Maunsell, Henry (1806–79), medical doctor and journalist, was born 3 February 1806 at James's St. Harbour, Dublin, eldest among eight children of Thomas Maunsell, general manager of the Grand Canal Co., and Anne Maunsell (neé Murray). In later years his brother E. W. Maunsell was secretary of the Dublin, Wicklow, & Wexford Railway Co. Henry was educated at Dr Philips's school on St Stephen's Green, Dublin; Philips, like the Maunsell family, was a follower of the teachings of the radical clergyman John Walker (qv). Henry Maunsell became LRCSI (1827) and graduated MD at the University of Glasgow (1831). Through the spring and summer of 1831 he worked at the dispensary in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal. In the same year he was elected lecturer in midwifery at the Park St. medical school, and assistant accoucheur (male midwife) at the Wellesley Female Institution, Dublin. Throughout his youth, college, and early career years he was friendly with the novelist Charles Lever (qv), and the two were involved in many pranks and escapades. They used to paddle a canoe, which Lever had brought from Canada, on the Grand Canal near Portobello, Dublin. In February 1832 Maunsell became a fellow of the RCSI. In 1832 he was appointed assistant physician to the Magdalen asylum, Dublin. In February 1835 he became professor of midwifery at the RCSI. With Arthur Jacob (qv), he started (January 1839) the Dublin Medical Press, a weekly journal of medical science, and edited forty-two volumes from 1839 to 1859. He wrote The Dublin practice of midwifery (1834, 1856, 1871), a work illustrated with cases from the Wellesley Female Institution. Maunsell, in his first edition in 1834, was one of the earliest authors to discuss the use of stethoscopes to listen to the foetal heart; the instrument had been introduced into antenatal care and obstetrics in Dublin only the year before. He noted that the success of foetal monitoring using the new techniques depended on the experience of the midwife or doctor. He contributed a series of papers on obstetrics and children's health to the Dublin Journal of Medical and Chemical Science (1832–7). In 1841 the RCSI's School of Surgery established the first professorship of hygiene (or ‘political medicine’) in the UK, and Maunsell, having resigned his RCSI professorship of midwifery, was the first occupant of the chair until his resignation in 1846.
His interest in public health was linked to an interest in wider political and social problems. With Richard Townson Evanson he published A practical treatise on the management and disease of children (1836; also published in America and Germany), illustrated with cases from the Institution for Sick Children, Pitt St., Dublin, and drawn from their experiences there as medical students. Maunsell, who advocated the need for mental as well as physical hygiene in the education and care of the growing child, also published The only safe poor law experiment for Ireland (1838) and A discourse . . . on medicine considered in relation to government and legislation (1839). He was elected (1843) a member of Dublin corporation for the Merrion ward and published a parliamentary reform proposal in the Edinburgh Review of January 1844. In the same month he was chosen to be the first secretary of the newly established RCSI council, a post he held until 1860, though increasingly he began to concentrate on journalism rather than on his medical career.
In September 1844 he sought the support of Daniel O'Connell (qv) for an address to Queen Victoria, in which he proposed that parliament should meet triennially in Dublin. Maunsell felt that Sir Robert Peel (qv) was about to betray Irish protestants, and declared that his own proposal ‘would cut the unhappy ties that bound Irishmen to the tail of either English whigs or English tories’ (O'Connell, 272). O'Connell wrote to Maunsell five days before the corporation met, saying: ‘. . . it really would be an important day for Ireland when a resolution respecting the state of legislation in Ireland could be proposed by you and seconded by me’ (O'Connell, 271). The conservative Dublin Evening Mail staunchly supported Maunsell's motion. On the day, 25 September, in a crowded corporation chamber, O'Connell argued against Maunsell's plan, declaring that what was really needed was ‘a proper conclusion – repeal’ (Freeman's Journal, 26 Sept. 1844). Maunsell stated that repeal would eventually leave Irish protestants with little representation and that the established church would be undermined. O'Connell dismissed this notion, while complimenting the Merrion ward councillor on his rhetoric. At the conclusion of his address Maunsell regretted that he could find no seconder, and the motion fell. Maunsell then published Rotatory parliaments (1844), in which he advocated a federal government for Ireland and suggested that the imperial parliament should sit every three years in Dublin, rather than always at Westminster. He retired from municipal politics at the end of 1844.
He prepared the papers of the 2nd Baron Cloncurry (qv) for publication under the title Personal recollections of Valentine, Lord Cloncurry (1849). In editorials in the Dublin Medical Press Maunsell severely criticised the government's less than generous payments (five shillings per day) to the doctors who, at constant personal risk, had carried out medical and relief work during the famine of the 1840s. He also attacked the 1850 medical charities bill and Cowper's 1858 medical bill to legalise the status of the medical profession. In 1858 he bought the Dublin Evening Mail, and was its proprietor-editor until 1870. He also contributed articles to The Times and the Spectator. On 3 December 1858 he retired from the RCSI council and was appointed secretary to the branch of the British Medical Council just established in Ireland. His strongly held conservative views notwithstanding, he published a series of articles in the Mail, during Gladstone's administration, in favour of home rule. He died 27 September 1879 after a protracted illness at his residence, Somerville, Greystones, Co. Wicklow, and was buried in the family vault at Stillorgan, Co. Dublin.
Maunsell married first (3 January 1832) Mary Colhoun (d. 1835) of Letterkenny, Co. Donegal; they had one daughter. He married secondly (31 August 1837) Caroline, daughter of Lieut. Stevenson of the Royal Marines, an Englishwoman, who survived him; they had three sons and six daughters, but he was survived by only one son, James Poole Maunsell, who was editor of a local newspaper in Derbyshire, and by three of his daughters.