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Biographical entry Smith, Henry (1823 - 1894)

MRCS April 24th 1846; FRCS Dec 7th 1849.

25 March 1894
Horsell, Surrey
General surgeon


Born at Parkhill, Croydon, the son of William Smith, a London solicitor, a native of the County of Hereford. He was educated at Croydon and then at Harrow, where he entered in January, 1834, and left in 1837. He acquired a good knowledge of Latin and Greek, which in after-life enabled him to make apt classical quotations in his lectures. Among his school-fellows were Sir Robert Peel, Sir Thomas Moncrieffe, and Sir Percy Shelley, son of the poet.

Smith, who was an ardent fisherman and loved birdnesting and natural history, has left on record, in a short autobiography, a number of amusing anecdotes connected with these early pursuits. He maintained through life his love for all objects of natural history such as birds, ferns, and flowers, and was ever an ardent and enthusiastic fly-fisher, spending the greater part of the short holidays from professional work which he allowed himself in the spring and summer in this amusement, in which he attained great proficiency. So infatuated was he with this sport that in after-years his lectures and clinical demonstrations were constantly interspersed with illustrations connected with the rod and line.

He had no special leanings towards the medical profession when in 1840 his father apprenticed him to a general practitioner in the West End. Here he went through the drudgery of work in an open surgery, and even delivered bottles at patients' houses. In the bottle-shed he smoked, though forbidden to do so by his master, and disguised the effects of his misdoing by washing his mouth with peppermint water. In his then modest walk in life he was brought into contact with such celebrities as William Lawrence, Marshall Hall, Dr Addison, Anthony White, and others, and has left on record a most picturesque account of many of them.

He became a matriculated student at King's College, London, in 1843, and qualified in the short space of two and a half years. In the summer of 1846 he was elected House Surgeon to William Fergusson and Richard Partridge, and afterwards held a resident appointment at the Bloomsbury Dispensary, intending to become a local general practitioner, to which end he took rooms in Bloomsbury. Here he lived from hand to mouth and was very poor. In 1847, however, Fergusson made him his private assistant, and from the year 1848 left him in charge of his private practice during his annual two months' visit to Scotland. Henry Smith thus came into touch with a distinguished clientele, and this association was the starting-point of his career. Appointed Surgeon to the Westminster General Dispensary in 1851, he became Assistant Surgeon to King's College Hospital in 1861. In 1877, on the death of Sir William Fergusson and the promotion of John Wood (qv) to the chair of Clinical Surgery conjointly with Sir Joseph Lister, Smith was elected Professor of Systematic Surgery at King's College. He occupied this position for ten years, when on retiring he was made Emeritus Professor and Consulting Surgeon in the College and Hospital respectively.

In 1866 he moved from Caroline Street, Bedford Square, to Wimpole Street, and his private practice grew rapidly. His class of pupils in the Out-patient Department of King's College Hospital was a large one. His lectures, delivered without notes, were full of anecdote, and contained much valuable and practical matter, so as to hold the attention of his class.

The greater part of his life was devoted to the treatment of diseases of the rectum, bladder, and urethra, but he was also a good general surgeon, operating in the rapid and brilliant style learnt under his master, Fergusson, in the pre-anesthetic epoch, when speed was imperative. He seconded Fergusson's efforts as a conservative surgeon, recommending excision of bones and joints in place of the amputations then in vogue. He introduced the treatment of haemorrhoids by the clamp and cautery method, his results both in hospital and in private being most satisfactory.

He became a member of the Medical Society of London in 1849, and delivered the Annual Oration in 1854. In 1867 he was elected President at a time when many members had seceded from the Society, and its improvement at that time is mainly attributable to him.

Under a bluff and breezy exterior he hid a very kind heart, and was a man of much activity and influence. As a Fellow of the College he was always greatly interested in Council elections, but himself failed to be elected. In spite of arduous public and private duties he still took short fishing excursions, his peculiar angler's costume being a familiar object on the Wandle, Avon, and the Lynns. Daily before breakfast he visited the Botanical Gardens, Regent's Park, observing nature in every detail when there, and in time becoming a member of the Council. He was devoted to the country life, and spent the greater part of his time after his retirement in 1888 at Swanley, Weybridge, and Horsell. On the occasion of his retirement at King's College he was presented with a handsome service of plate by his pupils past and present. He remained in consulting practice almost to the last.

His death occurred at his residence, Summerhill, Horsell, Surrey, on Easter Sunday, March 25th, 1894, and he was buried in Horsell Churchyard. He was married thrice, and of his three sons two became medical men. A photograph of Henry Smith is in the Fellows' and the Council Albums.

Smith's sense of humour endued him with a power of epigram which at times gave offence, as when he said that "haemorrhoids are a magnificent source of income".

The Improvements in Modern Surgery: Oration before the Medical Society, 8vo, London, 1854.
On Stricture of the Urethra, 8vo, London, 1857.
Hemorrhoids and Prolapsus of the Rectum: their Treatment by the Application of Nitric Acid 8vo, London, 1859; 2nd ed, 1860.
The Surgery of the Rectum, Lettsomian Lectures, 1865, 32mo, London, 1865; 5th ed, 8vo, 1882.
Woman: her Duties, Relations, and Position. A Medical and Social Work (5th thousand), 12mo, London, 1875.
Sir William Fergusson, Bart, a Biographical Sketch, 8vo, London, 1877.
"Diseases of the Rectum" in Holmes's Surgery, 1st and 2nd ed, iv, and 3rd ed, ii, 1883.
In 1845 he translated from the German, Theodor L W Bischoff's work, The Periodical Maturation and Extrusion of Ova, etc.
"Essay on Excision of the Head of the Femur."- Lancet, 1848, I, 361.
"Essay on Excision of the Knee-joint." - Med Times and Gaz, 1855, I, 519.
"Successful Case of Ligature of External Iliac and Superficial Femoral Arteries in
the Same Subject." - Ibid, 1852, I, 465.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1894, i, 908, with portrait. Brit Med Jour, 1894, i, 775].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England