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Biographical entry Gordon-Taylor, Sir Gordon (1878 - 1960)

KBE 1946; OBE 1919; CB 1942; MRCS 12 November 1903; FRCS 13 December 1906; MB London 1903; BS 1905; BSc 1904; MS 1906; Hon FACS; Hon FRACS; Hon FRCS Ed; Hon FRCSI; Hon FRCSC; Hon FFARCS; MA Aberdeen; Hon LLD Melbourne 1947; Hon LLD Toronto 1941.

18 March 1878
London, UK
3 September 1960
London, UK
General surgeon


Born on 18 March 1878 at Streatham Hill, London, the only son of John Taylor, wine merchant of Dean Street, Tooley Street, London Bridge and Alice Miller Gordon daughter of William Gordon, stockbroker of Union Street, Aberdeen; he and his sister were taken by their mother to Aberdeen when their father died in 1885. Educated at Gordon College and Aberdeen University, as a student he would retire at eight in the evening and would be called by his mother at midnight in order that he might continue his studies. As a result, he passed in English in March 1896, in logic and geology in March 1897, in botany in July 1897 and obtained the degree of MA with third-class honours in classics in April 1898. On the family returning to London, he entered the school of the Middlesex Hospital, being awarded a gold medal in anatomy in the intermediate examination for the London MB. Qualifying in May 1903 with the conjoint diploma and passing the final MB London also, he became, in addition to his other duties, a demonstrator of anatomy under Peter Thompson, working together with Victor Bonney to obtain first-class honours in anatomy in the BSc in 1904. In 1905 he took the BS examination and in 1906 the MS, at the same time passing the Fellowship examination.

His first consultant appointment was that of surgeon to out-patients at the Royal Northern Hospital but, when a vacancy occurred at the Middlesex, he applied and was appointed to that hospital in 1907 at the age of 29, becoming assistant surgeon to (Sir Alfred) Pearce Gould and (Sir John) Bland Sutton. He also became attached as consultant to a number of smaller hospitals, St Saviours, the West Herts, Potters Bar, Welwyn, Kettering, Teddington and Hampton Wick Hospitals, and to the Ross Institute for Tropical Diseases.

During the war of 1914-18 he was gazetted Captain in the RAMC in March 1915 and, serving first at home, proceeded to France being involved in the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele. He was promoted Major, later acted as consulting surgeon to the 4th Army, and was awarded the OBE, returning to England in December 1918. By his experiences in France he had proved the value of prompt and fearless surgery in wounds of the abdomen, which often necessitated multiple resections of the intestine. After the war he built up a great reputation as an intrepid general surgeon, whose profound knowledge of anatomy and whose operative skill enabled him to undertake the most formidable operations. As a result of his war experience, he was a pioneer in the use of blood transfusion, using the Kimpton Tube technique as he distrusted the addition to blood of anti-coagulants, and so he was one of the first in the field in performing immediate gastrectomy for bleeding peptic ulcer. A truly general surgeon, it was however particularly in the field of the surgery of malignant disease affecting the breast, mouth and pharynx that his interest lay. His enthusiasm for anatomy led him to become an examiner in the Primary Fellowship examination in London for many years 1913, 1919, 1940-4 and 1950-3, and in 1934 he was the first surgeon anatomist to go to Melbourne, Australia, to participate in the second Primary examination to be held in that country as at the first only one anatomist, William Wright of the London, had taken part. He made five subsequent visits to Australia as an examiner, and conducted the examination in Calcutta and Colombo in 1935 and 1949. In 1932 he was elected to the Council of the College and thus began another of his life interests. In 1938 he spent some time as lecturer in surgery at the University of Toronto, where he delivered the Balfour lecture.

On the outbreak of war in 1939 he offered his services to the Army, and, being rejected on grounds of age, he crossed Whitehall to be received enthusiastically by the Royal Navy, being gazetted Surgeon-Lieutenant and, very rapidly, promoted Surgeon Rear-Admiral, a very fruitful association which led him all over the world.

He was, at some time, an examiner in surgery to the Universities of Cambridge, London, Leeds, Belfast, Durham and Edinburgh. At the College he was elected to the Council in 1932, was Vice-President 1941-3, Bradshaw lecturer in 1942 and a Hunterian professor in 1929, 1942 and 1944. In 1945 he delivered the Vicary lecture, and again in 1954. In 1950 he was appointed Sub-Dean of the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences in recognition of his great assistance to overseas students. In 1952 when a memorial plaque to John Hunter was unveiled in St Martins in the Fields, he delivered the address, and in 1955 he was appointed a Hunterian Trustee.

In 1941 he acted for a time as exchange Professor at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston and again in 1946, when he was also postgraduate Professor in Cairo. In 1943 he was a member of a mission to Russia sponsored by the British Council and, while there, he conferred the Honorary Fellowship on the Russian Surgeons Yudin and Burdenko. For the remainder of his life he acted as surgical adviser to the British Council in their choice of representatives to undertake missions abroad and to areas where British surgery could be of assistance.

After his theoretical retirement during the war, distinctions were showered upon him. An outstanding orator, the result of punctilious care, effort and his upbringing in the classics, he gave the first Moynihan memorial lecture in Leeds in 1940, the oration to the Medical Society of London in 1940, the Syme oration to the Royal Australasian College in 1947, the Lettsomian lectures to the Medical Society of London in 1944, the Sheen memorial lecture to the University of Wales in 1949, the Rutherford Morison memorial lecture in Newcastle in 1953, the Hunterian oration to the Hunterian Society in 1954, the John Fraser memorial lecture in Edinburgh in 1957, the Diamond Jubilee oration to the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1958, the Mitchell Banks memorial lecture in Liverpool in 1958, the Cavendish lecture to the West London Medico-Chirurgical Society in 1958, the Harveian lecture to the Harveian Society in 1949, and the Founder's Day oration to the Robert Gordon College, Aberdeen.

All his life he maintained his contact with Scotland and with the classics, introducing Latin and Greek quotations in his addresses without any suspicion of pomposity. He was elected a member of the Highland Society of London in 1955, was Vice-President of, and honorary surgeon to, the Royal Scottish Corporation, was chairman of the Horatian Society and a member of the Classical Association. His very infrequent holidays were spent in the Highlands. He was President of the Medical Society of London in 1941-2, President of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland in 1944-5, and President of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1944-5, being elected an Honorary Fellow in 1949.

In 1956 he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Society of Medicine, and on his eightieth birthday the British Journal of Surgery published a special edition in his honour.

The Australasian College honoured him in 1949 by founding the Gordon Taylor prize for the best candidate in their Primary examination, on the suggestion of six of their Fellows all holders of the Hallett Prize, and that College commissioned his portrait by James Gunn in August 1960. He himself presented the portrait of his wife, painted in 1922 by Cowper, to the Australasian College. His own portrait by Anna Zinkeisen was commissioned by the Middlesex Hospital, where it now hangs.

He was made consultant surgeon to the Alfred and St Vincent Hospitals in Melbourne and was an honorary member of surgical societies in Belgium, Norway, Greece, France and Germany, although his feelings for the last were antipathetic.

A keen cricketer and member of the MCC, he was a regular attender at Lords, and it was one evening on leaving the ground that he was struck down by a motor car, sustaining injuries from which he died. A touch of irony, as he was an inveterate walker and detested motor cars, and never had any desire to drive one; having sold his Rolls at the outbreak of war in 1939, he never subsequently owned a car.

It must be obvious to any reader of this tale of achievement that this was no ordinary man: indeed he was rightly regarded as the doyen of surgery of his generation. Few men, if indeed any others have inspired such universal respect, admiration and affection. Pre-eminent as a surgeon himself, he performed over one hundred hind-quarter amputations, his joy was to educate, instruct and help young surgeons from all over the world. In Australia his was a name to conjure with, and at the Middlesex out of his forty house surgeons twenty-five achieved consultant status, and of these, twelve at the Middlesex itself.

He never forgot a face and, more important, the name that went with it. Christmas cards, penned in his own florid handwriting, were sent every year to surgeons all over the world. He lived for surgery and to keep himself fit always walked and became an expert ballroom dancer. He delighted to entertain visiting surgeons in the Oriental Club or his beloved Ritz, and, although abstemious himself, he was a connoisseur of food and wine. His dapper, trim figure in double-breasted jacket, hatless and with bowtie and wing collar, complete with the pink carnation in the button hole, brought a thrill of excitement to any surgeon lucky enough to encounter him and to be recognised immediately and addressed by name. He was indeed, as Sir Arthur Porritt, the President, described him in his funeral oration quoting Chaucer's words, “a very parfit gentil knight”. He married Florence Mary FRSA, FZS, eldest daughter of John Pegrume, who died in 1949.

He died in the Middlesex Hospital following an accident on 3 September 1960. He was cremated at Golder's Green on 8 September, D H Patey reading the lesson. A memorial service was held in All Souls, Langham Place on Thursday 13 October 1960, conducted by the Vicar and by the Chaplain of the Middlesex Hospital. The oration was delivered by Sir Arthur Porritt, who was supported by the Council of the College. The lesson was read by T Holmes Sellors, and the church was filled by representatives of many learned societies and Sir Gordon's colleagues, friends and patients

A bibliography of his publications, compiled by A M Shadrake, was appended to the memorial pamphlet published by the Middlesex Hospital, and his principal writings are listed at the end of Sir Eric Riches's Gordon-Taylor memorial lecture Ann. Roy. Coll. Surg. Engl. 1968, 42, 91-92; they included:

1930. The Dramatic in Surgery. Bristol, Wright.
1939. The Abdominal Injuries of Warfare. Bristol, Wright.
1958. Sir Charles Bell, his life and times, with E A Walls. Edinburgh, Livingstone.
On Cancer Statistics and Prognosis
1904. Arch. Middlesex Hosp. 3, 128, with W S Lazarus-Barlow.
1959. Brit. med. J. 1, 455. Mitchell Banks Lecture.
On Cancer of the Breast
1948. Ann. Roy. Coll. Surg. Engl. 2, 60.
1948. Proc. Roy. Soc. Med. 41, 118.
On Malignant Disease of the Testis
1918. Clin. J. 47, 26.
1938. Brit. J. Urol. 10, 1, with A S Till.
1947. Brit. J. Surg. 35, 6, with N R Wyndham.
On the Oro-pharynx
1933. Proc. Roy. Soc. Med. 26, 889.
On Retroperitoneal and Mesenteric Tumours
1930. Proc. Roy. Soc. Med. 24, 782.
1930. Brit. J. Surg. 17, 551.
1948. Roy. Melb. Hosp. clin. Rep. Centenary Volume, p. 189.
On the Hindquarter Amputation
1935. Brit. J. Surg. 22, 671, with Philip Wiles.
1940. Brit. J. Surg. 27, 643.
1949. J. Bone Jt. Surg. 31 B, 410, with Philip Wiles.
1952. J. Bone Jt. Surg. 34 B, 14, with Philip Wiles, D H Patey, W Turner-Warwick and R S Monro.
1952. Brit. J. Surg. 39, 3, with R S Monro.
1955. British Surgical Progress, p. 81. London, Butterworth.
1959. J. Roy. Coll. Surg. Edin. 5, 1, John Fraser Memorial Lecture.
On War Surgery
1955. War injuries of the chest and abdomen. Brit. J. Surg., Supplement 3.
On Tradition
Moynihan (1940) Univ. Leeds med. Mag. 10, 126.
Rutherford Morison (1954) Newcastle med. J. 24, 248.
Cavendish Lecture (1958) Proc. W. Lond. Med.-Chir. Soc. p. 12.
Fergusson (1961) Medical History, 5, 1.
The surgery of the "Forty-five" rebellion. (Vicary Lecture 1945). Brit. J. Surg. 33, 1.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 5 September 1960 pp. 14 c-d appreciation by Z C, 9 September 1960 pp. 14-15 b appreciations by R W J and G R McR, 14 October 1960 pp. 16 e; Lancet 1960, 2, 604 with portrait and appreciations by T H S, M W, and R S H, p. 657 by P W, Paul Masson of Brussels and others, p. 712 by F G B, New Zealand; Brit. med. J. 1960, 2, 807 with portrait and appreciation by L C R, pp. 1947-48 by David Patey, Sir Gordon Bell, V.B. Green Armytage, and P W, p. 1027 by Douglas Miller PPRACS, p. 1245 by Sir W Johnston of Melbourne and R W Reeves, p. 1606 by Milroy Paul of Colombo, p. 1961 by J C; Ann. Roy. Coll. Surg. Engl. 1960, 27, 292-296 by Sir Eric Riches with portrait by James Gunn and pp. 56-57 by RACS; Brit. J. Surg. 1960, 48, 233-234 with Gunn's portrait; J. Bone Jt Surg. 1960, 42 B, 845 by P W with photograph; Middx. Hosp. J. 1960, 60, 163-165 tribute by R Vaughan Hudson with Gunn's portrait; Canad. J. Surg. 1961, 4, 383-389 by J L McDonell with portrait by Gunn; Bull. Soc. Int. Chir. 1960, 19, 599-601 by L C R and H W S W].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England