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Biographical entry Cumberbatch, Alfonso Elkin (1847 - 1929)

MRCS June 2nd 1870; FRCS June 13th 1872; MB Lond 1871.

11 April 1847
London, UK
25 March 1929
Hertfordshire, UK
ENT surgeon and General surgeon


Born in London on April 11th, 1847, the second son of Mr Cumberbatch, a merchant in Barbados. He was educated at Grosvenor College, Bath. As a medical student at St Bartholomew's Hospital he soon showed himself a skilful dissector, obtained a prize for anatomy, and in due course won the Kirkes Gold Medal for Clinical Medicine. He was appointed House Surgeon by Holmes Coote (qv) in October, 1870, and was elected Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy at St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1871, becoming full Demonstrator and eventually Senior Demonstrator in charge of the 'rooms'. These offices he filled for ten years and trained a succession of good anatomical surgeons.

In 1869 the Governors of St Bartholomew's Hospital established a department for the treatment of diseases of the ear and placed it under the charge of Sir Thomas Smith (qv), then an Assistant Surgeon. He was succeeded in 1873 by John Langton (qv), to whom Cumberbatch acted as unpaid assistant in the scanty leisure he obtained from his work in the Anatomical Department. Langton became full Surgeon to the Hospital and Cumberbatch was elected the first Aural Surgeon. In spite of restricted accommodation he carefully instructed the few students who were far-seeing enough to attend. Towards the latter part of his service he was assisted by Laurie A Lawrence, FRCS. In 1907 Cumberbatch became Consulting Aural Surgeon, and was succeeded by C E West, FRCS, and S R Scott, FRCS. The department had become fittingly housed in the new block of buildings. During the European War (1914-1918) Cumberbatch, aided by Lawrence, resumed active service during the absence of West and Scott. He was also Aural Surgeon to the National Hospital, Queen's Square.

Cumberbatch was one of the founders of the Otological Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1899, serving as Treasurer in 1899 and President in 1905. After his retirement from the hospital he devoted himself entirely to the large private practice which he had built up, first in Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square, and afterwards in Park Crescent, Portland Place, but later he retired to Great Sarratt Hall, near Rickmansworth, where he died of pneumonia on March 25th, 1929, and was buried in the East Finchley Cemetery. He married Alice Lucy Moffatt in 1881. She died before him, leaving one son and three daughters.

Cumberbatch wrote no book but contributed many articles on diseases of the ear to the Otological Society and to the various medical periodicals. He became wealthy by marriage independently of his practice, so that he had no stimulus to make public the knowledge he had amassed in the course of years. He was an excellent teacher of anatomy, especially for students who only required the broad facts, and he left to his juniors the more minute and scientific knowledge. As a man he had many hobbies: he played golf, tennis, and billiards more than creditably; he collected stamps and Oriental porcelain and was an authority upon both. He always had a grievance on some minor point, but as he aired it humorously his friends never took it seriously and were not bored by it because it changed almost daily.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Jour. of Laryngol. and Otol., 1929, xliv, 361. Personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England