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Biographical entry Moynihan, Sir Berkeley George Andrew, Lord Moynihan of Leeds (1865 - 1936)

K.B. 1912; C.B. 1917; K.C.M.G. 1918; Baronet 1922; Baron 1929; M.R.C.S. 10 November 1887; F.R.C.S. 9 October 1890; M.B. London 1887; M.S. 1893.

2 October 1865
7 September 1936
Leeds, Yorkshire, UK


Born at Malta on 2 October 1865 the only son of Captain Andrew Moynihan, V.C., and Ellen Anne, his wife, daughter of Thomas Parkin, a cabinet maker at Hurst, near Ashton-under-Lyne. His father was the son of Malachi Moynihan, originally from southern Ireland, who died at Sefton Park, Liverpool in 1837. As a sergeant in the 90th Light Infantry Andrew Moynihan was awarded the Victoria Cross on 24 February 1857 for his bravery during the Crimean War. On 8 September 1855, during an attack on the Redan, he personally encountered and killed five Russians and afterwards under heavy fire rescued Lieutenant Swift and Ensign Maude, who had fallen near the fortress. After serving in India, he died at the age of thirty-seven in Malta on 19 May 1866 of Malta fever, with the rank of captain in the 8th foot (the King’s Regiment). There is a portrait of him in The History of the Victoria Cross by Philip A. Wilkins.

Mrs Moynihan came to Leeds in December 1867 with a pension of one pound a week on which to support two daughters and a son. She joined forces with her childless sister who was married to Alfred Ball, a police inspector, living at Millgarth Street. Moynihan’s education thus began in Leeds, and was continued at the Blue Coat School, then in its original quarters in Newgate Street, London. He entered the school in September 1875 with a presentation from H.R.H. Field-Marshal the Duke of Cambridge, and was placed in Ward 16. He left in April 1881 being then in no higher form than “Little Erasmus”. During his school career he was undistinguished, except that he did well in swimming and football. From the summer term of 1881 to 25 July 1883 he was at the Royal Naval School, Eltham, and from there proceeded to the Medical School at Leeds, where he lived with his maternal uncle, his mother and two sisters. He remained closely attached to Leeds for the rest of his life. The medical school was a part of the Yorkshire College which afterwards became one of the three constituents of the Victoria University. He graduated M.B. at the University of London in 1887 and became a Member of the College the same year. He passed the examination for the Fellowship in 1890 and for Master of Surgery in 1893, being awarded the gold medal. After serving as house surgeon to A. F. McGill at the Leeds General Infirmary in 1887, he acted as demonstrator of anatomy in the Medical School from 1893 to 1896. He was elected assistant surgeon to the infirmary in 1896, was surgeon from 1906, and consulting surgeon from 1927 until his death. He was lecturer in surgery from 1896 to 1909, and from 1909 to 1927 he was professor of clinical surgery in the University of Leeds.

At the Royal College of Surgeons Moynihan was appointed an examiner in anatomy on the board of examiners in anatomy and physiology for the Fellowship in 1899. He gave three lectures as Arris and Gale lecturer in 1899 on The anatomy and surgery of the peritoneal fossae, and three lectures in 1900 on The pathology of some of the rarer forms of hernia. In 1920 he gave a single lecture as Hunterian professor of surgery and pathology on The late surgery of gunshot wounds of the chest, and in the same year delivered the Bradshaw lecture on The surgery of diseases of the spleen. He was Hunterian Orator in 1927, speaking on Hunter’s ideals and Lister’s practice. He served on the council of the college from 1912 to 1933 and was elected president for six years in succession, 1926-31. In this position he was the second provincial surgeon to fill the office, the first being Joseph Hodgson of Birmingham, who was president in 1864.

The war found him with the rank of major à la suite attached to the 2nd Northern General Hospital of the Territorial R.A.M.C., with a commission dated 14 October 1908; on 28 November 1914 he was gazetted temporary colonel, A.M.S., and was serving in France. On demobilization in 1919 he was holding the rank of major-general, and had been chairman of the Army Advisory Board form 1916 and chairman of the council of consultants 1916-19. He made a marked impression on a tour in America, when speaking on behalf of the British cause. He was in his energy and frank ambition and his gift of oratory more like an American than the traditional reserved and self-depreciatory Englishman.

He married on 17 April 1895 Isabella Wellesley, daughter of Thomas R. Jessop, F.R.C.S., of Leeds. Lady Moynihan died suddenly on 31 August 1936, leaving a son and two daughters. He felt the loss acutely, had a cerebral haemorrhage on 6 September 1936 and died on 7 September, without recovering consciousness, at his home Carr Manor, Meanwood, Leeds, formerly Sir Clifford Allbutt’s house. He was buried at Lawnswood cemetery, and memorial services were held in Leeds parish church and at St Martin’s-in-the-fields, London. An offer was made that he should be buried in Westminster Abbey, but it was declined for family reasons.

Moynihan was fortunate in the accidents of his place, his period, and his personality. Leeds had long been a centre of good surgery. It had a teeming population, and was too far removed from London and Edinburgh to be greatly influenced by either. Surgery, which had been previously performed by general practitioners, was becoming specialized and Moynihan was private assistant in 1887-88 to Mayo-Robson, a pioneer in abdominal surgery in Leeds. Foreseeing the trend of surgery Moynihan trained himself deliberately to anticipate its arrival. He went to Berlin as a postgraduate student, and for many years spent his holidays in visiting the schools of surgery first in Europe and later in the United States. He was a brilliant and bold operator and early accepted the teachings of Lister. Gentle in his handling of tissues or, as he expressed it, “caressing” them, and a master of technique, his results were unusually satisfactory. He regarded every operation as a religious rite or sacrament, He felt the magnitude of the patient’s surrender of the whole future and even his life to the judgement and manual skill of a perhaps hitherto unknown surgeon. Himself a master of his craft, he taught that there must be the same high standard of achievement in every detail, and that at no stage of an operation should anything be left to chance. Operations on the liver and gall-bladder, upon the stomach, and “short-circuiting” for duodenal ulcer, more especially interested him, and he made his results widely known by means of articles, addresses, and communications to the medical press. He learnt from observation that the appearances in the living tissues differ widely from those in museum specimens. He was thus led to consider the whole subject of surgical pathology, popularized Allbutt’s phrase “the pathology of the living”, and was insistent that an institution should be founded where experimental surgery could be studied, to supplement the morbid surgical anatomy usually taught in the schools. In this he was successful during the latter years of his life when he was president of the College. Largely at his instigation and with the munificent assistance of Sir George Buckston Browne, an experimental surgical farm was founded at Downe in Kent. It was affiliated to the College and was placed under the mastership of Sir Arthur Keith, F.R.S., who had been conservator of the Hunterian Museum.

Moynihan realized early in life that English surgeons knew little about the work of their colleagues and less about the progress of surgery abroad. He therefore established in 1909 a small visiting club, the members of which travelled from surgical centre to surgical centre, watched and commented upon the methods of their colleagues and confrères, and cemented many friendships. This visiting surgical club changed its name in 1929 and became the Moynihan Chirurgical Club. He was an excellent expositor and even dramatic in his showmanship for visitors to his own clinic. He knew how to advertise his work, but it was of the very best. He was instrumental in calling into existence the Association of Surgeons to bring together the surgeons of Great Britain and the Dominions; in this he was much helped by H. S. Pendlebury. He took a leading part in founding the British Journal of Surgery in 1913, and held the important office of chairman of the editorial committee from its beginning until his death; Ernest Hey Groves and George Cask were his chief supporters in this work. Under this guidance the venture proved successful, and in July 1936 the subscribers presented him with a statuette, wrought by Omar Ramsden, in silver, and a cheque for one thousand guineas. The cheque he handed to the College for the benefit of its library, and presented a replica of the statuette to stand on the table at meetings of the editorial committee.

As a man Moynihan was fairly tall, strong and well made, and in youth his hair was of a fiery red colour. He was always on the alert, with a pleasant smile, and a ready repartee for any friendly attack. He spoke well in a soft voice and liked speaking, for he had a fund of humour, an attractive delivery, and a real feeling for language. His pupils were devoted to him, and his lectures were always well attended. He was interested and well informed in painting, literature, and music. He had visited most of the European galleries, where his anatomical and surgical knowledge enabled him to detect many pathological facts unwittingly recorded by the great artists of the renaissance and later periods. He retained his love of swimming and practised it until his life’s end.

Many honours came to Moynihan. He was a member or fellow of the chief medical societies throughout the world. The University of Leeds made him an honorary LL.D. on the occasion of its twenty-fifth jubilee in 1924. He was elected a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 1917, and he delivered the first Murphy memorial lecture at Chicago in 1920 and presented a great mace “from the consulting surgeons of the British Armies to the American College of Surgeons in memory of mutual work and good fellowship in the European War 1914-18”. He delivered the Romanes lecture at Oxford in 1932, and the Linacre lecture at Cambridge in 1936. He was created a baronet in 1922, and seven years later was called to the House of Lords with a patent as Baron Moynihan of Leeds. Amongst his other activities was his work in connexion with the Cancer Research Campaign fund at Leeds, when a sum of £150,000 was raised. As president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation Society he had undertaken to introduce a Euthanasia Bill in the autumn session of 1936 in the House of Lords. Shortly before his death he had joined the Board of Directors of Droitwich Spa, and had intended to devote himself to its development as a centre for the cure of rheumatism. Moynihan’s name is inscribed in the Town Hall, Leeds among the Freeman of the City, and a ward has been named after him at the General Infirmary. His instruments are in the museum of the Leeds Medical School.

His portrait, three-quarter length seated, was painted by Richard Jack, R.A., in 1927. The likeness is good but the hands do credit neither to sitter nor painter. The painting hands in the Board Room of the General Infirmary at Leeds; his own replica he presented to the Royal College of Surgeons shortly before his death. It hangs in the first hall, and beneath it is an inscribed silver tablet worked by Omar Ramsden. The same craftsman made the chain and badge of office, which Moynihan gave for the presidents of the Association of Surgeons. A bust by Sir William Reid Dick, R.A., in a setting designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, P.R.A., stands half-way up the main staircase facing the main entrance to the General Infirmary at Leeds; it was unveiled in the autumn of 1939. A bronze cast of his hands is in the library of the Leeds Medical School, with a replica in the City Art Gallery. The Medical School also possesses a bronze bust by F. J. Wilcoxson; the Royal College of Surgeons has a marble bust by Wilcoxson, presented by Lord Moynihan’s son.

Starting as the son of a poor widow, Moynihan left a very large fortune due entirely to his own exertions; but he was no grasper after money, as was shown by the numbers of patients upon whom he operated in private either gratuitously or for a greatly reduced fee. He left bequests for eponymous lectures at Leeds University and the Royal College of Surgeons. The first Leeds biennial Moynihan lecture was delivered by Gordon Gordon-Taylor in October 1940; the first Moynihan lecture at the College by E. W. Hey Groves on 14 March 1940.

Moynihan made time by early rising for much excellent writing during his busiest years of practice. His articles on clinical subjects were masterly, progressive, and clear. His later addresses on medico-political or historical subjects were full of knowledge and wisdom, and inspiring to his hearers. He had a natural gift for the short, memorable phrase, and cultivated his skill in selecting and arranging words. His surgical writings deal mainly with abdominal conditions and the appropriate treatment. Sir Arthur F. Hurst in his Harveian Oration for 1937, dealing with the physiology of the stomach, draws attention to the clinical picture of duodenal ulcer drawn by Moynihan; he says “It is as much a piece of original research as the discovery of a new element or a new star, and equally deserving of recognition”.

Principal publications:
Mesenteric cysts. Ann. Surg. 1897, 26, 1-30.
On the anatomy and pathology of the rarer forms of hernia. Arris and Gale lectures. Lancet, 1900, 1, 513-521; Brit. med. J. 1900, 1, 435-441 and 503-508.
The surgery of chronic ulcer of the stomach. Brit. med. J. 1900, 2,1631.
Pancreatic cysts. Med. Chron. 1902, 2, 241-284.
Tumours of the mesentery. Ibid. 1902, 3, 345-371.
The operative treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers. Med.-Chir. Trans., 1903, 86, 513-557.
Gallstones and their surgical treatment. Philadelphia, 1904; 2nd edition, 1905.
Abdominal operations. London, 1905; 4th edition, 2 vols. 1926.
Surgery of the pancreas, in Keen’s Surgery, 1908, 3, 1035-1067.
Surgery of the spleen. Ibid. pp.1068-1093.
Duodenal ulcer. London, 1910; 2nd edition, 1912.
The pathology of the living and other essays. London, 1910.
On the treatment of gun-shot wounds. Brit. med. J. 1916, 1, 333-337.
The spleen and some of its diseases, Bradshaw lecture, R.C.S. 1920. London, 1921.
Cancer of the stomach. Practitioner, 1928, 121, 137-148.
Addresses on surgical subjects. London, 1928.
A full bibliography by S. Wood is in the College library; it was published in Univ. Leeds med. Soc. Mag. 1937, 7, 111-116.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Donald Bateman Berkeley Moynihan, surgeon. London, Macmillan 1940, with portraits; D.N.B. 1931-1940, Oxford, 1949; The Times, 8 September 1936, with portrait, 10 September pp.9b and 15e, 11 September pp. 16b and 17e, 14 September p.14e, 15 September p. 17e; Lancet, 1936, 2, 655, with portrait, a pleasing likeness, and p. 693; Brit. med. J. 1936, 2, 564 with a less pleasing portrait, and p.953 with appreciation by G. Grey Turner, and 1939, 2, 367; Univ. Leeds med. Soc. Mag. 1936, 6, 112, with portrait, and 1937, 7, 1-116, Moynihan memorial number, with portraits and bibliography; Med. Press, 1936, 193, 257 contains an excellent full-length portrait of Moynihan in his presidential robes; Postgrad. med. J. 1936, 12, 397, with portrait as P.R.C.S; Trans Amer. surg. Assoc. 1936, 54, 441, with portrait as a young man; Brit. J. Surg. 1936, 24, 1, with a coloured plate of Jack’s portrait as frontispiece, at p.2 a photograph of Moynihan aged 30, and at p.6 a drawing of the memorial statuette presented to him; Nature, 1936, 138, 577; Bull. Amer. Coll. Surg. 1937, 22, 24, eulogies by G. W. Crile and A. B. Kanavel; Hey Groves, the first Moynihan lecture, Brit. med. J. 1940, 1, 606 and 649; The birthplace of Lord Moynihan at Malta, with photographs of the house and the commemorative tablet-stone. Leeds Univ. med. Mag. 1943, 13, 72; information from the Clerk of Christ’s Hospital, and the Secretary of the Corporation of the Royal Naval School, R.N. scholarship fund; personal knowledge.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England