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Biographical entry Smith, Sir Thomas, Bart (1833 - 1909)

Baronet 1897; KCVO 1901; MRCS July 7th 1854; FRCS June 10th 1858.

23 March 1833
1 October 1909
General surgeon


Born at Blackheath on March 23rd, 1833, the sixth son of Benjamin Smith, a London goldsmith, by his wife Susannah, daughter of Apsley Pellatt, whose ancestor, Thomas Pellatt, was President of the Royal College of Physicians of London from 1735-1739. Two of Tom Smith's brothers became Canons of Canterbury, and a third, Stephen, was Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths' Company in 1885-1886.

Tom Smith was educated at Tonbridge School, which he entered as a day boy in Lent Term 1844 and left in 1850, being then in the Sixth Form and Cricket XI. He was apprenticed to Sir James Paget (qv) in 1851 and was the last of the 'hospital apprentices' at St Bartholomew's Hospital. In August, 1854, he became House Surgeon at the Children's Hospital, Great Ormond Street, and resigned on account of ill health on Dec 7th, when he received a special minute of commendation from the Committee of Management. He then took rooms in Bedford Row, lived by coaching pupils, and acted as assistant to Sir James Paget both at the hospital and in his private practice. From 1857 it was his practice for several years to visit Paris in the Easter vacation with a small class of pupils, where with the help of Brown-Sequard he taught them operative surgery. The outcome of this work was a Manual of Operative Surgery on the Dead Body, published in 1859, the second edition appearing in 1876. It is short, practical, and useful.

He was appointed jointly with George W Callender (qv) Demonstrator of Anatomy and Teacher of Operative Surgery at St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1859. He was elected Assistant Surgeon on Feb 24th, 1864, on the resignation of Frederic Carpenter Skey (qv), and was placed in charge of the Aural Department, lecturing on anatomy jointly with Callender from 1871. He was promoted full Surgeon in 1873 and resigned on March 10th, 1898, on attaining the age limit of 65. He was then elected Consulting Surgeon, a Governor of the Hospital, and a Member of the Visiting Committee. From 1858-1861 Smith was Assistant Surgeon at the Great Northern Hospital, then recently established in York Road, King's Cross. In September, 1861, he was elected Assistant Surgeon to the Children's Hospital, Great Ormond Street; in June, 1868, he was appointed Surgeon, and in November, 1883, resigned and was made Consulting Surgeon. He was also Surgeon to the Alexandra Hospital for Hip Disease in Queen Square, Bloomsbury. At the Royal College of Surgeons Smith served on the Council from 1880-1900, was Vice-President in 1887-1888 and again for the years 1890-1891, but declined to be put in nomination either as an Examiner or for the office of President. He was chosen a Trustee of the Hunterian Collection in 1900.

He was gazetted Surgeon Extraordinary to Queen Victoria in 1895 in succession to Sir William Savory (qv). He actively aided the Misses Keyser in founding their Home for Officers wounded in the South African War. For his services he was decorated KCVO in 1901, having already been created a baronet in 1897. Becoming an honorary Serjeant-Surgeon to Edward VII on his accession in 1901, he was in attendance when Sir Frederick Treves (qv) operated on the King on June 24th, 1902, the day which had been fixed for the coronation.

Smith lived at 7 Montague Street, Russell Square, until 1868, when he removed to 5 Stratford Place, Oxford Street, where he died on Oct 1st, 1909. He was buried in the Finchley Cemetery.

He married on Aug 27th, 1862, Ann Eliza, the second daughter of Frederick Parbury, an Australian by birth. She died on Feb 9th, 1879, shortly after the birth of her ninth child, and in 1880 he instituted in her memory the Samaritan Maternity Fund at St Bartholomew's Hospital. His eldest son, Rudolph, succeeded to the title; his eldest daughter, Laura, married Sir Archibald E Garrod, KCMG, FRS, who became Regius Professor of Physic at the University of Oxford.

As a surgeon Smith was a dexterous operator, combining speed with safety; he excelled in plastic operations, more especially in the repair of cleft palate and hare-lip. He contributed to the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions(1868, li, 79) a paper "On the Cure of Cleft Palate by Operation in Children, with a Description of an Instrument for Facilitating the Operation". Smith's 'tubular cleft-palate needle' and Smith's 'mouth-gag' governed the technique of cleft-palate operations for many years. He was clever in diagnosis, and, though he was in no sense a scientific surgeon, he was sufficiently open-minded to study the advances made by Lister and Lawson Tait, and sent his house surgeons to watch and report upon their methods. He was amongst the first to use the lithotrite, although his lithotomies were so rapid that he was known to have extracted a stone from the bladder of a child in thirteen seconds.

He wrote but little, though he drew attention to 'vaccino-syphilis' in 1871, and to the subperiosteal haemorrhages and separation of epiphyses which were the results of the faulty dietary of infants and led to 'scurvy rickets' or 'Barlow's disease'. He also took an active part in the Scientific Committee appointed to report upon the physiological and therapeutic effects of the hypodermic method of injection, the report of which appears in the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions (1867, 1, 561).

Thomas Smith shone equally as a man. He was devoted to duty, was essentially humble-minded, and was always ready to excuse himself from doing what he thought others would do better. He was whimsical, with a gift for witty repartee which had no sting. With a strong domestic affection, the early loss of his wife left a lasting impression, and he devoted himself assiduously to the education of his large family. He was fond of outdoor games - cricket in his youth, fishing with his friend Sir Alfred Cooper (qv) and golf later.

An excellent three-quarter length in oils by the Hon John Collier, RA, of which the family have a replica, hangs in the Great Hall at St Bartholomew's Hospital. It was painted by subscription on Smith's retirement from St Bartholomew's Hospital and was presented by his former house surgeons. The attitude is strikingly characteristic. He appears in Jamyn Brookes's portrait group of the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons, and there are several photographs of him in the College Council Club Album.

Sources used to compile this entry: [St Bart's Hosp Jour, 1909-10, xvii, 23, with a good portrait. St Bart's Hosp Rep, 1910, xlv, p. xxii, with a less pleasing portrait. Dict Nat Biog, Supplement ii, sub nomine et auct ibi cit. Lancet, 1909, ii, 1108, with portrait. Brit Med Jour, 1909, ii, 1101, with portrait. Personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England