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Biographical entry Power, Henry (1829 - 1911)

MRCS May 9th 1851; FRCS Dec 1st 1854; Matriculated winning the Prize in Chemistry; First MB (Exhibition and Gold Medal in Anatomy and Physiology) 1852; Final MB (Medal and Scholarship in Surgery and in Comparative Anatomy) 1855 Lond Univ.

3 September 1829
18 January 1911
Whitby, Yorkshire
Anatomist, Ophthalmic surgeon and Physiologist


Born on Sept 3rd, 1829, the son of John Francis Power, a Captain in the 35th (Royal) Sussex Regiment, by his second wife, Hannah, the youngest daughter of Henry Simpson, a banker at Whitby, Yorkshire. His father, who received his commission at the age of 14, had served through the Peninsular and Baltic campaigns as a Cornet in the 3rd Dragoons, King's German Legion, and is mentioned in the regimental history as having been beaten black and blue with sabres at the Sahagun skirmish in 1808. He was also present at Waterloo as a Lieutenant in the 3rd Regiment of Hussars in the King's German Legion.

Henry Power was born at Nantes when the service companies of the 35th Regiment were under orders for Barbadoes, and narrowly escaped death in the great West Indian hurricane of Aug 11th, 1881, when two sergeants and five privates were killed, the baby being buried unhurt in its cradle. The same hurricane nearly killed Haynes Walton (qv), who afterwards became Ophthalmic Surgeon to St Mary's Hospital.

Captain Power retired on half-pay as a Major in 1833, and led a wandering life in England until he was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the depot of the British Foreign Legion at Shorncliffe in August, 1855. Henry Power, therefore, had a desultory education at several schools, amongst others at Cheltenham College, which he entered as a day-boy at Easter, 1842, the College having been opened at Bays Hill Terrace with 100 boys on July 29th, 1841. There he remained until he was apprenticed in 1844 to Thomas Lowe Wheeler, the son of Thomas Wheeler (1754-1847), Apothecary to St Bartholomew's Hospital and one of the great field botanists of his generation. Henry Power learned nothing from his master, who soon died, when he was transferred to his son Thomas Rivington Wheeler, but formed a boyish friendship with "Thomas Wheeler the old gentleman", then aged 90. From him he learnt some Latin and Greek and the field botany which enabled him to win the Galen and Linnean Silver Medals at the Society of Apothecaries in 1851.

Power seems to have drifted into medicine by accident. His father, his father's father, and his great-grandfather had all been in the Army, and they knew of only two classes of doctors, the regimental surgeon and the man who kept an open shop. There was, at any rate, no money to buy a commission, and Major Power had not sufficient influence to obtain one for his son as had been done in his own case.

In October, 1844, he entered St Bartholomew's Hospital and soon became intimate with William Scovell Savory (qv), who like himself was a friendless lad without introductions. At Savory's instigation Power was induced to matriculate at the University of London. He was, however, under pledge to return to his master's house as soon as the early morning lecture was finished, and consequently never saw much of the clinical side of the hospital work. He spent his spare time in reading Shakespeare and such poets as were on the shelves of the Wheelers' library.

He married on Dec 21st, 1854, his first cousin and playmate Ann Simpson, the youngest daughter of Thomas Simpson, of Meadowfield, Whitby, Yorkshire, on the strength of becoming a Demonstrator of Anatomy at the Westminster Hospital. The marriage proved a great success, and with his wife he survived to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the wedding. A living was made at 3 Grosvenor Terrace (now 56 Belgrave Road), SW, by coaching and taking resident pupils, and the London University Scholarships which produced £100 for two years "were a godsend". The hard work and strain led to a severe attack of pleurisy in 1855, for which he was nursed at Shorncliffe Camp under the supervision of William S Savory, who sent him to convalesce at St Helier's in Jersey.

In June, 1855, he was elected Assistant Surgeon to the Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital, where he came under the notice of G J Guthrie (qv), who dissuaded him from accepting the post of assistant in the anatomical department of the University of Edinburgh, which was subsequently filled by Sir William Turner. He retired from the Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital in 1889 and was then elected Consulting Surgeon and a member of the Board of Management.

In 1857 he became Assistant Surgeon to the Westminster Hospital, where he lectured for ten years, first on comparative anatomy and afterwards on human anatomy and on physiology. His teaching was appreciated by the students, who presented him with an address and a silver salver at the end of the session 1859-1860. He remained an Assistant Surgeon until 1867, by which time he had determined to devote himself entirely to ophthalmology. He was elected Ophthalmic Surgeon to St George's Hospital in 1867, and on July 27th, 1870, he was appointed to the newly made post of Ophthalmic Surgeon at St Bartholomew's Hospital, with Bowater J Vernon (qv) as his junior. The two colleagues worked together in the greatest harmony for twenty-four years and raised the department to a state of high efficiency. During the whole of this time they had but one Ward Sister - Miss Mary Davies - known to many generations of house surgeons and students as 'Sister Eyes'. Power also acted for twelve years as Ophthalmic Surgeon at St Bartholomew's Hospital, Chatham, leaving London every Wednesday at two o'clock and returning by the boat train at six - visits which he enjoyed because he always made friends with his fellow-passengers on the journey, many of whom were returning from service abroad.

An original member of the Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom, Power was Vice-President from 1882-1885, Bowman Lecturer in 1887, and President from 1890-1893. He also served as one of the Vice-Presidents of the Section of Ophthalmology at the Seventh International Congress of Medicine held in London in 1881.

At the Royal College of Surgeons Power was a member of the Board of Examiners in Anatomy and Physiology from 1875-1880, again from 1881-1884, and as an Examiner in Physiology from 1884-1886. He was a Member of Council from 1879-1890 and Vice-President in 1885. He delivered the Arris and Gale Lectures on anatomy and physiology in 1882-1883; was Hunterian Professor of Surgery and Pathology, 1885-1887; Bradshaw Lecturer in, and, like Paget, Savory, Butlin, and Moynihan, delivered the Hunterian Oration without a note in 1889. He was active as an examiner in physiology at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London, and Durham, having as his colleagues Rolleston, Michael Foster, Huxley, and Hare Philipson, with all of whom he long maintained the most friendly relations.

At the Royal Veterinary College in Camden Town he served as Professor of Physiology from 1881-1904, and the students treated him as a trusted friend and adviser. His former pupils in England presented him with a testimonial on his retirement, whilst those practising in South Africa sent him a handsome silver lamp.

At the Harveian Society of London he was elected for two consecutive terms of office as President in 1880 and 1881. He was a Vice-President of the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society in 1892-1893, and was several times a Member of the Council and of the Library Committee.

At the British Medical Association he was President of the Home Counties Branch, and held office as Secretary, Vice-President, or President of the Sections of Ophthalmology, Physiology, and the combined Section of Ophthalmology and Otology at various periods between 1869 and 1895. He was also President of the Society for employing the blind as masseurs, Surgeon to the Linen and Woollen Drapers' Benevolent Fund and to the Artists' Benevolent Fund.

Power was engaged in literary work throughout his life. With a competent knowledge of German derived from his father and from his grandmother, who was a Dutch woman, he did much for the New Sydenham Society. He translated The Aural Surgery of the Present Day, by Wilhelm Kramer, in 1863; in 1870 he translated Stricker's Manual of Human and Comparative Histology, and from 1865-1874 he was co-editor for the Society of A Biennial Retrospect of Medicine, Surgery, etc. From 1879-1899 he carried out in conjunction with Dr Leonard Sedgwick The Lexicon of Medicine and the Allied Sciences based on Mayne's Lexicon. It was planned on too large a scale and the editors only finished to the letter O, the rest of the alphabet being completed by George Parker, a son of Professor William Kitchin Parker, FRS. Power also translated in 1876 Professor Erb's article "On Disease of the Peripheral Cerebrospinal Nerves" for Ziemssen's Cyclopoedia of the Practice of Medicine - a particularly difficult piece of work as it was written in involved and provincial German. From 1864-1876 he edited the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth editions of Carpenter's Principles of Human Physiology - a perfect mine of information. Each edition had to be literally rewritten, as physiology was then leaving the traditional lines and was becoming a new experimental science. The book was finally displaced by the text-books of Michael Foster and Herman translated by Arthur Gamgee. He also published in 1884 a small but useful Elements of Human Physiology which had a widespread popularity and ran through several editions.

Having considerable talent as a painter in water-colours, he made many drawings of the interesting ophthalmic cases which presented themselves in the Out-patient Department of the Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital. These were embodied in his Illustrations of Some of the Principal Diseases of the Eye published in 1867. The book was one of the first English text-books containing coloured drawings of the fundus of the eye as seen with the ophthalmoscope. They were reproduced by chromolithography, which did not do justice to the original drawings, and are now preserved at St Bartholomew's Hospital.

From 1881 onwards he busied himself in reconstructing Bagdale Hall, Whitby, a house built about 1540, which had long been in the possession of his wife's family. Here he spent his holidays, and here, in 1898, happened the tragedy which threw a shadow over the rest of his life. Whilst watching a summer storm on the unprotected east pier, his artist daughter and a grandchild were swept by a wave into the sea at a time when no boat could leave the harbour. The two girls were drowned though both were expert swimmers, and he himself escaped with the greatest difficulty. He left London shortly afterwards and retired to Whitby, where he cultivated friendships and gave popular lectures to the townspeople on a variety of subjects.

In November, 1910, he strained his heart one Sunday morning whilst mounting the 199 steps to the parish church, which is situated on the edge of the cliff close to the Abbey. The effects never passed off, he suffered many distressing attacks of dyspnoea, and died at Bagdale Hall on Jan 18th, 1911, survived by his wife, four sons, and three daughters out of a total family of eleven children. He was buried in the cemetery which lies between the sea and the high moors, the town showing its sympathy by closing the shops, although it was market day.

Henry Power was a good instance of heredity. His versatility, friendliness, and courtesy showed his South Irish ancestry; his dogged perseverance in the production of such monumental undertakings as Carpenter's Physiology and the Lexicon of Medical Terms was derived from the Dutch and Quaker strain; his agnosticism - for he neither affirmed nor denied - his carelessness of money, and his want of business aptitude were the outcome of several generations of military forbears, who, being always on active service, lived from hand to mouth and accumulated nothing. The business capacity derived from the long line of bankers on his mother's side missed him indeed, but appeared in the person of one of his grandchildren, Mr F D'Arcy Cooper - who became the successful Chairman of Levers, a soap company dealing with many millions of capital. His artistic ability - derived entirely from his father - was markedly transmitted to two of his daughters, one of whom was an excellent portrait painter, the other a beautiful bookbinder. As an ophthalmic surgeon Henry Power was a younger member of the band who made ophthalmic practice a specialty, having first been trained in general surgery like Bowman and Critchett. He was a good and careful operator, more especially in the extraction of cataract; as a clinical teacher painstaking, and as a lecturer fluent and interesting.

There are two oil paintings by his daughter Lucy Beatrice Power, both of which were exhibited at the Royal Academy. The earlier one is at Melbourne, Victoria, in the possession of his grandchildren; the other, three-quarter-length, seated with a perimeter, belongs to Sir D'Arcy Power, KBE, FRCS. It was painted by subscription and was engraved. Both are excellent likenesses in a characteristic attitude. A speaking likeness is reproduced in the Centenary number of the Lancet (1923, ii, 751), for it reflects the kindliness he always showed to students. Power also appears in Jamyn Brookes's portrait group of the Council in 1884, and the Brief Sketch also contains a portrait reproduced by Emery Walker.

Sources used to compile this entry: [A Brief Sketch of my Life, 1829-1911, privately printed, 1912, with a portrait. St Bart's Hosp Rep, 1911, xlvii, 7, with portrait. Lancet, 1911, i, 274, with portrait. Brit Med Jour, 1911, i, 233, with portrait. Bernhard Schwertseger's Geschichte der königlich Deutschen Legion, 1803-1816, 8vo, Hanover and Leipzig, 1907, ii, 217. The Broadway, 1925, July, 189. Personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England