Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Heath, Christopher (1835 - 1905)

M.R.C.S., March 14th, 1856; F.R.C.S., May 31st, 1860; Hon. LL.D. Montreal, 1897.

13 March 1835
London, UK
8 August 1905
Anatomist and General surgeon


Born in London on March 13th, 1835, the son of Christopher Heath (1802-1876) and Eliza Barclay. His father was the well-known Irvingite who was instrumental in building the beautiful Catholic Apostolic Church in Gordon Square, where he afterwards acted as angel, or minister, of the congregation. Heath was educated at King's College School, which he entered in May, 1845. He was apprenticed to Nathaniel Davidson, of Charles Street, Manchester Square, and began his medical studies at King's College, London, in October , 1851. Here he gained the Leathes and Warneford Prizes for general proficiency in medical subjects and in divinity, and was admitted an Associate in 1855. From March 11th to Sept. 25th, 1855, he served as hospital dresser on board H.M. Steam Frigate Impérieuse in the Baltic Fleet during the Crimean War, and was awarded a medal.

He was appointed Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy at King's College, and served as House Surgeon at King's College Hospital to Sir William Fergusson (q.v.) from May to November, 1857. In 1856 he was appointed Demonstrator of Anatomy at Westminster Hospital, where he was made Lecturer on Anatomy and Assistant Surgeon in 1862.

Heath was consulting Surgeon to the St. George and St. James's Dispensary in 1858, and in 1860 he was elected Surgeon to the West London Hospital at Hammersmith; in 1870 he was Surgeon to the Hospital for Women, Soho; and later he was Consulting Surgeon to the National Dental Hospital in Great Portland Street. He was elected Assistant Surgeon and Teacher of Operative Surgery at University College Hospital in 1866, where he became full Surgeon in 1871 on the resignation of Sir John Eric Erichsen (q.v.). He was appointed Holme Professor of Clinical Surgery in 1875, resigned his hospital appointments in 1900, and was then made Consulting Surgeon and Emeritus Professor of Clinical Surgery.

At the Royal College of Surgeons he gained the Jacksonian Prize in 1867 with his essay upon "The Injuries and Diseases of the Jaws, including those of the Antrum, and with the Treatment by Operation, or otherwise." He was a Member of the Council from 1881-1897; Examiner in Anatomy and Physiology from 1875-1880; a Member of the Court of Examiners from 1883-1892; and an Examiner in Dental Surgery in 1888. He was Hunterian Professor of Surgery and Pathology in 1887, Bradshaw Lecturer in 1892, and Hunterian Orator in 1897. He was a Vice-President in 1895, and was called upon to act as President when John Whitaker Hulke (q.v.) died on Feb. 19th, 1895. Heath was elected President in his place in the following July and served his term of office during the year 1895-1896. In 1897 he visited the United States and delivered the second course of "Lane Medical Lectures" which had been recently founded at the Medical College, San Francisco. He visited Montreal on his way back to England and was given the honorary LL.D degree by the University of Montreal. He was President of the Clinical Society of London and an Associate Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Heath lived for many years at 36 Cavendish Square; the house has now been rebuilt. He married (1) Sarah, daughter of the Rev. Jasper Peck; and (2) Gabrielle Nora, daughter of Captain Joseph Maynard, R.N. He died on Aug. 8th, 1905, leaving a widow, five sons, and one daughter. His fourth son, P. Maynard Heath, F.R.C.S., became Surgeon to the Evelina Hospital for Sick Children.

Heath was a brilliant surgeon and a great teacher. His intimate knowledge of anatomy made him a dexterous operator, but his comparative inability to appreciate new truths of bacteriology cut him off from the scientific side of surgery. Early in his career he showed a very special aptitude in the art of surgery, of which his master, Sir William Fergusson, was so excellent an exponent. For thirty-three years Heath was one of the most active members of the Surgical Staff of University College, and his boldness and skill were exhibited in his successful case of simultaneous ligature of the carotid and subclavian arteries for aneurysm in 1865. The patient lived for five years afterwards in spite of her intemperate habits. As a teacher Heath was at once direct and practical, and as an examiner prompt, penetrating, and just. He served the College in various capacities for many years, and in all of these devoted himself with zeal and energy to its interests. He was a born conversationalist with marked antipathies; a hard hitter with a confident belief in his own opinion. In person he was tall and handsome; in mind wonderfully alert, seeing instantaneously any flaw in the argument of his adversary.

There is a marble bas-relief by Mr. Hope Pinker in the hall of the Medical School buildings of University College Hospital, and there is a good likeness of him in the portrait group of the College Council, by Jamyn Brookes.

All Heath's works were published in London. The chief of these are:-
A Manual of Minor Surgery and Bandaging, 1861; 13th ed., 1906; 16th ed., 1917 (edited by H. MORRISON DAVIES).
Practical Anatomy. A Manual of Dissections, 1864; 9th ed., 1902 (edited by J. E. Lane); translated into Japanese, Osaka, 1880. This text-book displaced The Dublin Dissector, which had been the favourite of many generations of medical students (see HARRISON, ROBERT).
Injuries and Diseases of the Jaws, 1868; 4th ed., 1894 (edited by H. P. DEAN); translated into French, 1884.
Essay on the Treatment of Intrathoracic Aneurism by the Distal Ligature, 1871; re-issue, 1898.
A Course of Operative Surgery, 1877; 2nd ed., 1884; translated into Japanese, Osaka, 1882.
The Student's Guide to Surgical Diagnosis, 1879; 2nd ed., 1883; Philadelphia, 1882; New York, 1881.
Clinical Lectures on Surgical Subjects, 1891; 2nd ed., 1895; second series, Philadelphia, 1902.
He edited a Dictionary of Practical Surgery in 2 vols., 1886.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dict. Nat. Biog., Supplement 2, 1901-11, sub nomine et auct. ibi cit. MacCormac's Address of Welcome, 1900, 219. Lancet, 1905, ii, 490, with portrait. Brit. Med. Jour., 1905, ii, 359, 418. W. G. Spencer's Westminster Hospital: An Outline of its History, London, 1924, 104. Dict. Nat. Biog. gives an account of the elder Christopher Heath.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England