S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Biccard, Dr Francois Louis Charles (medicine, anaesthesiology)

Born: 30 March 1809, Cape Town, South Africa.
Died: 19 April 1884, Cape Town, South Africa.

Francois Louis Charles Biccard was the eldest son of Ludwig G. Biccard*, a prominent Cape Town physician. He had an interest in the medical profession as a youngster and associated himself with Dr. J.P.F. Juritz to learn about pharmacy. When about 18 years old he went to the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, qualifying as Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1833. His thesis was published the next year under the title Dissertatio Inauguralis medica de regionem tropicarum morbis... (Leiden, 1834, 143p). After continuing his studies in Paris he returned to the Netherlands and qualified as a member of the College of Surgeons of Leiden in 1834. While still a student he married Augusta Thalman, the young widow of his late friend, Dr J.K. van Oosterzee*.

Upon his return to the Cape Biccard was licensed to practise as a physician, surgeon and accoucheur in September 1835. He developed an extensive practice in Durbanville, but after a number of years moved to Cape Town. His skill in surgery in particular was widely recognised. In 1850 he was the first person in Cape Town known to have used chloroform as an anaesthetic, although Dr W.G. Atherstone* seems to have used it in Grahamstown a year earlier, while ether had been in use in South Africa for this purpose since 1847. The announcement of Biccard's use of chloroform in a local newspaper, in June 1850, followed his fourth application of the substance. The first occasion had been during a successful operation to amputate the arm of a young lady at the shoulder.

Biccard was elected as one of the four Cape Town members of the first colonial parliament (1854-1859) and served on several of its select committees. Later he also served as a member of the Legislative Council (1869-1872), and as a member of the board of the Cape Commercial Bank. When his health started to fail he moved to Malmesbury (before 1862), to assist his son, F. de Lettre Biccard in the latter's extensive practice.

In 1866 Biccard's book Volksgeneeskunde voor Zuid-Afrika was published in Cape Town. Based on Kerbert's Practisch Vade-Medicum and intended for the Dutch farming population, it was one of the first medical books to be published in South Africa. In August 1872 he succeeded Dr. W. Edmunds* as surgeon-superintendent of the infirmary on Robben Island, a post which he retained until his death in 1884.

List of sources:
Burrows, E.H. A history of medicine in South Africa up to the end of the nineteenth century. Cape Town: Balkema, 1958.

Cape of Good Hope Government Gazette, 16 September 1862: A list of the medical practitioners in the Cape Colony, licensed up to the 31st August, 1862.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 3, 1977.

Laidler, P.W. Dr. Atherstone and the introduction of anaesthetics. South African Medical Journal, 1938, Vol.12, pp. 453-456.

Obituary. South African Medical Journal, 15 May 1884, Vol. 1, p.75.

Schmidt, H.J. A history of anaesthesia in South Africa. South African Medical Journal, 1958, Vol. 32(9), pp. 244-251.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

Compiled by: C. Plug