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Biographical entry Hewett, Sir Prescott Gardner (1812 - 1891)

Baronet, Aug. 6th, 1883; M.R.C.S., July 15th, 1836; F.R.C.S., Dec. 11th, 1843, one of the original 300 Fellows; F.R.S., June 4th, 1874.

3 July 1812
Doncaster, UK
19 June 1891
Horsham, UK
Anatomist and General surgeon


Born on July 3rd, 1812, the son of William N. W. Hewett, of Bilham House, near Doncaster, by his second wife. His father was a country gentleman whose fortune suffered from his love of horse-racing. Prescott Hewett received a good education and passed some years in Paris, where he acquired a perfect mastery of French, and learnt to paint in the studios, having at first intended to become a professional artist - a notion which he relinquished on becoming intimate with the son of an eminent French surgeon. He thus became inspired with a love for the surgical profession, and remained always an admirer of the French school of surgery. He never abandoned the practice of art, and his "delightful and exquisitely elaborate drawings" were exhibited, shortly before his death, in the Board Room at St. George's Hospital, "where one of these charming pictures now hangs near Ouless's portrait of its painter". He learned anatomy in Paris and became thoroughly grounded in the principles of French surgery.

On his return to England he entered at St. George's, where he had family influence, his half-brother, Dr. Cornwallis Hewett, having been Physician to the hospital from 1825-1833. The excellence of his dissections recommended him to Sir Benjamin Brodie, and he was appointed Demonstrator of Anatomy and Curator of the St. George's Hospital Museum when he was on the point of accepting a commission in the service of the H.E.I.C. He became Curator of the Museum about 1840, the first record in his handwriting being dated Jan. 1st, 1841. Here he began in 1844 the series of post-mortem records which have been continued on the same pattern ever since, and constitute a series of valuable pathological material which for duration and completedness is perhaps unmatched. Many of Brodie's preparations in the Museum of St. George's were put up by Hewett. He was appointed Lecturer on Anatomy in 1845 and Assistant Surgeon on Feb. 4th, 1848, becoming full surgeon on June 21st, 1861, in succession to Caesar H. Hawkins (q.v.), and Consulting Surgeon on Feb. 12th, 1875.

He was elected President of the Pathological Society of London in 1863, and ten years later occupied the Presidential Chair of the Clinical Society. He was admitted F.R.S. on June 4th, 1874. He was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to Queen Victoria in 1867, Sergeant-Surgeon Extraordinary in 1877 on the death of Sir William Fergusson (q.v.)., and Sergeant-Surgeon in 1884 in succession to Caesar Hawkins (q.v.). He also held from 1867 the appointment of Surgeon to the Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII, and on Aug. 6th, 1883, he was created a baronet. At the Royal College of Surgeons he was Arris and Gale Professor of Human Anatomy and Physiology from 1854-1859, a Member of the Council from 1867-1883, Chairman of the Board of Examiners in Midwifery in 1875, Vice-President in 1874 and 1875, and President in 1876.

Prescott Hewett married on Sept. 13th, 1849, Sarah, eldest daughter of the Rev. Joseph Cowell, of Todmorden, Lancashire, by whom he had one son, who only survived his father a few weeks, and two daughters. He died on June 19th, 1891, at Horsham, to which place he had retired on being created a baronet.

As a teacher Hewett was admirable, for he could make his pencil explain his work. Gradually - for he was of a shy and retiring disposition - he became known first in professional circles as a first-rate anatomist and one of the best lecturers in London, then as an organizer of rare energy and power; lastly, as a most accomplished surgeon and an admirable operator. He was equally skilful in diagnosis, and his stores of experience could furnish cases in point in all medical discussions.

Hewett, when Professor at the College of Surgeons, delivered a course of lectures on "Surgical Affections of the Head" which attracted the universal admiration of all surgeons; their author could never be persuaded to publish them, though when his friend and pupil Timothy Holmes (q.v.), afterwards edited a System of Surgery, Hewett embodied their contents in the exhaustive treatise on "Injuries of the Head" which forms part of that work. His fastidious taste made him shrink form authorship, as indeed he shrank from all forms of personal display, for he had much professional learning which was always ready at command, and an easy lucid style. Lecturing he loved, and few lectured better. "He was," said one who knew him, "one of the fittest men in the world to instruct students, for he had all the clearness of expression which is required to impart knowledge of subjects teeming with difficulties of detail, his ready pencil would illustrate the most complicated anatomical descriptions, and his stores of experience could furnish cases in point in all discussions; the clinical instruction which he was wont to give in the wards was equally admirable. He was one of the most trustworthy of consultants, never failing to point out any error in diagnosis, yet with such perfect courtesy and delicacy that it was a pleasure to be corrected by him."

He presided over the Clinical and Pathological Societies, but his increasing engagements prevented him from allowing himself to be nominated for the Presidency of the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society, though he was deeply interested in its work, and had enriched its Transactions with some papers which became standard authorities on their respective subjects.

Hewett started life as a poor man, and had every reason to feel the truth of the line, "Slow rises worth by poverty opprest". But he did rise gradually to eminence and distinction among the surgeons of London, and few men were more beloved by those who were connected with him in practice, whether as pupils or patients. "The reason", as one of his old pupils said, "was that he was emphatically a gentleman - a man who would not merely scorn a base action, but with whom anything base would be inconceivable."

Hewett's collection of water-colour sketches was presented to the nation after his death, and were exhibited at the South Kensington Museum at the beginning of 1891. A half-length subscription portrait painted by W.W. Ouless, R.A., hangs in the Board Room at St. George's Hospital, and there is a photograph in the Council Album.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dict. Nat. Biog., sub nomine et auct. ibi cit. MacCormac's Address of Welcome, 1900, 177.].

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