Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Holthouse, Carsten (1810 - 1901)

MRCS April 3rd 1833; FRCS Dec 11th 1843 one of the original 300 Fellows; LSA 1832.

14 October 1810
18 July 1901
Anatomist, General surgeon and Ophthalmologist


Born at Edmonton on Oct 14th, 1810. He was the eldest son of Carsten Holthouse, and at the age of 14 was apprenticed to Le Gay Brewerton, at Bawtry, Yorkshire. He was released from his articles before the customary period had elapsed, and studied at St Bartholomew's Hospital. He was Dresser to (Sir) William Lawrence, and Clinical Clerk to Dr Latham. After qualifying he studied in Paris, and then started practice in 1836 at his father's house in Keppel Street. He assisted in the Out-patient Department of St Bartholomew's and was attracted to eye and ear affections. But in 1843, being appointed Lecturer on Anatomy and Physiology at the Aldersgate School of Medicine in succession to Frederick Skey (qv), who had been appointed Lecturer on Anatomy at St Bartholomew's, he subordinated surgery to anatomy for some years.

In 1849 began his connection with Westminster Hospital: the Medical School had come to a crisis, and in June, 1849, a new staff of lecturers was collected - Drs Radcliffe and Basham, Messrs Charles Brooke and Holthouse, the last as Lecturer on Anatomy. Owing to the inadequacy of the museum, particularly in anatomical preparations, the Royal College of Surgeons suspended its recognition of the school until Holthouse had, with great energy, reorganized the museum. The difficulty of the school centred on the claims of the senior staff of the hospital to the pupilage fees, irrespective of the increased need for expenditure. The medical student was held as primarily a pupil of one or other member of the senior physicians and surgeons. After five years Holthouse refused to continue to lecture without payment, the scanty fraction of the pupils' fees having been exhausted by the expenses. The result was that Holthouse was appointed Assistant Surgeon to Westminster Hospital on March 12th, 1853, and Surgeon on Jan 17th, 1857. At the same time he was allowed to put the school on a surer footing, the physicians resigning much of their primary claim to the pupilage fees, the surgeons holding on for another thirty years to what they called their rights.

For some months during the Crimean War Holthouse served on the staff of the Civil Hospital at Smyrna, among his colleagues being Sir Spencer Wells and J Whitaker Hulke (qv). On his return he settled at 2 Storey's Gate, Westminster, and remained there for many years. He developed a practice in ophthalmology, and in 1857 took part in founding the Surrey Ophthalmic and Eye Dispensary, which afterwards became the Royal Eye Hospital, Southwark. He paid special attention to squint, was conservative as regards the tenotomy so much in vogue, aiming to improve by use the vision in the deviating eye; the systematic use of spectacles for the common convergent squint had not become general. Thus as a surgeon Holthouse ranged too widely; at the same time he had great confidence in his own powers of diagnosis and treatment, which gave less than sufficient heed to the knowledge of others. These characteristics were naturally a serious bar to success. In 1875, at the age of 65, he became Consulting Surgeon to Westminster Hospital, and then took up a fresh practice - that of the treatment of habitual drunkards in a home - which resulted in anxiety and financial loss, but perhaps served experimentally to forward development on that question.

Holthouse enjoyed vigorous health until about two years before his death. He underwent an operation for cataract, upon which followed an apoplectic seizure with temporary recovery, then further attacks rendered him helpless for months before his death on July 18th, 1901, within three months of completing his ninety-first year. He had been the Senior Fellow of the College after the death of Sir Rutherford Alcock, Chairman of Westminster Hospital, in 1897, and was the last but one of the 300 original Fellows, Spencer Smith (qv) dying a few months later on Nov 29th, 1901.

Sources used to compile this entry: [W G Spencer's History of Westminster Hospital].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England