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Biographical entry Berry, Sir James (1860 - 1946)

KB 1925; MRCS 21 July 1882; FRCS 12 March 1885; BS London 1885; FSA; Hon DCL Durham.

4 February 1860
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
17 March 1946
General surgeon


Born 4 February 1860 at Kingston, Ontario, eldest son of Edward Berry, solicitor and shipowner, and Ada, his wife, daughter of Elhanan Bicknell of Herne Hill. Edward Berry came from Leicester; he lived at Croydon when in England, and at Kingston, Ontario, when business took him to Canada. James Berry was educated at Whitgift School, Croydon and St Bartholomew's Hospital, where he quickly made his mark. He was handicapped by a short leg and a cleft palate, but his spirit was indomitable and he never allowed these physical drawbacks to impede his work. In fact, besides standing up to the arduous work of a busy London consultant, he enjoyed long bicycle expeditions in eastern Europe and practised elocution so thoroughly as to become an excellent teacher and a fluent speaker in several languages.

At the London BS examination 1885 he took first-class honours and won the university scholarship and gold medal. He served as house surgeon at St Bartholomew's to Sir Thomas Smith, and was demonstrator of anatomy. Then as surgical registrar he made a remarkable impression by his high technical standards, and won the affection and roused the enthusiasm of all who came under his influence. He seemed marked for promotion on the surgical staff. But in those days there was no regular retiring age, and when a vacancy did occur it was filled by contested election, for which the candidates had to canvass all the governors, mostly City merchants and aldermen, to secure their personal votes. When Berry's chance came in 1898, he found this canvassing most distasteful, aware that he would not be judged on his surgical merits and confident that they entitled him to election. His rival was D'Arcy Power, whose real interests lay in physiology and medical literature. Power, however, was five years senior, had already successfully filled many junior posts in the hospital and medical school, and was eldest son of one of the most popular and influential of the hospital's surgeons, Henry Power. It was generally felt that Berry would make his mark anywhere, but that Power needed the post to give him adequate standing for the development of his talents. Power was elected assistant surgeon by a narrow margin: seventy-one to sixty votes, and Berry's disappointment was bitter; but both he and Power were large-hearted enough to remain personal friends for more than forty years.

In 1891 Berry was elected surgeon to the Royal Free Hospital; he had, since 1885, been surgeon to the Alexandra Hospital for Diseases of the Hip, in Queen Square. His energy and ability, both as surgeon and teacher, quickly established him as one of the leading general surgeons in London, with a special interest in the surgery of cleft-palate, to which he was drawn by his own case, and of goitre. He married in 1891 Dr Frances May Dickinson (see p 75), anaesthetist to the Royal Free, and they were closely associated as surgeon and anaesthetist, both in hospital and private practice, throughout their professional careers. Their friendly altercations in the operating theatre were the cause of some kindly amusement.

Berry's cleft palate surgery was an advance on what had been done before and was remarkably successful. He summarized his work in a book (1912) in which his junior colleague, T P Legg, collaborated. In thyroid surgery he was a pioneer. For fifty years excision of the thyroid had from time to time been practised with success. J H Green is credited with performing the first thyroidectomy in England at St Thomas's Hospital in 1829, and in the seventies and eighties the problems of thyroid surgery were being widely explored, notably by Theodor Kocher at Bern and nearer home by Sir Patrick Heron Watson at Edinburgh, Sir William Stokes in Dublin and (Sir) Victor Horsley in London. Berry, however, established thyroid surgery on a sure foundation of successful experience, with no attempt to disguise his failures. He won the Jacksonian prize 1886 for his essay on "The pathology, diagnosis and surgical treatment of diseases of the thyroid gland", and was made a laureat of the Académie de médecine in Paris. He delivered three Hunterian lectures, on 1, 3, and 5 June 1891, on "Goitre, its pathology, diagnosis and surgical treatment". He published his book, Diseases of the thyroid gland, in 1901; it was for long the standard authority and made his work generally known. His prestige in thyroid surgery passed to his brilliant pupil Cecil Joll, who died a year before him; Joll's book of the same title replaced Berry's in 1932, and has since been re-edited (1951) by F F Rundle.

Berry and his wife often spent their holidays bicycling in south-eastern Europe. He had a fluent knowledge of French, German, Magyar and Serbian and acquired a particular affection for the south Slavs. When he got home he usually gathered his friends to hear an account of the holiday's adventures, illustrated by his own photographs, at his house, 21 Wimpole Street. He addressed wider audiences on his experiences in the Near East at the Medical Society of London, and at the Society of Antiquaries, of which he was a Fellow, in 1919, when he read a paper on the fortified churches of southern Transylvania. His antiquarian interests were chiefly concentrated on the Anglo-Saxon period and he made some excavations at his country home near Aylesbury. After his retirement he collaborated in a scholarly study (1938) of the life and work of his seventeenth-century namesake, an administrative officer of the Commonwealth.

When war broke out in 1914 Berry's knowledge of Serbia led him and Mrs Berry to volunteer for medical service there. They organized the Anglo-Serbian hospital unit, under the British Red Cross Society and largely from the Royal Free Hospital, and established it early in 1915 at the warm sulphur springs of Vrnjatchka Banja, previously a fashionable health resort. They gradually built up six hospitals with 360 beds, but had to provide not surgery for the wounded but primitive hygiene for a rout of refugees, and successfully mastered the typhus epidemic by a routine of the strictest personal de-lousing, often at temperatures far below zero. They were over-run in 1916 by the Austro-Hungarian army who, however, treated Berry's unit with courtesy, and an exchange of the prisoners was arranged. Berry subsequently led a Red Cross unit in Rumania, and was with the Serbian army again at Odessa in south Russia 1916-17. His services were rewarded with the Orders of the Star of Rumania, St Sava of Serbia, and St Anna of Russia. He published an account of his war experiences. He came back to England in 1917 and was honorary surgeon at the military hospitals at Napsbury and Bermondsey. He stepped at once into his old position as a leading consultant and took a prominent share in the work of professional societies. He was president of the Medical Society of London 1921-22, a member of Council of the College 1923-29, and president of the Royal Society of Medicine 1926-28. He had delivered the Lettsomian lectures at the Medical Society of London in 1913 and gave the Annual Oration there in 1932. He was knighted in 1925. He retired in 1927 and was elected consulting surgeon to the Royal Free Hospital.

Berry married twice: (1) in 1891, as stated above, he married Frances May Dickinson, MD London, daughter of S S Dickinson, MP for Stroud, and elder sister of W H Dickinson (1859-1943), first Lord Dickinson, PC. Mrs Berry was anaesthetist to the Royal Free, assistant medical officer (education) to the London County Council, president of the association of registered medical women, and honorary secretary of the section of anaesthetics at the Royal Society of Medicine. She accompanied her husband in all his professional work and in his expeditions to the Near East, both in peace and war. She collaborated with him in the account of the Serbian hospital and herself published Austria-Hungary and her Slav subjects, 1918. Lady Berry died on 15 April 1934, aged 76, at their country house, Bramblebury, Dunsmure, Wendover, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. She left £500 each to the Royal Free Hospital and its school of medicine for women and £1000 to the fund for medical scholarships for Serbian girls (The Times, 17 April 1934; Brit med J. 1934, 1, 780, with portrait); (2) on 4 May 1935 Berry married, as his second wife, Mabel Marian Ingram, MRCS, daughter of the late T Lewis Ingram of The Priory, Wimbledon Common. Berry now settled at Kirby Gate, Westmead, Roehampton, and Lady Berry continued to practise in the district. She had been a member of his Red Cross units in Serbia, Rumania, and south Russia. There were no children of either marriage. He died on 17 March 1946, aged 86, survived by his wife.

Berry was a man of great energy and ability, and of the utmost integrity. His sympathies were liberal and he was a keen champion of women's professional equality with men. Warm-hearted and beloved by his friends, he was outspoken and pugnacious for what he believed to be right. Of medium height, Berry had an impressive brow and must have been the last leading London surgeon to wear a beard. His portrait by Herbert Arnould Olivier was reproduced on a Christmas card which he sent to his friends in 1936, and he appears in the College Council group-portrait of 1927, which was engraved. Lady Berry presented his papers to the College, and generously endowed a prize in his memory.

Select bibliography:-
Goitre, its pathology, diagnosis and surgical treatment; Hunterian lectures, 1891.
[Speech of acceptance of presentation when resigning the post of surgical registrar.] St Bart's Hosp J. 1898, 5, 109.
The thyroid, in Sir Henry Butlin's Operative surgery of malignant diseases. 2nd ed. London, 1900.
Diseases of the thyroid gland and their surgical treatment. London, 1901.
A manual of surgical diagnosis. London, 1904.
Hare-lip and cleft palate, with T P Legg. London, 1912.
Surgery of the thyroid gland (Lettsomian lectures, Medical Society of London). Lancet, 1913, 1, 583, 668, 737.
Clinical notes on malignant tumours of long bones. Clin J. 1914, 43, 465, 487. The story of a Red Cross unit in Serbia, with F M Berry and W L Blease. London, 1916.
Fortified churches of southern Transylvania. Archaeologia, 1919.
Fallen idols (annual oration). Trans Med Soc Lond. 1932, 55, 261.
A Cromwellian Major-General, the career of Colonel James Berry 1610-1691, with Stephen G Lee. Oxford University Press, 1938. Colonel Berry was administrative major-general for all Wales and the four border counties of Salop, Hereford, Worcester, and Monmouth, 1655-57.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 18 March 1946, p 6e, with portrait and 28 March, p 7b, memorial service; Brit med J. 1946, 1, 506, with portrait, and pp 552 and 553, eulogies by G Grey Turner, FRCS, Lambert Rogers, FRCS, and Lina M Potter, LMSSA; Lancet, 1946, 1, 444, with portrait, and p 482, eulogy by Grey Turner; Med Pr and Circ. 1946, 215, 231; personal knowledge].

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