave. I directed him to continue the use of the charcoal, gradually increasing the intervals between the doses for several days – his convalescence was steady, though slow; the purging continued until the tenth day; and several months elapsed before the tone of his stomach and bowels was restored .

Hort, 1830

**Mercury(II) chloride (mercury bichloride, mercury dichloride); historically also known as sulema or corrosive sublimate is the inorganic chemical compound of mercury and chlorine with the formula HgCl2.

His  intellectual  capacity  was  of  a very  high  order.  He  was  familiar  with  the natural  sciences,  a lover  of  polite  literature,  a good  linguist,  speaking  Spanish and  French  well,  and  being  versed  in  the  Latin  and  Greek  languages;  his  scientific and  medical  attainments  have  been  exhibited  in  his  writings,  which  were characterized  by  laborious  research, extensive  reasoning  and  methodical  arrangement, ever  striving,  by  the  force  of  argument,  to  elucidate  truth,  rather  than  to captivate  his  readers  by  fanciful  illusions  and  imaginative  essays.

To the high mental acquirements of Dr. Hort, which would in any position of life render him a prominent man, was superadded a stern, inflexible integrity, a chivalrous spirit, and a love of honor and all truth.

He was an early and able contributor to the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, and amongst his first productions in that valuable periodical, was an article entitled “An application of the Philosophy of various terms of Matter and the Laws of Motion, to the Explanation of the Phenomenon of the Phosphorescence or Luminosity of Animals, Plants and Gems.” In subsequent numbers of the same journal his contributions have been numerous; embracing remarks on Cholera – “ Its contagion – its animalcular origin — its mode of propagation,” etc.,&c. Several papers respecting the distinct and independent vitality of the human blood. His more recent articles have been upon the Microscopical appearances of the Blood, and the Vital Statistics of New Orleans, with numerous reviews and notices of the books of others.

Browning GT, 1852

Major Publications




Eponymous terms


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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