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Biographical entry Marsh, Frederick Howard (1839 - 1915)

MRCS June 3rd 1861; FRCS June 14th 1866; Hon MA Cantab 1903; Hon MCh 1904; Hon MD 1911; LSA 1861; JP.

7 March 1839
24 June 1915
General surgeon and Orthopaedic surgeon


Born on March 7th, 1839, was the second son and third child of Edward Brunning and Maria Marsh. His father came of an old-established East Anglian farmer stock, his mother had been the widow of a farmer in the immediate neighbourhood. The children were born at The Heath, Homersfield, an ancient Suffolk farmhouse still standing on the banks of the River Waveney. Frederick Marsh was christened Haward, the maiden name of his mother, but in later life he changed it to Howard, and he was always known as Howard Marsh. He was educated at the Eye Grammar School, which was then under the headmastership of the Rev Charles Notley, BD, who reported of him that he was the cleverest boy in the school. From the age of 16 Marsh came under the influence of Dr W W Miller, who had treated him for a severe attack of typhoid fever. Dr Miller was an example of the best type of country practitioner, and from him Marsh learnt nothing but good. He was apprenticed in 1856 to his uncle, John Marsh, who was in general practice at 88 St John Street, Clerkenwell, in the immediate neighbourhood of St Bartholomew's Hospital.

Marsh entered St Bartholomew's Hospital on Oct 1st, 1858, and immediately became known to Sir James Paget as a fellow-countryman from East Anglia. He passed through his student career without distinction. He acted in 1861 as Obstetric Assistant to Dr Greenhalgh, Physician-Accoucheur to the Hospital, and in 1862 he was appointed House Surgeon to F C Skey (qv) on the occasion of an accidental vacancy; in September, 1862, he was chosen House Surgeon to the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street, where he slept in an attic which was only separated from the scarlet fever ward by a narrow passage. He published the results of his surgical experience in the St Bartholomew's Hospital Reports (1867, 331) under the title, "On Tracheotomy in Children: its Methods: its Dangers and its Difficulties".

He resigned his office on Jan 12th, 1865, went back to live with his uncle, employed himself in performing the numerous unofficial duties which made him known to the staff of St Bartholomew's Hospital, and so paved the way for an appointment on the teaching staff of the medical school. He did not stay long with his uncle, for he was living at 19a Golden Square in June, 1865, and in the following year he was appointed Surgeon to the House of Relief for Children with Chronic Disorders of the Joints at 19 Queen's Square, Bloomsbury, which afterwards became the Alexandra Hospital for Children with Hip Disease. He continued Surgeon to the Hip Hospital until 1903, and by his persistent advocacy of prolonged rest in bed did much to improve the treatment of tuberculous disease of the hip. He showed on the one hand that children with hip disease should not be allowed to run about as long as they were able to do so, as was then the custom, and on the other hand that the indiscriminate excision of joints was undesirable. He embodied his experience in a useful series of Hunterian Lectures on "Tuberculosis in Some of its Surgical Aspects" delivered at the College of Surgeons in 1888-1889, and in his Diseases of the Joints published three years earlier.

For two periods between 1865 and 1870 he acted as Secretary and Private Assistant to Sir James Paget, and taught himself shorthand that he might perform his secretarial duties the more readily. At St Bartholomew's Hospital Marsh was Demonstrator of Anatomy from 1869-1873, and in 1869 he was also appointed Surgical Registrar in conjunction with J A Bloxham (qv) on the resignation of the post by Alfred Willett (qv).

In 1870 he married Jane Perceval, granddaughter of Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minister who was murdered by Bellingham at the House of Commons in 1812. She had been a Ward Sister at the Hospital for Sick Children, and at the time of her marriage was the Lady Superintendent at the Hip Hospital. By her he had Edward Howard Marsh (b 1872), who had a distinguished political career, and Helen Margaret, who married Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice, KCMG. Marsh and his wife lived at 38 Guilford Street, Russell Square, until 1872, when they moved to 36 and afterwards to 30 Bruton Street, Berkeley Square, where Marsh remained until he went to Cambridge.

Marsh was elected Assistant Surgeon at St Bartholomew's Hospital on Feb 27th, 1873, and was appointed Lecturer on Anatomy in 1879, and Lecturer on Surgery conjointly with Alfred Willett in 1889. In 1878 he was put in charge of the Orthopaedic Department, but it was not until Nov 26th, 1891, that he became full Surgeon to St Bartholomew's Hospital on the resignation of Sir William Savory (qv). The best years of his life as a surgeon were spent, in teaching surgery in the out-patient department. He held office until 1903, when, on July 27th, he was offered and accepted the Chair of Surgery in the University of Cambridge which had been in abeyance since the death of Sir George Murray Humphry (qv) in 1896. He moved from London in December, 1903, and took a house at Cambridge in Scroope Terrace, was granted the degree of MA, and was elected a Professorial Fellow at King's College. For a year or two he also had rooms in London, which allowed of his filling the office of President of the Metropolitan Branch of the British Medical Association.

In 1907 Dr Alexander Hill (d 1929) resigned the office of Master of Downing College, Cambridge, and Marsh was elected in his place, proving himself a genial and popular Master, whilst his farming ancestry made him a welcome chairman at the rent-dinners given to the tenants of the College estates. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace for the City of Cambridge, and in 1909 he accepted office as a Borough Magistrate and was elected to the Town Council as a representative of the combined colleges of the University.

At the Royal College of Surgeons Marsh was an Examiner in Anatomy from 1887-1892, and was a Member of the Court of Examiners in Surgery from 1892-1903. He was elected to the Council in 1892, and resigned in 1908 after serving as Vice-President in 1898 and again in 1901. He was Hunterian Professor of Surgery and Pathology in 1888-1889, when he took as his subject "Tuberculosis in Some of its Surgical Aspects", and was Bradshaw Lecturer in 1902.

He was elected a member of the Clinical Society in 1868, a year after its foundation, and served every office until he became President in 1902. At the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society he was Secretary from 1885-1887 and Vice-President from 1891-1893. In 1889 he became Consulting Surgeon to the Children's Hospital in Great Ormond Street, but the severance of his long connection with children's hospitals did not lead to any loss of interest, for in 1886 he became one of the founders, with Miss Agnes M Bowditch, of the Children's Cottage Hospital at Coldash, near Newbury, where it was intended that children with hip disease should remain till they were cured or superannuated.

In 1912 Marsh accepted the invitation of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the Chief Scout, to become the first Commissioner of Scouts in Cambridge. He took his duties seriously, and within six months of the outbreak of the European War in 1914 his health began to fail. In spite of this he was commissioned as honorary Colonel in the RAMC (T), East Anglian Division, but on June 24th, 1915, he died without pain or distress in the Master's Lodgings at Downing, and was buried in the Borough Cemetery. He married: (1) Jane Perceval (d 1897), by whom he had a son and a daughter; (2) Violet Dalrymple Hay, youngest daughter of Admiral Sir John Dalrymple Hay, Bart, GCB, who was 'sister' of Abernethy Ward at St Bartholomew's Hospital, and who survived him.

Marsh may be looked upon as the last of the surgeons of the old school. The want of an early scientific education, and the benumbing effects of a long period as Assistant Surgeon without the care of beds, prevented him from appreciating the tremendous changes which were taking place in surgery, and until late in life he had difficulty in accepting the germ theory of disease. He had, on the other hand, the virtues of the older surgeons. He was a good practical anatomist, an excellent teacher of students in the out-patient room, and a fine clinical surgeon. His professional life was largely spent in advocating and extending the principles of surgery laid down in John Hilton's Rest and Pain, and he did much good by advocating the physiological treatment of chronic disease of the joints as opposed to early operative interference. As a man Marsh was generous, somewhat impulsive, and a good companion. He had an unbounded respect for Sir James Paget (qv), whose various works he edited.

Sources used to compile this entry: [D'Arcy Power's A Memoir of Howard Marsh. London, 1921, with good portrait in cap and gown. St Bart's Hosp Jour, 1915, xxii, 156, with portrait. St Bart's Hosp Rep, 1915, li, with portrait. Personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England