Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Keetley, Charles Robert Bell (1848 - 1909)

MRCS July 24th 1873; FRCS June 8th 1876; LRCP Lond 1878.

13 September 1848
4 December 1909
General surgeon and Orthopaedic surgeon


Born at Grimsby on Sept 13th, 1848, the son of Robert Keetley by his wife, née Waterland. Both father and mother came of seafaring stock; his father, by trade a shipbuilder, had been Mayor of Grimsby, but had fallen on bad times. The son, therefore, was educated by his grandparents and by an uncle, Thomas Bell Keetley, a surgeon practising in Silver Street, Great Grimsby, to whom he acted as 'surgery help' or unarticled apprentice during the latter part of his time at Browne's School. He also attended lectures on botany and anatomy at the Hull School of Medicine, and entered St Bartholomew's Hospital as a medical student in 1871. He matriculated at the University of London, and in 1874 gained Gold Medals at the intermediate MB examination, the one for anatomy, the other for organic chemistry, materia medica, and pharmaceutical chemistry, but never proceeded to the final MB examination. He served as House Surgeon to the Queen's Hospital, Birmingham, in 1875, and began a general practice at Bungay, Suffolk, as soon as his term of office was ended.

He shortly returned to London and from 1876-1878 acted as Demonstrator of Anatomy at St Bartholomew's Hospital, where his skilful blackboard sketches made his teaching easy to follow. In 1878 he was elected Surgeon to the West London Hospital at Hammersmith, and with this institution he remained associated until his death. During his thirty years' service the hospital grew from a small suburban venture into a great charity to which was attached a flourishing post-graduate school of medicine. Keetley initiated the movement which was carried through mainly by the energy of Leonard Bidwell (qv). At the outset Keetley introduced into the wards and operating theatre the antiseptic methods of modern surgery before they had been generally adopted in London hospitals. He advocated the removal of the inflamed appendix when appendicitis was still being treated in the medical wards, and he wrote a valuable text-book on orthopaedic surgery. He was foremost in founding the West London Medico-Chirurgical Society in 1832 and was elected the first President. He also originated, with Herbert W Chambers, an army medical civilian reserve which was afterwards merged into the Territorial Force as the nucleus of the Third London General Hospital during the European War.

He married Anna, daughter of Henry Holmes Long, of the Honourable East India Company, but had no children. He died on Dec 4th, 1909, at Brighton, and was buried at Kensal Green.

Charles Bell Keetley was easily first in the second rank of London surgeons, for he was an excellent operator, a great teacher, and a fine organizer. He would have reached the first rank but for three disabilities: he was slightly but incurably deaf; he was habitually unpunctual, for he had no sense of time; and he possessed a facile pencil with a fatal gift of impromptu rhyming which led him to make caricatures sometimes with biting effect. He was co-editor of the Annals of Surgery (London and New York, 1885-1891, i-xiv).

The Student's Guide to the Medical Profession, 1878; 2nd ed, 1885.
An Index of Surgery, 1881; 4th ed, 1887. A useful little encyclopaedia for students.
Orthopaedic Surgery: A Handbook, 1900.
Kallos. A Treatise on the Scientific Culture of Personal Beauty and the Cure of Ugliness, 1883. This work deals with the influence of Hellenic culture on the world's ideal of beauty. Keetley anticipated in it some of the teaching of the later Eugenics School.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dict Nat Biog, Supplement 2, 1901-11, sub nomine et auct ibi cit. Lancet, 1909, ii, 1788, with portrait. Brit Med Jour, 1909, ii, 1721, with portrait. Both portraits are good likenesses. Personal knowledge. The story of the rise of the post-graduate school at the West London Hospital may be read in the West London Med-Chir Jour, 1909, xiv, 264, and 1910, xv, 20. There is a eulogy of Keetley with an excellent portrait in the same journal, 1910, xv, 69].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England