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Biographical entry Holmes, Timothy (1825 - 1907)

MRCS May 12th 1853; FRCS May 12th 1853; BA Cantab 1847; MA 1853; Hon MCh 1900.

9 May 1825
8 September 1907
General surgeon


Born on May 9th, 1825, the only child of John Holmes, warehouseman, living in Colebrooke Row, Islington, and his wife Elizabeth. He entered Merchant Taylors' School, then in Suffolk Lane, in November, 1836, and left with a Stuart's Exhibition to Cambridge in 1843. He was admitted a Scholar of Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1845 and graduated BA in 1847 as forty-second wrangler and twelfth classic. He took his MA degree in 1853, was made an Hon Fellow of Pembroke College in 1900, and received the honorary degree of MCh in the same year.

Holmes returned to London in 1847 and became a student at St George's Hospital. He was admitted a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons without having previously taken the diploma of Member, and then served as House Surgeon and Surgical Registrar at St George's Hospital. He acted for a time as Curator of the Museum and Demonstrator of Anatomy until he was elected Assistant Surgeon and Lecturer on Anatomy in June, 1861 (see Gray, Henry). He became full Surgeon in 1867 upon the resignation of Thomas Tatum (1802-1879) and held the post until 1887, when he resigned on a time limit of service and was appointed Consulting Surgeon. In 1894 he accepted the onerous position of Hon Treasurer to the Hospital, and in 1904 was appointed a Vice-President on his retirement from active work. Elected Asistant Surgeon to the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street in May, 1859, he served as full Surgeon from September, 1861, until 1868. He was for twenty years Chief Surgeon to the Metropolitan Police.

At the Royal College of Surgeons, Holmes was Hunterian Professor of Surgery and Pathology 1872-1874, a member of the Court of Examiners from 1873-1883, a member of the newly appointed Conjoint Board of Examiners in Anatomy and Physiology (1872-4), and Examiner on the Dental Examining Board in 1880. He was elected a Member of the Council of the College in 1877, but did not seek re-election at the end of his first term of office in 1885, though he acted for a year as Vice-President in 1884. As Hunterian Professor of Surgery and Pathology he delivered eighteen lectures "On the Surgical Treatment of Aneurysm in its Various Forms". He took an active interest in the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society (which became the Royal Society of Medicine). He was Chairman of the Building Committee which arranged the removal of the Society from its quarters, 53 Berners Street, to its house, 20 Hanover Square, in 1889, and in 1900 he was elected President after serving in all the subordinate offices. He joined the Pathological Society of London in 1854, and while Hon Secretary (1864-1867) prepared a general index to the volumes of its Transactions. He was an original member of the Clinical Society and was a Vice-President from 1878-1875.

He lived for many years at 18 Great Cumberland Place, Hyde Park, but removed after his retirement from practice to 6 Sussex Place, Hyde Park, where he died on Sept 8th, 1907, and was buried at Hendon. He married Sarah Brooksbank, but left no issue. His portrait, painted by Sir William B Richmond in 1899, hangs in the Board Room of St George's Hospital. He appears as the Vice-President in Jamyn Brookes's portrait group of the College Council in 1884.

Holmes was a surgeon of the older school, and based his practice on anatomy, for there was no bacteriology and he was unfriendly to the Listerian teaching, He was, however, a practical surgeon possessed of an unusually clear and logical mind. Gifted with the power of incisive speech, he was fearless in expressing his conclusions and exposed the fallacy in an argument mercilessly. He was, too, a skilful writer, always lucid, pure in style, and well read in Greek and Latin as well as in the best English literature. He was a lover of the theatre, and had no hesitation in expressing publicly and aloud his disapprobation of any failure in theatrical standards. Childless and possessed of ample means, he did not seek private practice and was thus enabled to devote the more time to public duties. The loss of an eye due to acute gonococcal infection resulting from accidental infection whilst operating, a harsh and somewhat monotonous voice, and a manner carefully cultivated to hide any interest he might feel in those he examined, made him a terror to the students; but his lack of sympathy was entirely assumed and he was the friend and trusted adviser of all who sought his help.

Holmes edited several editions of the Anatomy written by Henry Gray (qv), and there is reason to suppose that he was responsible for such literary elegance as it possessed.
He designed and edited A System of Surgery, Theoretical and Practical, 4 vols., 1860-4; 2nd ed, 5 vols, 1869-71; 3rd ed, 3 vols, 1883, issued jointly with J W HULKE (qv), a standard authority for the surgery of that date.
A Treatise on the Principles and Practice of Surgery, 1875. This long remained a favourite text-book for students; the 5th edition appeared in 1888 and was largely rewritten by T PICKERING PICK (qv).
A Treatise on the Surgical Treatment of the Diseases of Infancy and Childhood, 1868; 2nd ed, 1869; translated into French and German. It contains the results of his ten years' experience as Surgeon to the Children's Hospital in Great Ormond Street.
A Life of Sir Benjamin Brodie (q.v.) for the "Masters in Medicine" Series, 1898. Translation of C E A Wagner's monograph, On the Process of Repair after Resection and Extirpation of Bones, for the Sydenham Society, 1859. He prepared in conjunction with Dr JOHN SYER BRISTOWE a valuable report upon Hospitals and their Administration which was published as an appendix to the Sixth Annual Report of the Public Health Department of the Privy Council.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dict Nat Biog, Supplement 2, 1901-11, sub nomine et auct ibi cit. Personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England