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Biographical entry Pemberton, Oliver (1825 - 1897)

MRCS April 12th 1847; FRCS (elected as a Member of twenty years' standing) April 18th 1878; FRCS Edin 1873; JP.

15 August 1825
7 March 1897
General surgeon


Born at Warstone House, Birmingham, on Aug 15th, 1825, of a family of manufacturers, the second son of Thomas Pemberton, a well-known brass founder and a JP for Birmingham. He was educated at King Edward's School, Birmingham, whilst Dr Jeune and Dr Prince Lee were successively head masters, and at the age of 17 was apprenticed to Dickinson Crompton (qv), Surgeon to the Birmingham General Hospital. He studied at Queen's College Medical School whilst Joseph Hodgson (qv) was a lecturer. He then went on to St Bartholomew's Hospital under Burrows, Lawrence, and Stanley, having Savory as a fellow-student. After qualifying Pemberton returned to Birmingham as Physician's Assistant at the General Hospital, then as Surgical Officer. In October, 1852, on the death of Richard Wood, he was elected Surgeon and held this position for thirty-nine years until 1891. In the Medical School he lectured on anatomy from 1853-1858, then on Surgery from 1867-1892. He took an active part in the transference of the Medical Department of Queen's College to Mason's College, on the Council of which he served, and was President.

In 1878 Sir Joseph Fayrer and Oliver Pemberton were elected to the FRCS as Members of twenty years' standing. The occasion was notable as it was the first time the Council of the College had exercised this privilege. In 1885 Pemberton was elected to the College Council, a position which he held until his death. During the active portion of his life as a Surgeon to the General Hospital he was also Consulting Surgeon to the Skin and Lock Hospital and to the West Bromwich Hospital.

He published much. He was founder and promoter of the Medical Institute in 1874, was President of the Midland Medical Society, and was at one time on the Council of other Medical Societies in Birmingham. He gave the Address in Surgery at the Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association in Birmingham in 1872. He practised at 65 Temple Row. Simultaneously he served on the City Council from 1879-1891, rendering valuable assistance on the Health and Water Committees. He was much engaged in medico-legal work and was frequently an expert witness in criminal trials, notably in that of Palmer, the Rugeley poisoner, for the defence. He had been present at the post-mortem examination of Cook, and simply stated that the spinal cord was then so much decomposed as to prevent an opinion as to its state immediately after death.

In 1891, at the age of 66, he was elected Coroner for Birmingham, whereupon he resigned the post of Surgeon and that of City Councillor, and held the office until his death. He was described as an admirable coroner, very sympathetic and kind to witnesses, yet never failing to draw out all important points of evidence, whilst his directions to the jury were always clear and judicious. He attracted attention by a stately demeanour, a deliberate stride, and by peculiarities of dress; a wide-brimmed hat with a low crown, high boots worn over trousers, a long cloak thrown back over his shoulders. In recreation he gained repute as an angler.

He kept in good health, his general expression of good humour, kindliness of manner, robustness of character, and methodical habits were attractive. An attack of bronchitis was followed by one of intestinal obstruction due to malignant disease, for which he was operated upon by his colleagues, Bennett May and Gilbert Barling, but he died the same evening at Quarry House, Whitacre, near Birmingham, on March 7th, 1897. He was buried in Slinstoke Churchyard, his funeral being attended by the Lord Mayor, by representative citizens of Birmingham, and by colleagues. He married in 1851 the only child of Daniel Whittle Harvey, MP for Colchester, and Chief Commissioner of Police for London. Mrs Pemberton only survived a week, dying on the following March 13th, at the age of 70. They were survived by two sons and three daughters.

Edwin Ward's portrait of Pemberton, a venerable, long-haired, bearded figure in a cloak, was engraved, and the engraving signed by him was presented, to the President and Council of the College in 1894.

Observations on Cancerous Diseases, 8vo, London, 1858.
"On Excision of the Knee-joint." - Brit Med Jour, 1859, 958. 977, 997.
Clinical Illustrations of Various Forms of Cancer, etc, fol, plates, London, 1867. This was termed by Sir James Paget a "grand book and an example of good taste".
Pemberton's Bradshaw Lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons, 1894, was on "James Syme (Regius Professor of Surgery at Edinburgh, 1833-1869): A Study of his Influence and Authority on the Science and Art of Surgery during that Period," 8vo, Birmingham, 1895.

Sources used to compile this entry: ["The Birmingham General Hospital," a series of papers from Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 1858. Prov Med Jour, Leicester, 1886, v, 1, with a good portrait. Brit Med Jour, 1897, I, 691, with a personal note by Dr Saundby. Lancet, 1897, I, 779, 835, 918].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England