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Biographical entry Tatum, Thomas (1802 - 1879)

MRCS June 17th 1828; FRCS Dec 11th 1843 one of the first in chronological order of election of the original 300 Fellows.

5 September 1879
Anatomist and General surgeon


Born in Salisbury, an elder brother of George Roberts Tatum (qv), and there passed his boyhood and received his early education, after which he became a student at St George's Hospital. As there was at that time no medical school in connection with the Hospital, young Tatum, like his teacher and friend, Sir Benjamin Brodie, had perforce to spend his time between Hyde Park Corner and the Hunterian School of Anatomy in Great Windmill Street. He completed his medical education in Paris, but before qualifying in 1828 was appointed House Surgeon at St George's Hospital. He devoted a large part of his time to anatomy and became a masterly dissector. In 1830 he was appointed Teacher of Anatomy at the Hunterian School in conjunction with Herbert Mayo (qv). He held this post for only a year, as Mayo became first Professor of Anatomy at King's College, and Tatum was appointed first Lecturer on Anatomy at the Kinnerton Street School, from which sprang the St George's Hospital Medical School. He held this office for many years, resigning it only when appointed Lecturer on Surgery, a post held by him till 1867. In 1840 he was elected Assistant Surgeon to St George's Hospital, and in 1843 succeeded Robert Walker as Surgeon, becoming Consulting Surgeon on his retirement in 1867.

Tatum spent the close of his life at Salisbury, thus severing his long connection with his hospital and with the Royal College of Surgeons, where from 1857-1863 he had been an active Member of Council.

As an operator Tatum was brilliant. In amputation of the thigh he usually selected the old flap operation by transfixion; it used to be a favourite amusement with the students to time him and count the number of seconds occupied in the removal of the limb. An old nurse in the hospital, whose name recalled a pleasant memory to many an old St George's man - Mrs Dale - begged hard to be allowed to be present at the 'big' operation. She was never tired of recounting how at the moment Mr Tatum introduced his knife "she turned away her head for an instant, and when she turned it back again, the limb was off; and how he did it she could not imagine". Tatum was the first in this country to perform the operation of excision of the upper jaw for the removal of nasopharyngeal polypus - an operation which has been performed and practised by M Flaubert, of Rouen. The tumour and portion of bone removed are preserved in the museum of St George's Hospital. The patient made a good recovery, and was seen in perfect health seven years after the operation.

Tatum died at Eastbourne, at the house of his son-in-law, on Sept 5th, 1879, and was buried in Brompton Cemetery.

He married twice; the first Mrs Tatum was a daughter of William Brodie, MP for Salisbury, and niece of Sir Benjamin Brodie. His son by his second marriage was MRCS at the time of Tatum's death. His portrait is in the Fellows' Album.

"Injuries and Diseases of Muscles" in Holmes's System of Surgery.
He was an occasional contributor to the medical journals of cases of especial interest which occurred in his practice.

Sources used to compile this entry: [St George's Hosp Rep, 1879, x, 477].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England