'Diamond Jim' and the £14m museum
Canterbury is proud of the revamped Beaney institute, but can't live down its founder's shady life
Sunday 22 January 2012
The Beaney museum in Canterbury, Kent, is a national landmark. So when the Royal Museum and Art Gallery, to give it its formal name, reopens later this year after a £14m makeover, many will give thanks to its original benefactor, Dr James George Beaney.
"Diamond Jim" was a surgeon, philanthropist and much-published pioneer in paediatrics. He was also well known for plagiarism, involvement in back-street abortions, and his trial for murder.
Born to a labourer father in Canterbury in January 1828, at 15 Beaney was working as a chemist's shop boy. He studied pharmacy, was apprenticed to a surgeon, then studied medicine in Edinburgh, but caught TB and in 1852 sailed to Melbourne for his health. He went back to Edinburgh to finish his degree, and then to the Crimea as an army surgeon. He also spent time in Paris studying venereal disease, and served on emigrant ships to America before returning to Melbourne in 1857. There, he worked as locum to Dr John Maund, who died in 1858, leaving his practice to Beaney. This was said to pay him £10,000 a year – £130,000 today.
Students dubbed the smooth- talking self-publicist Diamond Jim because of his gem-encrusted rings, tie-pins and watch and chain. He was frowned on by the medical establishment, his reputation suffering further when, in 1866, he was charged with murder. A barmaid, Mary Lewis, died after visits from Beaney, and a post mortem examination showed an illegal abortion had taken place. The jury failed to agree at his first trial, and at the second his counsel called only Beaney as a witness; he was acquitted. In effect, he talked his way out of it.
He published on many subjects, but in 1880 was sued by his publisher; it had emerged that much of what he had written was the work of an assistant.
In 1878 and 1879 Beaney was back in Britain on a lecture tour, claiming to represent the chief secretary of the state of Victoria. The Medical Society of Victoria wrote to all the leading medical organisations here denying that he had any such commission.
Beaney died in 1891 from an aneurism complicated by hepatitis and gout. He left £10,000 to build a museum in his birthplace, and it opened on Canterbury's High Street in 1899, on the site of the George & Dragon, an inn Beaney would have known as a young man.
Janice McGuinness, Canterbury's head of culture and enterprise, said, while the nation can be proud of the museum, the city has mixed feelings about its founder: "There was something shady about him – something 'back street' about the good Dr Beaney."
- 1 Russell Brand accuses FOX News anchor Sean Hannity of terrorism after aggressive Israel-Gaza debate
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 4 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 5 'Hello mum, this is going to be hard for you to read ...'
Sally Farmiloe dead: Howards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, dies aged 60
Russell Brand accuses FOX News anchor Sean Hannity of terrorism after aggressive Israel-Gaza debate
Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness – including don’t try to convert other people
Sabina Altynbekova, the girl branded 'too good looking' for volleyball, says social media obsession with her is a 'bit much'
Justin Bieber posts Instagram photo of Orlando Bloom crying after Ibiza fight 'over Miranda Kerr'
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
- < Previous
- Next >
£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...
£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...
£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...
£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...