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Biographical entry Thomas, Honoratus Leigh (1769 - 1846)

Member of the Corporation of Surgeons, Oct 16th, 1794; FRCS, Dec 11th, 1843, one of the original 300 Fellows; FRS, 1806.

Hawarden, Flintshire, UK
General surgeon


The son of John Thomas, of Hawarden, Flintshire, by his wife, Maria, sister of John Boydell, the publisher and engraver, Lord Mayor of London in 1790. He came to London as a young man with an introduction to John Hunter; he acted as dresser at St George's Hospital, where he also a pupil of William Cumberland Cruikshank, the anatomist. He obtained the diploma of the Corporation of Surgeons in 1794, and was one of the 300 Fellows elected in 1843.

Thomas entered the medical service of the Navy in 1792 as First Mate (3rd rate), and, on Hunter's recommendation, was appointed Assistant Surgeon to Lord Macartney's 'Embassy to China'. In 1799 he volunteered for medical service with the Duke of York's Army in Holland, and on the capitulation of the forces to the French he elected to be made prisoner in order to stay with the wounded. The French courteously set him free when his services could be dispensed with.

He married the elder daughter of Cruikshank, and succeeded to his practice in Leicester Place in 1800. Isabella, his daughter, married Philip Perceval Hutchins (1818-1928), the son of William Hutchins, surgeon, of Hanover Square. Philip Hutchins became Judge of the Madras High Court in 1883, was decorated KCSI, and was a Member of the Executive Council when Lord Dufferin was Governor-General of India.

His record at the College of Surgeons is a long one: Member of the Court of Assistants, 1818-1845; Examiner, 1818-1845; Vice-President, 1827, 1828, 1836, and 1837; President, 1829 and 1838. He delivered the Hunterian Oration in 1838 on the Life and Works of Cruikshank, and in it gave some personal reminiscences of John Hunter. His portrait by James Green hangs in the College. Thomas is described as the beau-ideal of a physician - tall, slender, slightly bowed; a face sedate but kind; a forehead though somewhat low yet denoting great perceptive power; a calm but subdued voice. He dressed truly 'professionally' - black dress-coat, waistcoat, and breeches, black silk stockings and pumps; a spotless white cravat encircled his long neck, and a massive chain with seals and keys dangled from his fob. He seemed to have a dread of operating, and would by constant delaying tire out his patient until he finally consulted some more decided surgeon. He had a very extensive practice amongst licensed victuallers. As an examiner he was courteous and able, and as President of the College dignified. [Miss Trevor Davies writes in October 1933 when she is living in Holywell, Oxford that she has a portrait of Honoratus Leigh Thomas, which has descended to her as a representative of the Boydell family.]

"Description of a Hermaphrodite Lamb." - Med. and Phys. Jour., 1799, ii, 1.
"Anatomical Description of a Male Rhinoceros." - Proc. Roy. Soc., 1832, I, 41.
"Case of Artificial Dilation of the Female Urethra." - Med.-Chir. Trans., 1809, i, 123.
"Case of Obstruction in the Large Intestines by a Large Biliary Calculus." - Ibid., 1815, vi, 98.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1846, ii, 26. Dict. Nat. Biog., sub nomine et auct. ibi cit. MacCormac's Address of Welcome, 1900, 79. J F Clarke's Recollections of the Medical Profession, 113. The Taylorian, 1928, 1, 113].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England