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Biographical entry Power, Sir D'Arcy (1855 - 1941)

KBE 1919; MRCS 18 January 1882; FRCS 13 December 1883; BA Oxford 1878; MA 1881; BM 1882; Hon FRFPS Glasgow 1932; Hon FRACS 1935; FSA 1897.

11 November 1855
London, UK
18 May 1941
Northwood, Middlesex, UK
General surgeon


D’Arcy Power was born on 11 November 1855 at 3 Grosvenor Terrace, afterwards 56 Belgrave road, Pimlico, SW, the eldest of the six sons and five daughters of Henry Power, then assistant surgeon at the Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital and Ann, his wife and first cousin, youngest daughter of Thomas Simpson, banker and shipowner of Whitby. He was educated at St Marylebone and All Souls Grammar School, 1 Cornwall Terrace, Regent’s Park, 1866-70. The school was set up by the Rev Henry North, father-in-law of Sir James Paget, and drew its pupils from the sons of neighbouring doctors. He was at Merchant Taylors School, then in Suffolk Lane under Cannon Street Station, from 1870 to ’74, having been admitted on the presentation of Mr Foster White, Treasurer of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and he won the Pigeon and Pugh prize for “the best boy fitted for a merchant’s office”. He matriculated at Oxford in 1874 as one of the earliest non-Wykehamists at New College, and came under the influence of George Rolleston and E Ray Lankester, and of Huxley in London. As biology was not taught at New College he migrated to Exeter College with an open exhibition in 1877. In this year he was demonstrator to C J Yule of Magdalen, the University lecturer in physiology. He graduated BA 1878 with a first in natural science, MA in 1881, and BM in 1882.

He entered St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School with a perpetual student’s ticket in 1878. His father sent a cheque for 100 guineas, but by return of post the school treasurer, G W Callender, sent back the cheque, saying “Dog does not eat dog”. From Christmas 1878 until 1881 he was assistant demonstrator of physiology to Dr V D Harris. In November 1883, when James Shuter, the assistant surgeon, died from an accidental overdose of morphia, Power became curator of the anatomical and pathological museum, a post he held for six years. He was demonstrator of practical surgery from 1889 and of operative surgery from 1889 to 1901, except in 1896-97 when he was not re-elected as a warning from the Medical Council that he must contest the next vacancy for an assistant surgeon. He was demonstrator of surgical pathology 1901-4, and lecturer on surgery 1906-12 with W Bruce Clarke and from 1912 to ’20 as one of the surgeons to the Hospital. In the Hospital itself he was ophthalmic house surgeon to his father and to Bowater Vernon, 1882, house surgeon to W S Savory, 1882-83, and won the house-surgeons’ prize. On 28 April 1898 he was elected assistant surgeon, after a contest like a Parliamentary election against his friend James Berry, the votes being 71 and 60, in a vacancy caused by the resignation of Sir Thomas Smith and promotion of W J Walsham. He had charge of the throat and nose department 1902-04, as it was still the custom for an assistant surgeon to act as a specialist. Speaking of this period at a lunch given by the President of the College in honour of his eighty-fifth birthday, Power said: “When I wanted advice I went to Sir James Paget; I went to him at breakfast-time, 7.30, that was the only time you could catch him. Or I went to Sir William Savory, my master; when his son Borradaile was away I took the head or at least the vice-chair at his dinner parties, which were very formal and very long. We went to Mr Hulke at tea-time, just as tea was coming in; we were always great friends with Mr and Mrs Hulke. We were friends too with Lord Lister; his testimonial helped me greatly when I stood for assistant surgeon at St Bartholomew’s, it impressed the Governors and I was elected.” In 1904 he was appointed surgeon to succeed John Langton, and resigned in 1920 when he was elected consulting surgeon and a governor of the Hospital. He was chairman of the visiting governors’ sub-committee in 1927-32. From 1906 to 1920 he had been surgical instructor of probationary nurses. In 1934 he was appointed archivist and honorary keeper of the muniments, and began with Gweneth Hutchings, DPh (Mrs Whitteridge) a systematic survey of the Hospital’s archives, one of the longest and most complete collections in Europe. He was amused to find that the muniment room had been so long untouched that the dust on the documents was sterile. He printed some of the earliest documents in a contribution to the issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine dedicated to Arnold Klebs on his seventieth birthday, 17 March 1940.

At the Royal College of Surgeons Power was examiner in physiology for the Fellowship 1889-92 and 1897-1902 and for the Membership 1892-97, Hunterian professor 1896-97, Bradshaw lecturer 1919, Vicary lecturer 1920, and Hunterian orator 1925. He was a member of Council 1912-28, and vice-president in 1921 and 1922. In 1929 he became Honorary Librarian, a post created for him on the death of the librarian, Victor Plarr; and he was elected a trustee of the Hunterian Museum in the room of Lord Rosebery in 1930. In 1878-79 he had been demonstrator of biology to Ray Lankester at University College; and he was professor of histology 1890-1903 and assistant professor of physiology 1893-1903, with Bland Sutton as his colleague in anatomy, at the Royal Veterinary College, where as he wrote: “the cockney wit of Sutton and the sarcasm of Power reduced the disorderly classes to order.” Power held many hospital appointments in and round London, and took an active part in many professional and other societies. He was consulting surgeon to the Metropolitan Dispensary, the Victoria Hospital for Children and the Bolingbroke Hospital, Wandsworth. He was on the court of the Royal Sea-bathing Hospital, Margate, and on the board of management of the Royal Masonic Hospital, in the rebuilding of which he took an active interest.

He was president of the Harveian Society in 1908 and of the Medical Society of London in 1916. At the British Medical Association he was president of the section of surgery for the Nottingham meeting in 1926, but an attack of pleurisy prevented his attendance. At the Royal Society of Medicine he was president of the section of the history of medicine in 1918-20 and of the section of comparative medicine in 1926-28. He was président d’honneur of the Société internationale de l’Histoire de Médecine at Geneva in 1925. He was a member of the Physiological Society from 1879, and served various offices in the Pathological Society, the British Orthopaedic Society, the Medical Research Club, and the Society for the Study of Disease in Children, among others. He took an active part in the International Medical Congresses and in the Société internationale de Chirurgie. He was for many years chairman of the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, in whose work he took a deep interest, the president being Sir T Barlow. Outside the profession he was eminent as a freemason and achieved high rank in the Grand Lodge of England. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1897, and was president of the Bibliographical Society in 1926-28. He was a founder of the Samuel Pepys Club in 1903 and its president in 1924, and a founder of the Anglo-Batavian Society in 1920, his great-grandmother having been a Dutchwoman. He was a corresponding member or honorary fellow of many learned societies at home and abroad, including the Académie de Médecine de Paris, the American Surgical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

He joined the Volunteer Medical Staff Corps in 1888 and was commissioned major à la suite on the formation of the RAMC territorial force in 1908. During the war of 1914-18 he was lieutenant-colonel in command of the 1st London General Hospital at Camberwell. He represented the RCS on the Statutory Committee of Reference and was a member of the appeal board. In the peace Gazette of June 1919 he was created KBE. He had been ambulance lecturer to the Birkbeck Institute in 1890-98. He served on the Metropolitan Asylums Board and on the Advisory Committee on the administration of the Cruelty to Animals Act. He was in 1912 a member of the Royal College of Physicians committee on the nomenclature of disease, and from 1908 to 1929 a visitor for King Edward’s Hospital Fund for London. He was for many years on the councils of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and the British Empire Cancer Campaign. He examined in surgery for several universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, for the RCS, the RAMC and the IMS, and was a member of the Faculty of Medicine in the University of London 1902-20.

Power was a good all-round surgeon, who showed at his best in an emergency operation. But while eminent as a surgeon and as a writer on surgery, and taking an active part in the administrative and social life of the profession, he made his real mark as a scholar and historian. On his seventy-fifth birthday his many friends joined with the Osler Club to give him a volume of his Selected writings. The book contains sixteen of his articles and a bibliography of 609 items, and during the remaining ten years of his life books and articles continued to come from his pen almost as prolifically as before. Besides making so many contributions to medicine and scholarship Sir D’Arcy was throughout life a journalist, reviewing regularly for the British Medical Journal and frequently for The Lancet, The Times Literary Supplement and other papers. It is an open secret that he contributed the obituary notices of surgeons to The Times for many years.

His first published writing appeared when he was twenty-two: “On the albuminous substances which occur in the urine in albuminuria”, written with Lauder Brunton for St Bartholomew’s Hospital Reports in 1877, and his first clinical paper appeared in the same Reports in 1882: “A case of hereditary locomotor ataxy.” In the meantime he had joined Dr Vincent Harris in writing a Manual for the Physiological Laboratory 1880, which ran to five editions in twelve years. In 1886 he edited the Memorials of the Craft of Surgery in England from materials collected by J F South, a book of some 400 pages; this work first turned him to historical writing. He then began his long series of unsigned historical articles in the BMJ, under the editorship of Ernest Hart, and later contributed an historical article to almost every number of the British Journal of Surgery from its beginning in 1913. From 1893 he contributed some 200 “lives” to the Dictionary of National Biography, and thence acquired the method of precision and compactness which he used in revising the material collected by V G Plarr for the Lives of the Fellows of the College, published in 1930. Between 1930 and 1940 he wrote, largely from personal knowledge, the lives of the Fellows (nearly 400) who died in those years. He had the pleasure of presenting these lives in typescript to the College Council on his eighty-fifth birthday. This was his last public appearance. These lives of 1930-40 are printed in the present volume.

Power’s professional interests were wide and he wrote on many subjects. He made a thorough study of intussusception and his Hunterian lectures were enlarged to form a book on this subject in 1898. He also wrote several papers on “wiring” for aneurysm. But his life-long interests were in the surgical diseases of children on which he published a manual in 1895, in cancer (Bradshaw lecture 1919 on cancer of the tongue), and in syphilis: with J Keogh Murphy he edited the System of Syphilis issued by the Oxford Press in 1908-10. He was an editor of St Bartholomew’s Hospital Reports from 1898 to 1902 and treasurer of the British Journal of Surgery for many years. During the war of 1914-18 he wrote on War wounds for the Oxford medical war primers, of which he was an editor. He first became known to the general reader by his William Harvey, 1897, written to order in a few weeks; it remains after fifty-five years the best short study of its great subject. Sixteen years later he broke new ground with his Portraits of Dr William Harvey, compiled at Sir William Osler’s suggestion and published anonymously, and partly at Power’s expense, for the Royal Society of Medicine in 1913, with many illustrations. His most scholarly work was his edition of the Treatises of John Arderne, the xiv century surgeon “edited from an early xv century translation with introduction, notes, etc.” for the Early English Text Society in 1910; and followed in 1922 by Arderne’s De arte phisicali et de cirurgia, which he translated from the Latin. Power stated the he had seen over sixty manuscripts of Arderne’s and later gave the transcripts, which he had used for his editions, to the College library. In pure bibliography he published a masterly study of The Birth of Mankind, in which he cleared up the difficulties of distinguishing the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century issues of Raynalde’s book by means of elaborate “tables of comparison of the initial letters”.

In 1924 he was visiting surgeon at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital at Boston, Massachusetts, and in 1930 he paid a second visit to America, when he renewed his old friendships with Fielding Garrison, Harvey Cushing, and other surgeons and scholars. He gave a course of lectures at the W H Welch Institute of the History of Medicine in the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, subsequently published as The Foundations of medical history, 1931. In this he explains that his method as bibliographer and historian was to seek the man behind the book; he was in full agreement with Garrison in approaching medical history from the biographical aspect, and had no use for philosophical generalizations. In 1935 he gave the inaugural address at the opening of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons at Melbourne. On the voyage to Australia he dictated his autobiography; he later wrote a family history; both remained unpublished at his death. Among his later writings were A Mirror for surgeons, a collection of outstanding case-reports by surgeons of many dates and countries ; a complete genealogy of the family of Percivall Pott; and a paper on Thomas Johnson, the xvi century translator of Paré, in which he cleared up the biographical puzzles which had defeated earlier writers.

Like his father, of whom he wrote that “he neither affirmed nor denied”, Power was an agnostic. The age of the Reformation made a special appeal to him and he wrote much about the surgeons of Elizabeth’s reign, whose books he collected. His lively interest in human types was shown in his studies of Pepys, including the paper “Why Pepys discontinued his diary”, with its prescription for spectacles for Pepys which attracted much attention. He transcribed the xvii century diary of John Ward, which was long in the possession of the Medical Society of London and was later sold and published. He wrote on Benvenuto Cellini, in whom he was interested as a connoisseur of silversmith’s work. While always open to new ideas and new methods Sir D’Arcy was a man of genuine pietas. He loved Oxford, the College of Surgeons, and Bart’s, and was an authority on their great men, particularly Bodley, Hunter, and Harvey. Though simple in his way of life he was fond of good food and an excellent judge of wine, and was for many years chairman of the International Exhibition [of 1851] Co-operative Wine Society. He formed a remarkable collection of editions of the Regimen of Salerno, the dietetic classic of the middle ages, and wrote several papers on the history of fashions in food. He believed in dining clubs as the best dissipators of professional jealousies, and particularly valued his membership of the Confrères Club, which met regularly for dinner and debate, being himself a good informal speaker. As a man Sir D’Arcy endeared himself to all with whom he came in contact. Modest and unselfseeking, he carried his learning most lightly and always brought forward his assistants. Having been a poor man in early life, “we married on £60” he used to say, he remained always simple and approachable, and made no parade of his achievements. He was a very shrewd judge of men, absolutely straightforward and upright himself, with a puckish amusement at the foibles of others. He attributed to his Yorkshire Quaker ancestry the dogged determination with which he overcame the bitterness of bereavements which clouded a happy married life, ignored his physical disabilities, and set himself to carry through to completion the many tasks which he voluntarily undertook.

Power married on 6 December 1883 Eleanor, youngest daughter of George Haynes Fosbroke, MRCS 1835, of Bidford-on-Avon, Warwickshire. Lady Power died on 26 June 1923. They had three children: a daughter who died in childhood; one surviving son, Air Vice-Marshal D’Arcy Power, CBE, MC, MRCS, RA Medical Service, and a second son who was missing and presumed killed at the battle of Ypres in 1915. For the second half of his life Power lived in the little old-fashioned house, 10a Chandos Street, Cavendish Square, next door to the Medical Society of London; it became almost a museum, and he knew the associations of every book and piece of furniture in it. His heart failed soon after his eighty-fifth birthday, and when his house was damaged in the air-raids of the autumn of 1940 he moved to his son’s house, 53 Murray Road, Northwood, Middlesex, where he died on 18 May 1941. He was buried at Bidford-on-Avon; a memorial service was held at St Bartholomew-the-Less on 28 May, at which G E Gask gave the funeral oration. His library was sold at Sotheby’s on 9 and 10 June 1941.

A portrait in oils, by Sir Matthew Williams Thompson, Bt, Fellow of the Society of Portrait Painters, who presented it to the College, shows Sir D’Arcy, three-quarter length, seated, in his Fellow’s gown and wearing the insignia of his knighthood, aged 79, 1934. There is a photograph, aged 56, in Henry Power’s Brief sketch of my life, 1912, page 31; another, aged about 70, in D’Arcy Power’s Selected writings, 1931, frontispiece; and a third, aged 75, in Brit J Surg. 1930, 18, 184. Power appears in the group-portrait of the College Council of 1927-28; this painting has been engraved. There are other photographs in the College collections.

Power’s typescripts were presented to the College by his son; they include a number of unpublished lectures and speeches, and are bound in 23 volumes covering the years 1895 to 1933.
Selected writings 1877-1930. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1931, with a bibliography of 609 items compiled by A H T Robb-Smith and Alfred Franklin.
Power’s chief subsequent publications were :
Some bygone operations of surgery, 1-11 Brit. J. Surg. 1930-33, vols. 18-20.
Some early surgical cases, 1-2: The Edwin Smith papyrus. Ibid. 1933-34, 21, 1 and 385.
Ipsissima verba, 1-13. Ibid. 1934-37, vols. 21-24.
Hyman Maurice Cohen. Brit. J. Anaesth. 1930, 7, 49.
John Abernethy. Brit. med. J. 1931, 1, 719.
The foundations of medical history. Baltimore, 1931.
Touchpieces and the cure of the King’s evil. Ann. med. Hist. 1931, 3, 127.
Roubilliac, Cheselden, and Belchier. Brit. med. J. 1931, 2, 820.
Century of British surgery. Brit. med. J. 1932, 2, 134.
St Bartholomew’s Hospital 1880-1930. 7th Finlayson memorial lecture. Glasg. med. J. 1932, 118, 73-102.
Natural science and medicine, in Johnson’s England, Oxford, 1933, vol. 2.
A short history of surgery. London, 1933.
Medical history of Mr and Mrs Samuel Pepys. Brit. med. J. 1933, 1, 325.
Richard Gill. St Bart’s Hosp. Rep. 1933, 66, 1.
The idea of the new Freemasons’ Hospital in Ravenscourt Park. Architect. Rev. August 1933, p. 53.
Films in surgery. Sight and sound, 1933, 2, 43.
Some great English surgeons: what they did and what they looked like; the Bolingbroke lecture, abstract only. S. W. London med. Soc. Ann. Rept. 40, 1933-34.
Merchant Taylors School, the Charterhouse, and St Bartholomew’s Hospital. St Bart’s Hosp. J. 1933, 40, 5.
Compulsory consultations. Lancet, 1934, 1, 746.
The history of the amputation of the breast to 1904. 16th Wm. Mitchell Banks memorial lecture, 13 Nov. 1933. Lpool med.-chir. J. 1934, 42, 29.
History of venereal diseases, in W. R. Bett A short history of some common diseases, Oxford, 1934.
The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Brit. med. J. 1935, 1, 930.
How surgery came to Australia. Aust. N. Z. J. Surg. 1935, 4, 368-383.
Some early English doctors and their descendants [Harman, Banester, Harvey, Browne, Sloane, Pott, Hunter, Baillie, Abernethy]. Genealogists Mag. 1935, 7, 55 and 97.
Questions and answers. St Bart’s Hosp. J. 1936, 43, 221.
Speech at unveiling of tablet to John Hunter at 12 South Parade, Bath, where Hunter lived in 1785, (16 May 1936). Med. Press, 1936, 192, 490; for an account of the ceremony, see Nature, 1936, 137, 864.
Sir Thomas Bodley’s London House. Bodl. quart. Rec. 1936, 8, No. 90.
New blocks of the past. St Bart’s Hosp. J. 1937, 44, 222.
Foreword to C. Wall History of the Surgeons’ Company, 1937.
The Treasurer of the Hospital. St Bart’s Hosp. J. 1937, 45, 29.
Removal of the upper jaw; an historical operation. Surgery, 1937, 2, 780.
The cultured surgeon. Aust. N. Z. J. Surg. 1937, 6, 243.
A urological cause célèbre: Bransby Cooper v. Wakley. Brit. J. Urol. 1937, 9, 330.
Clap and the pox in English literature. Brit. J. ven. Dis. 1938, 14, 105-118.
A letter written in 1637 giving advice to a patient suffering from stone in the bladder. Brit. J. Urol. 1938, 10, 109-113.
The hospital beer. St Bart’s Hosp. J. 1938, 45, 298.
Foreword to Calvert’s John Knight, serjeant-surgeon, 1939.
St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Med. Press, 1939, 202, 281.
A mirror for surgeons. Boston, Massachusetts, 1939.
The muniment room at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. Bull. Hist. Med., Baltimore, 1940, 8, 392-402.
Thomas Johnson (1597?-1644), botanist and barber-surgeon. Glasg. med. J. 1940, 133, 201.
Pedigree of Percivall Pott. St Bart’s Hosp. J. 1940, war edit., 2, 21.
Purchase of land by the family of Dr Wm. Harvey. Ann. med. Hist. 1940, 2, 308.
The journal and the profession: some memories. Brit. med. J. 1940, 2, 437.
Power edited two volumes of articles reprinted from the Medical Press and Circular: British masters of medicine, 1936, including at p. 131 his own article “James Paget”; British medical societies, 1939, including at p. 58 his own article “The Abernethian Society.”

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 19 May 1941, with portrait; D’A Power Life history and abstract of work, typescript 1924, the copy at the RCS has MS additions supplied by Power, there is also a separate typed abstract up to 1940 compiled by him; Brit. med. J. 1941, 1, 836, with portrait, and p. 910 eulogy by G Grey Turner; Lancet, 1941, 1, 709, with good portrait and eulogy by G E Gask; Brit. J. Surg. 1941, 29, 1, with portrait and appreciation by G Grey Turner; Nature, 1941, 148, 45; St Bart’s Hosp. J. 1941, war edition 2, 198, Gask’s funeral oration, with portrait, and p. 210 bibliography; St Bart’s Hosp. J. 1950, 54, 169-174: The life and works of Sir D’Arcy Power, pt. 1 The life by G Davies; New Engl. med. J. 1941, 225, 42; information from his son, Air Vice-Marshal D’Arcy Power, CBE, MC; personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England