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Biographical entry Bowlby, Sir Anthony Alfred (1855 - 1929)

Baronet, 1923; K.C.B., 1919; K.C.M.G., 1915; K.C.V.O., 1916; Knight Bachelor, 1911; M.R.C.S., July 29th, 1879; F.R.C.S., June 9th, 1881; L.S.A., 1879; Hon. D.C.L. Durham; Hon. F.A.C.S.

  • Image of Bowlby, Sir Anthony Alfred
10 May 1855
7 April 1929
Lyndhurst, Hampshire, UK
General surgeon and Military surgeon


Anthony Alfred Bowlby was born on May 10th, 1855, in Namur, the third son of Thomas William Bowlby, of Durham and Darlington, by his wife, Frances Marion, the youngest daughter of Pulteney Mein, of Canonbie, Dumfriesshire, formerly Surgeon in the 73rd Regiment, and his wife, Anne Harrington (née Hawes). Thomas William Bowlby was the eldest son of Thomas Bowlby, Captain R.A., by his wife, Wilhelmina Martha Arnold, second daughter of Major-General William Balfour, 57th Regiment, President of New Brunswick. Thomas William Bowlby became a solicitor, but subsequently ceased to practise and undertook numerous missions to foreign countries, many of them on behalf of The Times newspaper, to which he was a frequent contributor. In April, 1860, he accepted the appointment of Special Correspondent to The Times with the British Expedition to China. While acting in that capacity he was, with others, taken prisoner by the Chinese on Sept. 18th, 1860, and about a week later died in captivity after much suffering. His body was brought to the English camp, and buried in the Russian cemetery at Pekin on Oct. 17th, 1870. Anthony Bowlby, who was five years old at the time of his father's death, was brought up by his mother and educated at Durham School. From there he proceeded to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, which he entered in 1876, and qualified M.R.C.S. and L.S.A., as was then the custom, in 1879. As a student he gained the Brackenbury Scholarship in Surgery in 1880, and he played with zest Rugby football, in which he remained interested all his life. In 1880 he served as House Surgeon to Luther Holdern (q.v.), who retired in the same year and was succeeded by Thomas Smith (q.v.). In 1881 he became F.R.C.S, and in the same year was appointed Curator of the Museum at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, where he completed the catalogue which had been begun by Frederick Eve (q.v.). This work gave Bowlby the idea of writing his successful book, Surgical Pathology and Morbid Anatomy, which appeared in 1887 and ran into many editions. In 1882 he won the Jacksonian Prize at the Royal College of Surgeons with a dissertation on "Wounds and Other Injuries of Nerves".

In 1884 he became Surgical Registrar to the Hospital and Demonstrator of Practical Surgery, and in 1886 won the Astley Cooper Triennial Prize for his essay on "The Surgical Treatment of Diseases and Injuries of Nerves". In 1891, after serving seven years as Surgical Registrar and developing his distinguishing characteristics, he was elected Assistant Surgeon to St. Bartholomew's Hospital on the retirement of Sir William Savory (q.v.), and in 1903 he became full Surgeon. During this time he became also Surgeon to the Alexandra Hip Hospital and to the Foundling Hospital, and built up his reputation as a sound surgeon and sagacious counsellor.

Soon after the start of the South African War in 1899, Bowlby went out as Senior Surgeon to the Portland Hospital, where he was associated with Sir Cuthbert Wallace. Here it was that he acquired the knowledge of military surgery and organization which stood him in such good stead during the Great War, and where he displayed that capacity for dealing with difficult situations and smoothing out differences which was one of his marked characteristics. He was mentioned in despatches and awarded the C.M.G. In 1901 he published A Civilian War Hospital, in which he gave an account of his experiences.

In 1904 he was appointed Surgeon to the Household of King Edward VII, and in 1910 Surgeon in Ordinary to King George V, and was knighted the following year. In 1905 Bowlby was one of the three surgeons chosen by Queen Alexandra to act on the Council of the newly formed British Red Cross Society, and from that day till his death he took a prominent share in all its activities.

In 1908, in common with other members of the staff of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, he joined the newly formed Territorial Medical Service and was given a commission as Major, being attached on mobilization to the First London General Hospital. On the outbreak of war in 1914, Bowlby joined his unit, which was located at Camberwell, but he offered his services to General Head Quarters, was accepted, and sent to France on Sept. 23rd, 1914, as Consulting Surgeon to the Forces, with the rank of Major-General. Bowlby thus received the opportunity of work for which he was peculiarly fitted, and now embarked on a period of nearly five years which proved to be the hardest and best spent of his life. At first he was the only consultant, but in May, 1915, the increase in the size of the British Expeditionary Force and the formation of two Armies gave too much work for one man; Sir Cuthbert Wallace was appointed Consulting Surgeon to the First Army, while Bowlby did the work of the Second Army. Later, with the establishment of additional armies, new consultants were appointed, and Bowlby became a super-consultant and general adviser at the Front to the Director-General, Army Medical Service, and towards the end of the War, after Sir George Makins had retired, he became Adviser on Surgery for the whole of the British area, Front and Base.

During these four years and seven months of active service, Bowlby rose to his greatest height. In his own estimate he had never spent years better. He was intensely interested in all aspects of military life, passionately desirous of beating the enemy, and peculiarly fitted to carry out this task. His great work was his insistence that surgery should be done at the Front and now at the Base. Casualty Clearing Stations, which were conceived after the Boer War, were small units capable of doing but little surgery. Bowlby turned them into large hospitals where surgery of the most advanced order was regularly practised. This early surgery, for which he was responsible, saved the lives and limbs of thousands of wounded, and was no doubt one of the chief reasons for the commendation earned by the medical services during the War. Amongst his contemporaries at the hospitals he had the sobriquet of 'The Baron', to which during the War was added the territorial title of 'Bapaume'. To Sir William Osler, and to many others, he was 'The Consoler-General', for he had often to report the deaths of the sons of many of his friends.

His connection with the College of Surgeons was long and honourable. He became a Councillor in 1904 and served without a break till 1920, when he became President in succession to Sir George Makins and served for three years. He delivered the Bradshaw Lecture in 1915 upon "Wounds in War", in which he summarized the first year's surgical work of the British Expeditionary Force in France, and was Hunterian Orator in 1919, when he reviewed military surgery from the time of Hunter to the date of the Oration.

When Bowlby retuned to England at the end of the War he did not resume active work at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, though he retained the greatest interest in it, constantly attended the weekly 'Consultations' of the Staff, and as a Governor and Consulting Surgeon gave the benefit of his counsel and experience. Though retired from practice, he lived an active life. He was Chairman of the Radium Institute and took a keen interest in its activities. He was Chairman of the Board of Management of King Edward VII Convalescent Home for Officers at Osborne, and was instrumental in carrying out many improvements which added materially to the well-being of the inmates, and he remained till his death an active member of the Executive Committee of the British Red Cross Society.

Bowlby was a man of keen intellect and strong character, with a quiet determination which enabled him to carry out what he believed to be right. His teaching was practical, and he had a knack of conveying a lesson in a way which could not be forgotten. The following is an instance: he was going round the wards with some students when he came to a patient suffering from extravasation of urine. After demonstrating the lesion, he said, in his characteristic, slightly guttural voice - he had a little difficulty rolling his r's - "The right thing to do is to make a cut into it, even if you have only got a bit of rusty hoop-iron to do it with." He spoke well and to the point with a curious jerking of the whole body, but he wrote his books and articles with difficulty.

The above is a fine record a man's work. It is not so easy to describe the nature of the man who did it. Bowlby was of medium height, sparely built, but of an active frame. In his youth he played games and was always interested in them. For many years he was a keen Alpine climber, doing many of the great ascents, though he never became a member of the Alpine Club. He had a talent for friendship, and hundreds of his old students retained a love for him which approached veneration. His surgery was influenced most by that of Sir T. Smith (q.v.) and Howard Marsh (q.v.), both of whom he assisted for a long time, and through there have been finer technicians and greater researchers, his undoubted success as a surgeon and in private practice lay in his sound judgement. It was this that made his advice and help sought for. He was possessed of that sound common sense and cool practical judgement which characterized him both in surgical practice and in military surgery.

In 1898 he married Maria Bridget, the daughter of Canon the Hon. Hugh Wynne Mostyn, by whom he had three sons and three daughters, all of whom survive him. His eldest son, Anthony Hugh Mostyn, who succeeded to the baronetcy, was born in 1906. Sir Anthony Bowlby lived for many years at 4 Manchester Square, and later at 25 Manchester Square. He died while on holiday at Stoney Cross, Lyndhurst, after a short illness, on April 7th, 1929, was cremated at Brookwood, and was buried at Brooklands Cemetery.

Bowlby's portrait, in uniform, painted by Sir William Llewellyn, K.C.V.O., R.A., and presented by his past students and colleagues, hangs in the Great Hall at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. His portrait also appears in a panel in the Royal Exchange, painted by Frank O. Salisbury, R.A., which shows their Majesties the King and Queen visiting the battle districts of France, 1917: the lower panel representing the Queen visiting the wounded soldiers, accompanied by Dame Maud MacCarthy, Matron-in-Chief, Lieut.-General Sir Arthur Slogget, Director-General Army Medical Services, and Major-General Sir Anthony Bowlby. He also appears in Moussa Ayoub's portrait group of the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 1928.

Surgical Pathology and Morbid Anatomy, 16mo, London, 1887. The 5th edition was edited with the assistance of F. W. ANDREWES (1907); 7th edition published in 1920.
Injuries and Diseases of Nerves and their Surgical Treatment, 8vo, 20 plates. London, 1889; Philadelphia, 1890.
"Injuries and Diseases of Nerves" in Treves' System of Surgery, i, 681.
A Civilian War Hospital, being an account of the work of the Portland Hospital and of experience of wounds and sickness in South Africa, 1900 (etc), 8vo, 50 plates, London, 1901.
"The Bradshaw Lecture on Wounds in War." - Brit. Jour. Surg., 1916, iii, 451; Jour. R.A.M.C., 1916, xxvi, 125.
"Application of War Methods to Civil Practice." - Lancet, 1920, i, 131.
"Results of Fracture of Femur caused by Gunshot Wounds." - N.Y. Med. Jour., 1920, iii, 133.
"Care of the Wounded Man in War." - Surg. Gynecol. and Obst., 1920, xxx, 13.
"Surgical Experiences in South Africa." - Monthly Rev., 1900, Oct., 52.
"An Address on 900 cases of Tuberculous Disease of the Hip, treated at the Alexandra Hospital, with a Mortality of less than 4 per cent." - Brit. Med. Jour., 1908, i, 1465.
"A Clinical Lecture on some Surgical Complications of Tabes Dorsalis." - Ibid., 1906, i, 1021.
"A Sketch of the Growth of the Surgery of the Front in France." - St. Bart's Hosp. Jour., 1919, xxvi, 127; Brit. Med., Jour., 1919, ii, 127.
"Reminiscences of the War in South Africa." - St. Bart's Hosp. Jour., 1900, Oct.
"Abdominal Wounds." - Lancet, 1917, i, 207.
"British Surgery at the Front." - Brit. Med. Jour., 1917, i, 705.
"Wounds of Brain." - Arch. de Med. et Pharm. mil., 1917, lxvii, 427.
"Wounds of Spinal Cord." - Ibid., 1917, lxvii, 463.
"Traumatic Shock." - Ibid., 1917, lxvii, 123.
"Wounds of Joints." - Ibid., 1917, lxvii, 302.
"Penetrating Wounds of Abdomen." - Ibid., 1917, lxvii, 486.
"Wounds at Front." - Ibid., 1917, lxvii, 25.
"Traumatic Shock." - Ibid., 1918, xlix, 80.
"Thoracic-abdominal Wounds." - Ibid., 1918, lxix, 34.
"Primary Suture of Wounds." - Brit. Med. Jour., 1918, i, 333.
"British Military Surgery in the Time of Hunter and in the Great War" (Hunterian Oration.) - Lancet, 1919, i, 285; Brit. Med. Jour., 1919, i, 205.
"Gunshot Fracture of Femur." - Brit. Med. Jour., 1920, i, 1; Surg. Gynecol. and Obst., 1920, xxx, 135.
"Fractures of the Femur at the Casualty Clearing Station." - Brit. Jour. Surg., 1916, iii, 626.
"A Clinical Lecture on Strangulated Hernia." - Clin. Jour., 1908, xxxi, 385.
Joint editor of the History of the Great War Medical Services: Surgery of the War, 2 vols., H.M.S.O., 1922.
Contributed "Development of Casualty Clearing Stations, etc.," vol. i.
Introduction to Atlas of Pathological Anatomy. - Brit. Jour. Surg., 1925, July.
Introduction to Carrell and Dehelly's Treatment of Infected Wounds, London, 1917.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 1929, April 8th; Brit. Med. Jour., 1929, ii, 747, with a fairly good portrait. St. Bart.'s Hosp. Jour., 1929, xxxvi, 115, with a good likeness. St. Bart.'s Hosp. Rep., lxii. An Account of the Last Mission and Death of Thomas William Bowlby, collected and privately printed by his son, C. C. Bowlby, 1906. Personal knowledge.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England