King's College London
Online Exhibitions
Mind Matters: neuroscience and psychiatry

David Ferrier

David Ferrier (1843-1928) spent most of his career (1871-1908) at King’s College Hospital. He also worked at the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic(later the National Neurological Hospital, Queen Square), where Sherrington, Mott and Wilson were also to conduct their research.

The location of various sensory and motor functions in the brain, from David Ferrier's The functions of the brain. London: Smith, Elder, 1876 [Institute of Psychiatry Historical Collection h/Fer]The location of various sensory and motor functions in the brain, from David Ferrier's The functions of the brain. London: Smith, Elder, 1876 [Institute of Psychiatry Historical Collection h/Fer]Following the lead given by Bell and by Carpenter, several neurologists began to work on the role of the nervous system in controlling movement, and on the role of electric currents in doing so. Others followed Kölliker in investigating the interconnections of neurons. Sherrington Scott, as we shall see, combined these two areas of enquiry.

Two German scientists, Gustav Theodor Fritsch and Eduard Hitzig, were able to work with soldiers wounded in the Danish-Prussian war of 1863 who had had portions of their skull destroyed. They performed experiments on these soldiers by applying wires from a battery to the cortex and then observing what happened. Involuntary reactions (such as eye movements and screams) could be stimulated by the electric current.

Similar experiments could be performed on dogs to locate areas of the brain controlling muscle movement. They found that stimulation of certain parts of the cerebral cortex resulted in movements on the other side of the body.

David Ferrier’s experiments were superior to those which Hitzig and Fritsch conducted, as he used primates, as seen here (whose physiology more closely resembled that of humans). Through using this method and through cutting parts of the brain, Ferrier determined that the sensory and motor functions of the brain were located in the cerebral cortex. Ferrier’s work, like that of Hughlings Jackson and Todd, had direct bearing on the neurophysiological origin of epileptic seizures. An awareness of the most likely location of a tumour, using ‘functional maps’ of the brain, coupled with antiseptic surgery, led in 1884 to the first successful operation to remove a brain tumour. This was performed by Joseph Lister’s nephew.

Several of Ferrier’s experiments on primates were undertaken at a laboratory at the West Riding Lunatic Asylum, then managed by the atypically enlightened alienist, James Crichton-Browne. This particular copy has another association with psychiatry: it bears the bookplate of Sir George Henry Savage (1842-1921), one of Virginia Woolf’s psychiatrists and a military psychiatrist during the First World War.

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