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Biographical entry Welbourn, Richard Burkewood (1919 - 2005)

MRCS and FRCS 1948; BA Cambridge 1940; MB BChir Cambridge 1942; MD Cambridge 1953; Hon MD Karolinska 1974; Hon DSc Belfast 1985.

1 May 1919
Rainhill, Lancashire, UK
3 August 2005
Reading, UK
Endocrine surgeon


Richard Welbourn was professor of surgery at Belfast and then at the Hammersmith Hospital, London, where he developed a reputation for endocrine surgery. He was born in Rainhill, Lancashire, on 1 May 1919, the son of Burkewood Welbourn, an electrical engineer, and Edith Annie Appleyard, a teacher. From Rugby School he went to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and did his clinical studies at Liverpool University.

He qualified in 1942 and, after his first house job, joined the RAMC, where he served in field ambulances and a field dressing station, and took part in the invasion of Normandy in June 1944, after which he was posted to general hospitals in Belgium and Germany. He eventually became a graded surgeon in Hamburg, where he remained until he was demobilised in 1947.

On returning to England he became a registrar with Charles Wells in Liverpool, becoming a senior registrar in 1948. In 1951 he spent a year at the Mayo Clinic under James Priestley, then pioneering adrenalectomy for Cushing’s syndrome under cover of the newly described cortisone. He returned as consultant lecturer in surgery at the Queen’s University, Belfast, in Harold Rodgers’ department, where he continued to study the role of adrenalectomy in Cushing’s and later in carcinoma of the breast and prostate. He became a consultant surgeon to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, in 1951 and later to Belfast City Hospital. In 1958 he was appointed professor of surgical science.

On the death of Ian Aird, Welbourn was invited to the vacant chair at Hammersmith in 1963, taking with him to the new post Ivan Johnston, his senior lecturer from Queen’s, who soon afterwards went on to the chair at Newcastle. His department was active, particularly in endocrine surgery, but supervised all the other disciplines, including urology. A keen teacher, his postgraduate courses at Hammersmith were widely sought-after. He wrote many publications and among other honours was a Hunterian Professor of our College in 1958, received the James Berry Prize in 1970, and was a visiting professor at Yale and many other universities.

Among his many interests, stemming from his early involvement with the Student Christian Movement, were the philosophy and ethics of medical care, and he was one of the founders of the Institute of Medical Ethics and was a joint editor of the Dictionary of Medical Ethics (Bristol, J Wright, 1977 and London, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1981).

Unfortunately his last years were marred by a cardiac condition, worsened by the medication he was given. After retiring from Hammersmith in 1983 he was visiting scholar for research at UCLA, where he carried out a study of the history of endocrine surgery, which led to his last book in 1990.

In 1944 he married Rachel Haighton, a dentist, by whom he had four daughters, Philippa Mary, Edith Rachel, Margaret June and Dorothy Alice, and one son, Charles Richard Burkewood Welbourn, a surgeon. He had 15 grandchildren. After a series of strokes he died in Reading on 3 August 2005.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Independent 30 November 2005.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England