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Biographical entry Hill, Matthew Berkeley (1834 - 1892)

MRCS July 26th 1858; FRCS Nov 24th 1859; MB Lond (with Gold Medal) 1859.

12 June 1834
7 January 1892
General surgeon


Born on June 12th, 1834, at the Vale of Health, Hampstead, the youngest son of Matthew Davenport Hill, Recorder of Birmingham, and later Bankruptcy Commissioner in Bristol. He was educated in part at Bruce Castle, Tottenham, a school belonging to the Hill family, previously to one uncle, Sir Rowland Hill, and then to another uncle, Arthur Hill. He resembled his uncle Sir Rowland Hill, both physically and in tenacity of purpose, resource, and public spirit. Hill also attended University College School, London, under Mr Key. He next entered Bristol Medical School in 1852, with the intention of becoming an analytical chemist, and studied chemistry under Thornton Herapath, Lecturer on Chemistry, but he also attended a course of lectures on descriptive and surgical anatomy, which led him to change over to surgery and to proceed to University College Hospital, with which he was to remain connected for the rest of his life.

After qualifying he was for a year House Surgeon at the Children's Hospital, Great Ormond Street, in 1861 he went to study in Berlin under Virchow, later in Vienna, and then in Paris, where Ricord determined him in the direction of the study of venereal disease. After further travel in Italy, at the end of 1862 he was appointed Demonstrator of Anatomy at University College, and soon after Assistant Surgeon to the hospital. In 1863 he acted as deputy in the absence of Sir Henry Thompson when he was operating upon the King of the Belgians. In 1867 he was appointed upon the staff of the Lock Hospital.

In 1864, 1866, and 1869 he took a great part in the controversy over the Contagious Diseases Acts which ended in their abrogation in 1870. Berkeley Hill along with Curgenven had acted as Secretary to the Society for the Extension of the Contagious Diseases Acts to the civil population, and he spared neither strength, time, nor professional prospects. All the abuse showered on him never caused him for a moment to swerve from what he thought right in the attempt to restrict venereal disease. Looking back, we can now see that the methods of diagnosis and treatment were defective. The compulsory measures adopted on the Continent to an extent exceeding that proposed for this country had failed to diminish the incidence of venereal disease. Berkeley Hill turned his attention from attempts to prevent the condition to the improvement of the diagnosis of 'syphilis and local contagious disorders'. For this purpose he recommended the development of endoscopic examination as better than attempting Holt's forcible dilatation of urethral stricture, which was often followed by external urethrotomy.

He was for three years in succession Dean of the Medical Department of University College, and was elected as the representative of his colleagues when Professors first gained seats on the Council of University College. Having become full Surgeon in 1874, and as Professor of Clinical Surgery and Teacher of Practical Surgery, he took a full share in the growth of the Medical School, also in the movement for rebuilding University College Hospital.

He was elected a Member of the Council of the College of Surgeons in 1886, and became a Vice-President in 1891; he also served on the Court of Examiners from 1886 until his death. He died at his house, 66 Wimpole Street, on Jan 7th, 1892. At the funeral in Finchley Cemetery wreaths were placed on his grave, some from men who, young and careless, had been in danger of wrecking their lives, had not the wise counsel and the timely help of the older man arrested them. The pleasure he felt when such a young man gave evidence that the exertion had not been in vain was indeed keen. He married in 1868 Alice Campbell (d1929), the youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Howell, of the War Office, by whom he had six children, five of them surviving him. His portrait appears in the Council Portrait Group by Jamyn Brookes 1884. His photograph is in the Council Album.

The Essentials of Bandaging, including the Management of Fractures and Dislocations, 1867; 2nd ed, 1869; 6th ed, 1887.
Treatment of the Sick and Wounded, illustrated by Observations made at the Seat of War, 1870.
"Foreign Opinions on Syphilis." - Brit. Med. Jour., 1862, ii, 407, etc.
Syphilis and Local Contagious Disorders (with ARTHUR COOPER), 1868; 2nd ed., 1881.
The Students' Manual of Venereal Diseases (with ARTHUR COOPER), 1877; 4th ed 1887.
Statistical Results of the Contagious Diseases Act, 1870.
"Illustrations of the Working of the Contagious Diseases Act." - Brit. Med. Jour., 1867, ii, 583; 1868, 1, 21, etc.
"A Clinical Lecture on the Treatment of Incipient Stricture by Otis's Operation." - Lancet, 1876, i, 522.
Chronic Urethritis and other Affections of the Genito-urinary Organs: Three Lectures delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons, June, 1889, 1890.
"Should the Principle of the Contagious Diseases Act be applied to the Civil Population?" - Trans. Nat. Assoc. for Promotion of Social Sci., 1869, London, 1870, 428.
A Few Remarks on the Errors in the "Westminster Review" on Prostitution: Govern¬mental Experiments in Controlling it by John Chapman, MD, London, 1870.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1892, i, 171].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England