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Biographical entry Somervell, James Lionel (1927 - 2009)

MRCS 1957; FRCS 1960; MB BCh Cambridge 1951.

23 April 1927
Kodaikanal, India
20 August 2009
General surgeon


James Somervell continued his family’s tradition of missionary work in India. He was born on 23 April 1927 in Kodaikanal, southern India. His father, Theodore Howard Somervell, was a surgeon and mountaineer, who took part in the ill-fated 1922 and 1924 Mallory expeditions to conquer Everest. He became superintendent of the Neyyor Hospital and of the South Travancore Medical Mission, and, in the later phase of his career, was based at Vellore Christian Medical College. James’ mother, Margaret Hope Simpson, was also from a missionary background. He was educated at the Downs School, Colwall, and then Peekskill High School, New York (during the Second World War). He then studied at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, going on to University College Hospital for his clinical studies. He qualified with the Trotter medal in surgery and the Yellowes medal in medicine.

He became a house surgeon to R S Pilcher and then completed a house physician appointment at the North Middlesex Hospital. He was subsequently a casualty officer at the Royal Surrey Hospital.

He then became a registrar at the Vellore Christian Medical College, southern India, under Paul Brand. In 1956, he joined the London Missionary Society, which sent him to work in the CSI Campbell Hospital in Jammalamadugu, southern India, where he stayed for the next 12 years.

In 1968, he returned to England as a senior registrar at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham. He published on neonatal and infantile intestinal obstruction in India, on family planning by salpingectomy, with a record of 500 cases, and on leiomyosarcoma of the rectum.

Like his father, his main interest outside medicine was mountaineering. In 1952 he married Mary Stapleton and they had two sons and one daughter. He died on 20 August 2009.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2009 339 5008].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England