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Biographical entry Partridge, Alderman ( - 1868)

MRCS Aug 6th 1813; FRCS (by election) Aug 26th 1844; LSA 1813; MSA.

24 October 1868
General surgeon


Educated at Guy's and St Thomas's Hospitals, he was elected one of the Surgeons of the Essex and Colchester Hospital at its foundation, and retired in 1861 after being for many years Senior Surgeon. His tenure of office lasted forty-two years. He was a bold and successful operator, especially in lithotomy, and enjoyed a very large practice - probably the largest as a consultant in Essex.

His health failed some two years before his death, and he died after a lingering illness on Oct 24th, 1868. He was highly respected locally, and his death recalled the famous trial of forty years before in which Bransby Blake Cooper (qv) sued Thomas Wakley for damages for an alleged libel printed in the Lancet, where Cooper was accused of malpraxis in a lithotomy performed by him at Guy's Hospital on the person of Samuel Pollard, a navvy.

Partridge at the trial was shown not to be a confederate of Wakley, who met him for the first time in court at the commencement of the proceedings and found that Partridge had been present at the operation. Had it not been for Partridge's evidence, Wakley's punishment would doubtless have been much more severe. The damages were laid at £2000; as it was the damages were assessed at £100. The trial lasted two days and began on Dec 12th, 1828.

"The defendant (Wakley) then called and examined Mr Holdiman [sic] Partridge, who said:

"I reside at Colchester, and am a member of the College of Surgeons. I have been in practice rather more than fourteen years; I have witnessed many operations in lithotomy, and have performed them myself sixteen or eighteen times. I witnessed the operation performed by Mr Bransby Cooper at Guy's Hospital in March last. I have read the report of that operation in the Lancet: it struck me at the time to be correct, and I have had no particular reason to alter my opinion since, though I did not examine it very minutely. The patient appeared to be a very healthy man; I remarked it at the time. I think Mr Cooper himself introduced the staff; but the second incision was made without the staff. After the first external incision all instruments were withdrawn.

"The defendant here produced a figure representing the situation of the patient, which the witness deposed to as being correct.

"The hands of the patient were tied to the feet, and his knees to his neck, as represented by the model now produced. The patient remained in that position nearly an hour; during that period a sound was repeatedly introduced; several cuts were attempted to be made into the bladder with a knife. The instrument (a cutting gorget) was introduced into the wound; a blunt gorget was also introduced, and the scoop and several pairs of forceps. During the operation the patient called out several times to the operator to desist. The operator stated several times that he could not explain the difficulty; he appeared to be perplexed and hurried in consequence of the long delay; he did not appear to act with any regular scientific design. He introduced his finger with some force, but it did not strike me as being very violent. He used the instruments in the ordinary way, and varied them according to the different purposes, but failed in lighting upon the stone. I don't consider that the forceps entered the bladder the first time; the impression on my mind was, that the opening in the bladder was not sufficiently large to get the forceps in; but I think there was an opening, because I saw a discharge of water and blood.

"The operator said that he felt the stone when he passed his staff through the urethra, and could also feel it when he passed the sound through the incision in the perineum; he also said that he could not feel it with the forceps. The reason of this was, that the forceps, if straight or slightly curved, would pass under the stone, which was high up in the bladder. Mr Cooper made many attempts to feel the stone with his finger; he left his seat and measured fingers with those of other gentlemen, to see if any of them had a longer finger. I cannot say that I think Mr Cooper performed the operation in a scientific manner; I do not think that it was performed in such a manner as the public have a right to expect from a surgeon of Guy's Hospital. The average time for performing operations of this description is four or five minutes; the operation in question occupied, I think, nearly an hour. After the staff had been introduced and the first incision made, Mr Cooper used a straight staff with a knife; when he found he could not introduce the forceps on the first attempt, he withdrew them, and made another cut with the knife without the staff being introduced. This is not the customary mode; the scoop, as I have always understood, is introduced to extract those fragments of the stone that may have crumbled off. There were no fragments in this case that I saw.

"Twenty-five or thirty minutes is the longest time that I have known an operation of this kind to last; the average time is about five minutes. In the cases I have mentioned lasting twenty-five or thirty minutes, there were evident causes why the operation should last so long; those were where the stone was large, and where it would be dangerous to enlarge the wound for fear of injuring the rectum, and there the time was lost in drawing out the stone gradually. In the operation in question, the stone was a small one, being not larger than a common Windsor bean, flat and round; it might have weighed about two drachms or less, but certainly not more. Stones weighing several ounces have been successfully removed. Unless the incision was large enough to admit the forceps, that instrument could not lay hold of the stone without also catching the integuments of the bladder. The stone lay above the pubes, for the sound always touched it on being withdrawn, and it was extracted by pressure above the pubes, and with a curved forceps. If the operator had been aware of the situation of the stone, he should have taken these measures at first: he should have ascertained this in the first instance.

"Cross-examined by Sir J Scarlett. - I never saw the defendant before this day, nor his attorney in the cause before last night. Mr Callaway was the assistant surgeon on the occasion, and I believe him to be a man of skill. I have had several cases where the stone lay above the pubes, and always extracted it in the manner which was at last successfully adopted by Mr B Cooper. The cut is made in the perineum, and the object is to get the knife into the groove of the staff, by which time it has penetrated a portion of the urethra; then the staff is brought forward into a parallel position with the knife, and on a line with the bladder, in order to make a larger incision: the staff is then allowed to remain, and the finger is introduced, in order to ascertain the wound you have made.

"Sir J Scarlett - You then introduce the finger and feel for the stone, after finding which, you introduce the forceps along the finger and lay hold of the stone?

"Witness - No: in order to do that you must make too large an incision, or else have a most extraordinarily small pair of forceps. At the time of the operation I was sitting in a chair immediately behind Mr Cooper. I never saw Mr Cooper before that day. I have no doubt but that the first incision penetrated the bladder. I have read the report in the Lancet, but I never corresponded with that publication. I take it in and read it weekly.

"Sir J Scarlett here read from the libel the following sentence: 'The first incision through the integuments appeared to be freely and fairly made; and, after a little dissection, the point of the knife was fixed (apparently) in the groove of the staff, which was now taken hold of, and the knife carried onwards - somewhere.

"The learned Counsel asked the witness whether the word 'somewhere' did not mean to convey an idea that the knife did not go into the bladder?

"Witness. - I think it means to convey an idea that it might or might not have entered the bladder. I do not know whether the operator would be the best judge of whether the forceps entered the bladder or not - it would depend upon what sort of an operator he was. (A laugh.) I am not prepared to swear that the forceps were a second time used with considerable force; I will neither swear to, nor contradict it. I mentioned my opinion of this operation to several persons, but I cannot now say to whom.

"Sir J Scarlett then read the following sentence, and asked the witness whether the statement it contained was correct: 'The forceps were again used, but as unsuccessfully as before; they were pushed onwards to a considerable distance, and with no small degree of force.'

"Witness. - I am not prepared to swear to the truth of this - I cannot comprehend it.

"Re-examined by the Defendant (Wakley). - The staff was introduced a second time; it would not have been necessary if the first incision had been large enough. I have never seen the defendant before this day, that I am aware of."

Alderman was his baptismal name: the Alderman family, of whom several were medical men, were of Balstead, Suffolk.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1868, ii, 624. Partridge's evidence appears in the London Med Gaz, 1829, iii, 69, with a scathing article upon it at p 100].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England