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Biographical entry Rivington, Walter (1835 - 1897)

MRCS March 18th 1859; FRCS June 12th 1863; BA Lond (Prizes for physiology and chemistry) 1858; MB (Honours and Gold Medal for materia medica) 1863; MS (Honours and Gold Medal) 1864; LSA 1860.

December 1835
8 May 1897
Anatomist, ENT surgeon and General surgeon


Born at Highgate in December, 1835, the son of George Rivington, a member of the well-known firm of publishers. His mother had been Miss Ann Finlay. He was educated under Dr G A Jacob at Sheffield Collegiate School, was afterwards apprenticed to a practitioner in Stepney and entered as a student at the London Hospital, where his cousin, Thomas Blizard Curling (qv), was Surgeon. He shared rooms with Morell Mackenzie, whom he especially numbered among his friends. Both young men were frequent speakers at the London Hospital Debating Society. Rivington was an exceptionally brilliant student at the Hospital, and at the same time he gained high honours at the University of London. On taking the Membership in 1859 he was appointed House Surgeon at the London Hospital.

He served for a brief period as Surgeon with the P&O Steam Navigation Company, and in 1863 was elected to the Assistant Surgeoncy and Demonstratorship of Anatomy at the London Hospital on the promotion of Jonathan Hutchinson (qv) to the full staff. He showed great energy in these positions, and his teaching was so much appreciated by the students that they presented him with a testimonial. In 1865 he became associated with John Adams (qv) as Lecturer on Anatomy, and held this post till 1884, John Adams having long ago retired. In 1884 he gave up the lectureship and succeeded James Adams (qv) as Lecturer on Surgery, retaining office till 1890, when he retired from the active staff. He was also teacher of operative surgery. He had become full Surgeon in 1870, and, retiring under the twenty years rule, was appointed Consulting Surgeon.

He devoted himself at one period to the study of aural surgery, and was the first Surgeon to the Aural Department of the London Hospital, but gradually gave up the study of diseases of the ear and resigned his appointment. For a time he lectured on comparative as well as on human anatomy. For some thirty years up to the time of his death he was the Secretary of the London Hospital Club in succession to John Adams. He was the moving spirit of the club, and a link between successive generations of students, ever keeping alive tradition and esprit de corps. He was, in fact, very much of the family at the London Hospital, where two former Presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons, Sir William Blizard and Thomas Blizard Curling (qv), were his kinsmen. He was Dean of the Medical School for several years, and as such made great efforts in behalf of entrance scholarships, successfully initiating a movement for their establishment. He was devoted to the School and Hospital in all its aspects, and this was recognized at a dinner given in his honour a few years before his death, when he was presented with a handsome service of plate.

As a lecturer he was able, impressive, and humorous, and exceedingly popular with the students. He was gifted with an extraordinary memory, and upon several occasions - notably that of his introductory address at the opening of the Medical College and his Oration at the Hunterian Society - he committed his addresses to memory, after carefully writing them out, and delivered the whole from beginning to end without hesitation. The former oration was remembered as one of the best so far delivered. As an operating surgeon it must be allowed that Rivington made no decided mark, though he could on occasion be very brilliant; and a certain absent-mindedness, which was characteristic, caused him to be an uneven teacher at the bedside. His enormous experience made him most instructive when his interest was aroused, but there were times when he did not seem called upon to exert his undoubtedly high gifts of exposition and lucid description.

From 1878-1883 he was an Examiner in Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons, and in 1891 was elected to the Council in the interest of the 'Reform Party'. As a Member of the Council he was faithful to his pledges, his voice and vote being immediately exercised towards obtaining for Members of the College a share in the management of their own collegiate affairs. Had he been familiar with the internal government of the ancient Universities, he would have known that, at Oxford at least, none share therein save the 'Regent Masters', who are a moiety of the Masters of Arts, while the great majority of members of the University (ie, Masters, Bachelors, and, of course, all undergraduates) are without votes. In 1896 he offered himself as a candidate for a seat upon the General Medical Council as a direct representative of the profession. In his election address he maintained that Members of the Council of the College of Surgeons were not directly representative of the profession in that Members had not shared in their election; but, presumably, forgot to add that he was in a precisely similar position on the Council of the College so far as regarded his own election thereto. He was not elected.

The cause of R B Anderson (qv) was ardently espoused by him as put forth by the Civil Rights Defence Committee, on which Rivington represented the College of Surgeons. Anderson's rights, professional and civil, were held to have been invaded, and Rivington was bringing forward a motion before the College Council in Anderson's behalf when cut off by his last illness.

For some three or four years before his death Rivington was a Member of the Standing Committee of the Convocation of the University of London, and consistently opposed the scheme for altering the constitution of the University as recommended by Lord Cowper's Commission. He held that by this scheme the real governing body would be a small academic council; that the powers of Convocation would be altogether taken away; that there was danger that the standard of examinations would be lowered and that the Imperial character of the University would be forfeited. In June, 1896, he was nominated for the Fellowship of the University in opposition to Sir Joseph Lister (qv), who strongly supported the scheme for the reconstitution of the University into a teaching body. Rivington was elected by 963 votes against 846.

A man of marked character and singular determination, Rivington in his devotion to reform was quite untainted by selfishness, although at times he appeared too pertinacious. He was deeply aware of the necessity for the amelioration of many of the conditions now existent in the professional life of his poorer brethren, and he spared himself no trouble to make his beliefs shared by others.

His death occurred, after a short illness, at his country house at Epping - his address in London being 95 Wimpole Street, W - on the evening of Saturday, May 8th, 1897. He had suffered a great loss by the death of Mrs Rivington some years previously, and he was survived by a family of eight children.

His friend, Timothy Holmes (qv), writing of him in terms of eloquent eulogy in the British Medical Journal very shortly after his death, speaks of him as the mainstay of the Association of Fellows. His death followed closely on that of George D Pollock (qv), its Chairman, to whom he did not yield in his devotion to the interests of the Association. His was an uphill battle at the College, avers his friend, but in its "utter sincerity and manliness" it conciliated even those who most differed from him. At the time of his death, in addition to his other appointments, he was Surgeon to the London Dispensary, Spitalfields.

Address delivered at the London Hospital Medical College, at the Commencement of the Winter Session, 1865, 12mo, London, 1865.
Remarks on the Necessity for a Revision of the Medical Curriculum made at the Medical Teachers' Association, 8vo, London, 1868.
Remarks on Dislocations of the First and Second Pieces of the Sternum, 8vo, London, 1874.
"A Case of Pulsating Tumour of the Left Orbit, consequent upon a Fracture of the Base of the Skull, Cured by Ligature of the Left Common Carotid Artery: with a Résumé of Recorded Cases of Intra-orbital Aneurism," 8vo, London, 1875; reprinted from Med-Chir Trans, 1875, lviii, 183. A classic paper.
"A Case of Rupture of the Internal and Middle Coats of the Popliteal Artery, and Complete Rupture of the Popliteal Vein, for which Primary Amputation of the Thigh was Successfully Performed: with Remarks," 8vo, London, 1878; reprinted from Brit Med Jour, 1878, i, 47. This is his chief contribution to the literature of surgery.
Medical Education and Medical Organization. Oration before the Hunterian Society, 8vo, London, 1879. (He was President of the Society in 1883.)
The Medical Profession, being the essay to which was awarded the first Carmichael Prize of £200 by the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland, 1879, 8vo, Dublin, 1879.
The Medical Profession of the United Kingdom. First Carmichael Prize revised 1887, 8vo, Dublin, 1888. These two exhaustive treatises were the best standard accounts of the Profession when they were written.
Rupture of the Urinary Bladder, based on the Records of more than 300 Cases of the Affection, 8vo, London, 1884.
"A Case of Encysted Vesical Calculus of Unusually Large Size removed by Supra-pubic Cystotomy," 8vo, London, 1886; reprinted from Med-Chir Trans, 1886, lxix, 361.
"A Case of Ligature of the Left Common Carotid Artery Wounded by a Fish-bone which had Penetrated the Pharynx: with Appendix of Forty-five Cases of Wounds of Blood-vessels by Foreign Bodies," 8vo, London, 1886; reprinted from Med-Chir Trans, 1886, lxix, 63.
Neuroma of the Median Nerve removed by Operation, 12mo, nd.
"Account of a Peculiar Variety of Encysted Hydrocele of the Spermatic Cord combined with Inguinal Hernia." - Lond Hosp Rep, 1865, ii, 371.
"Valves in the Renal Veins." - Jour Anat and Physiol 1873, vii, 163.
"Clinical Lectures on Varieties of Psoas Abscess." - Lancet, 1874, ii, 407, etc.
"Cases of Diseases of the Testis for which Castration was Performed." - Ibid, 1877, i, 489, 526.

Sources used to compile this entry: [An admirable Life of Walter Rivington from the pen of Dr S D Clippingdale will be found in the Lond Hosp Gaz, 1919, xxii, 181, and in it is reproduced the only available likeness of the subject of this memoir, which, being taken from a group, is necessarily very dim. Brit Med Jour, 1897, i, 1255].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England