Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Kempe, Arthur (1813 - 1871)

MRCS April 27th 1838; FRCS Oct 10th 1861; LSA 1838; JP.

Fowey, Cornwall
22 October 1871
General surgeon


Born at Fowey, in Cornwall, where his father was rector. The family of Kempe living at Croysillack, Cornwall, traced back to 1423. His grandfather was a brother of Admiral Kempe. His two elder brothers were in orders, one becoming the Rector of Merton, North Devon, and Prebend of Exeter Cathedral, the other Rector of Bicton, near Exmouth. Arthur, the youngest son, was educated at Blundell's School, Tiverton. He began his medical education at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital in 1832 as an apprentice to Samuel Barnes (qv). He entered St Bartholomew's Hospital towards the end of his apprenticeship and won the surgical prize. In 1839 he settled in Exeter, where he soon acquired a large practice. He was appointed Surgeon to the Exeter Incorporation, the Exeter Dispensary, and the Exeter Lying-in Charity, and in 1855 he was elected Surgeon to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital on the death of John Harris. The last post he resigned after sixteen years' service on May 25th, 1871, and was elected Consulting Surgeon. He built the Chapel attached to the hospital at a cost of £1300 in 1868, "to avoid the inconvenience of having services in the different wards", and his brother, the Rev J C Kempe, gave a credence table in his memory on Sept 9th, 1886. He proposed in 1870 to build a convalescent home or sanatorium for thirty patients, but his offer was not accepted as there were no funds available for its maintenance. He took a considerable part in the municipal affairs of Exeter. He was a Justice of the Peace, a Guardian, and Chairman of the Board of Guardians. He never married, nor for twenty-five years was he ever known to take a holiday. Failing health obliged him to give up practice at Christmas, 1870. He then visited Italy, returned, and lived for a short time in Chagford on Dartmoor. He died at Southernhay House, Exeter, on Oct 22nd, 1871, and was buried in a vault in St Sidwell's Church.

Kempe is described as a man of average height who usually wore a shiny black suit and silk hat with a broad brim which gave him a 'methodist' appearance. He was of staid and grave demeanour, almost devoid of any sense of humour - hesitating in speech, nervous and highly strung, with strong religious instincts. He had an almost unique power of inspiring confidence in his patients, to each of whom he gave the impression that his condition was one of unusual interest and importance. He set aside a tenth part of his income for church and charitable purposes, paying it into a fund which he maintained for the purpose. From the remainder of his earnings he paid his more especial charities, He never contributed any large sum to a charity outside the Diocese of Exeter, where he had regular pensioners to whom he paid weekly stipends, and at his death he left enough to carry on these benefactions till the recipients died. He was a man of piety and prayer who never talked of his religion but lived it. As an operator he was calm, cautious, and painstaking. His cases usually did well, and he carried out successfully the first ovariotomy performed in Exeter when the legality of the operation was still in dispute. As a teacher he was rudimentary.

A portrait in oil hangs in the lobby of the main corridor of the Royal Exeter and Devon Hospital. It was presented in 1881 by the Rev G H Shield, Rector of Holy Trinity Church, and is said to be an excellent likeness in a characteristic attitude.

"A Successful Case of Ovariotomy." - Med Times and Gaz, 1887, ii, 620.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Delpratt Harris's History of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, Exeter, 1922].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England