Dr John G Croker, Surgeon, Bovey Tracey

Some background information on Dr Croker and a transcription of his article in an 1819 major professional journal

Prepared by Michael Steer

Dr John G Croker was married to Mary Anne Hole of Stickwick near Hennock in 1816. The Hole family later lived at Parke (now owned by the National Trust, and headquarters of the Dartmoor National Park Authority), and have several memorials as well as a handsome stained glass window in the parish Church. Their first child Mary Grace was born at Cross Cottage, in Moreton Road opposite the Cottage Hospital in 1817. The family still lived at Cross Cottage until 1906. Over the ensuing 23 years, four daughters and three sons followed. Dr Croker experimented with small pox and whooping cough vaccinations, using his children as guinea pigs. He kept detailed notes on each child after vaccination, and these were later found in the house. Despite his modern approach to vaccination, he still attributed the death of one of his young sons to a violent bowel problem caused by the strong smell of sea air at Dawlish.

As well as being the local doctor, John Croker was a keen geologist and historian. In 1867 he found two spindle-shaped blue serpentine Celtic moulds during a dig on Bovey Heath. He also wrote a book entitled Letters Historical and Botanical with Dr Fraser Halle. Less than enamoured of his fellow humans en masse, Dr Croker complained about the steps cut into the rock at Haytor because the enabled "the enervated and pinguitudinous scions of humanity of this wonderful nineteenth century to gain its summit".

His only surviving son, Samuel, married and lived in Bovey Tracey, His name was given to the Croker Almshouses, and his wife donated the bells in the Parish Church in his memory, raising some of the money for this with a two day fete at Parke. Another daughter Annie founded the Bovey Tracey British School. She remained actively involved with the school until her death in 1906. Her sketchbook survives and is lodged at the County Records Office, leaving simple pictures of 19th century Bovey for our enjoyment.

Sherryl & Susie Healey. (2004). Cross Cottage. In Veronica Kennedy (Ed.). The Bovey Book. pp. 106.

The Bovey Stone and Dr Croker

This wayside/boundary cross, a roughly octagonal socket-stone originally stood at the junction of the nearby lane leading to Higher Atway Farm, but was removed to its present location in the wall outside Cross Cottage by Dr Croker in 1815, to allow the road to be widened. On the face of the shaft is a small incised cross, said to have been cut in that year.

Until the late 19th century the day the Portreeve of Bovey was chosen was observed as a holiday. Traditionally this was always on the first Monday after 3rd May, known as Mayor's Monday'. The occasion not only featured the beating of the parish bounds on horseback, but also a ceremony in which the newly appointed Mayor would ride three times around the cross (before it was re-sited), then strike it with a staff. This apparently symbolised his authority.

M. Lang. (2004). The Bovey Stone. In Veronica Kennedy (Ed.). The Bovey Book. pp. 22.


Dr Croker's contribution to medical research

A case of Diseased Ovary, with the Examination Post Mortem.

J G Croker, Surgeon, Bovey-Tracey, Devon

D. Uwins, MD. (1818). The London Medical Repository Monthly Journal and Review, Vol. 9, January to June. London: Thomas & George Underwood, pp. 284-286.

This rare and much sought-after journal was produced digitally from a copy in the University of Michigan Library collection and can be downloaded from Google Books. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Grace Hillman aetat nineteen in 1810, a servant, unmarried and never known to be pregnant, of small stature and fair complexion, whilst in the act of some small domestic office, was seized with a pain in the left hypogastric region. For some time she paid no attention to the complaint, but in the Spring of 1811, a hardness was felt at the place where the pain was seated. She applied for advice and on a review of her case, she was advised to take the benefit of the Devon and Exeter Hospital. She did so. Her medical attendants at that institution considered the case as a scirrhous ovary, and after some months continuance in the institution, she was dismissed "benefited". She grew larger. The feel of the abdomen authorised a supposition that the enlargement was aqueous, so much so that in consultation a year and a half after her dismissal from the hospital, paracentesis abdominis was advised as affording her an opportunity for cure. It was performed but no water obtained, and no ill consequences ensued from the puncture.

Many practitioners saw her during the years 1812-1817; and all considered the case as encysted ovarian dropsy. In short, her case, from the immense size she had obtained, was well known in the neighbourhood as a singular one, for she measured in the circumference of the umbilicus, more than fifty inches before her death. She never suffered from pain, and the only inconvenience was a dyspnoea arising from her bulk. She menstruated regularly and under all the circumstances of her situation, had good health with a craving appetite.

As the opinion of so many medical men who had seen her was, that she should again be tapped, she for the second time took the benefit of the hospital. Where she might have the advice and united talents of the whole medical establishment. And here I will give the account of her physician, Dr Miller, which he has very obligingly favoured me with. On the 15th February 1816, she was again admitted into the Devon and Exeter Hospital under my care, when she described herself as being twenty five years of age. She was then of an enormous size, thirty two inches, evidently from the enlargement of the viscus; which from the history she gave of herself, the appearances at the time, and the state of the symptoms, I was of opinion was the left ovarium. The functions in general were natural; and although she suffered much inconvenience from her immense size, yet this inconvenience was less than might be expected, and was principally confined to the respiratory organs. There were several consultations on her case while she was in the hospital; the result of which was uniformly that it was not advisable to attempt an operation, even to present relief; and the treatment therefore was merely palliative, which seemed to disappoint the poor woman; as after being in the house four months, she desired to be discharged; and was accordingly discharged on the 13th of June, nearly in the same state as at the time of her admission.

She was still visited by different medical men, who all, and always pronounced a nil desperandum; and the frequent assertions that "she might be relieved by an operation without danger", so buoyed up and encouraged, the hopes of herself and friends for a prolongation of her life, that she again presented to be tapped. This was performed in June 1817, with no better success than before. The disappointment may be better imagined than described. She was the subject of general commiseration, as her life might be considered as suspended by a thread; and of which she was aware. On the 11th of December 1817, dyspnoea and great oppression of the chest, with an interrupted pulse, came on rather suddenly; and after eighty seven hours of extreme restlessness, her life might be said to be extinguished by mechanical pressure. On the next day, seventeen hours after death, an examination of the body was obtained.


The abdominal integuments were two inches thick, very fat and distended two inches above the cartilago ensiformis, forming there rather a hollow, in which lay the omentum, so shrunk, and of a cheese colour, as when expanded, not to cover a hand's breadth. The tumour, covered by peritoneum occupied the whole abdominal parietes, and completely hid every viscus. It proved to be the left ovarium in that scirrhous state which is called cystic sarcoma, as is consisted of numerous cells, containing a firm yellow gelatinous substance, from which exuded a pale lymph. Very strong ligamentous bands were the connecting media, often an inch thick. It was plentifully supplied with blood vessels which had their origin from the uterus, the appearance of which was similar to a plexus of highly injected blood vessels. The uterus lay under the liver resting in the basin of the right os innominatum; and had it not been for the attachment of the right ovarium and its appendages, it would have been difficult to ascertain that it was the uterus. The bladder lay in situ under the tumour. The other abdominal viscera were sound. The tumour was taken out and divided for the more perfect convenience of her being placed in the coffin. It weighed eighty five pounds, avoirdupois, exclusive of more than a gallon of a discoloured liquid that escaped. As the desired information was obtained, no further examination was made.

It may be remarked that the extraordinary appetite that this woman possessed, even at the time she was seized with her mortal attack, maybe attributed to the necessary supply which the system required for the growth of this enormous tumour. If there are no practical deductions to be drawn from the history this case, yet it shews to what extend the system will bear diseased action, without impeding the functions of life.