The History of Phrenology: A Chronology

John van Wyhe, PhD, History & Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University

Adapted for the Victorian Web with the kind permission of the author from his extensive UK site on the History of Phrenology.

Early 1790s Franz Joseph Gall creates his system of organology and brain anatomy in Vienna.
1796 Gall begins to offer lectures in his home in Vienna on his system.
1798December, the first account of the system in Gall's own words published in the neue Teutsche Merkur
1800 J. G. Spurzheim begins to attend Gall's lectures
1801December, emperor Francis II issues decree which forbids Gall's lectures & bans him from publishing the same.
1804 Spurzheim becomes Gall's paid dissectionist and assistant.
1805-1807 Gall undertakes successful lecture tour throughout Europe, accompanied by Spurzheim as paid assistant.
1807 Oct. Gall arrives in Paris where he remains.
1808March, Gall & Spurzheim submit a Mémoire to the Institut de France outlining (for the first time) "their" anatomical and physiological claims.
1810 Gall & Spurzheim begin publication of Anatomie et physiologie du système nerveux en général, et du cerveau en particulier, Avec des observations sur las possibilité de reconnoître plusieurs dispositions intellectuelles et morales de l'homme et des animaux, par la configuration de leurs têtes. 4 vols., Paris, 1810-19 (first two vols. only with Spurzheim).
1813 Gall and Spurzheim part company forever.
1814 March, Spurzheim arrives in Britain to lecture on 'his' and Gall's system.
  • Spurzheim begins to publish on the new system, starting with The Physiognomical System of Drs. Gall and Spurzheim; founded on an Anatomical and Physiological Examination of the Nervous System in general, and of the Brain in Particular; and indicating the Dispositions and Manifestations of the Mind.
  • Scathing articles in the Edinburgh Review and Quarterly Review lambast Spurzheim while simultaneously giving him nation-wide exposure.
  • The name phrenology given to the system by Dr. Thomas I.M. Forster.
  • 1816-17 Spurzheim faces down his critics, especially John Gordon, in Edinburgh and makes devout converts for the science.
    1817 George Combe begins to publish articles about phrenology.
  • George Combe's first book on phrenology published: Essays on Phrenology.
  • Sir George Steuart Mackenzie's, Illustrations of Phrenology.
  • 1820 Edinburgh Phrenological Society, established by George & Andrew Combe, David Welsh, James Brownlee, William Waddell, & Lindsey Mackersey.
    1821 Transactions of the [Edinburgh] Phrenological Society published.
  • George Combe begins to lecture on phrenology in Edinburgh.
  • Philadelphia Phrenological Society, established (the first in USA)
  • 1823
  • Gall lectures briefly in London.
  • London Phrenological Society, established by John Elliotson, B. Donkin, J. DeVille.
  • December, Phrenological Journal (of Edinburgh) founded (the first phrenological journal).
  • 1824 George Combe's Elements of Phrenology.
    1825 Wakefield Phrenological Society, established by William Ellis.
    1826 Francis Jeffrey's attack on phrenology in the Edinburgh Review.
    1826-27 Sir William Hamilton engages in controversy with Combe and Spurzheim.
    1827-28Schism in the Edinburgh Phrenological Society between evangelicals and Combeans over Combe's doctrine of the natural laws.
  • George Combe publishes Constitution of Man
  • Gall dies near Paris.
  • 1830
  • Manchester Phrenological Society, established.
  • Dublin Phrenological Society established.(?)
  • 1831
  • Paris Phrenological Society, established.
  • Spurzheim last lectures in Britain.
  • 1832

    Spurzheim dies in Boston Massachusetts while on lecture tour.

    Boston Phrenological Society, established.

    1833 The Fowlers begin their phrenological lecturing concerns in New York.
    1836 Aberdeen Phrenological Society, established.
  • [British] Phrenological Association first meets in Newcastle (formed as an alternative to the British Association for the Advancement of Science which had spurned the phrenologists).
  • American Phrenological Journal founded in Philadelphia
  • Birmingham Phrenological Society, established
  • 1839 Phrenological Association meets in Birmingham.
    1840s George Combe, Robert Noel, and Dr Gustav Scheve lecture on phrenology in Germany.
  • Phrenological Association meets in Glasgow.
  • Exeter Phrenological Society, established.
  • Hewett Watson, one of the foremost phrenologists, abandons the science.
  • 1841
  • Phrenological Association meets in London.
  • Dumfries Phrenological Society established.
  • 1842
  • Another great schism created at meeting of the Phrenological Association in London when W. Engeldue declares phrenology proves materialism to be true.
  • Sheffield Phrenological Society, established.
  • [London] Christian Phrenological Society, established by John Epps & J. Hawkins.
  • 1843
  • Lancaster Phrenological Society, established.
  • Zeitschrift für Phrenologie (1843-45) founded in Heidelberg by Dr. E Hirschfeld & Gustav von Struve.
  • 1844 Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creationpublished-joining phrenological naturalism with transmutation.
  • Gustav von Struve, Handbuch der Phrenologie.
  • Chambers, Explanations, The sequel to Vestiges is published.
  • 1850s Phrenological societies mostly defunct, few publications on the subject; the early advocates are either aged or dead. The science is largely discredited and moribund in Britain.
    1858 George Combe dies at Dr Lane's hydropathic establishment at Moor Park where Charles Darwin's daughter Etty is also being treated.
    1861 George Burgess begins practicing phrenology in the Arcades, Bristol (continues until 1901) [added by GPL]
    1860s "Phrenological Fowlers" come to Britain from USA and bring about a revival of phrenology.
    1863 Fowler Institute, London, established by L. N. Fowler
    1870 Last meeting of Edinburgh Phrenological Society
    1881 British Phrenological Society established.
    1911 American Phrenological Journal ceased publication (began in 1838)
    1967 British Phrenological Society disbanded.

    Victorian Overview Science

    Last modified 4 February 2006