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Biographical entry Stonham, Charles (1858 - 1916)

CMG 1901; MRCS Nov 17th 1881; FRCS June 12th 1884.

27 March 1858
1 February 1916
General surgeon


Born at Maidstone on March 27th, 1858, the third son of T G Stonham, pharmacist. He was educated at King's School, Canterbury, and then studied at University College and Hospital. He had a distinguished career as a student, being Atchison Scholar in 1881.

Stonham was a man of great natural ability, who profited to the full from the teaching given by the distinguished staff of University College Hospital. Marcus Beck was his great exemplar, upon whom he modelled himself both as an operator and as a surgical pathologist. Berkeley Hill gave him an inclination for his particular line of practice, and he wrote genito-urinary articles in Quain's Dictionary of Medicine (2nd edition, 1894). As Obstetric Assistant under Sir John Williams he obtained a good introduction to abdominal surgery. He held in addition the resident posts of House Surgeon and House Physician, and was later a Demon¬strator of Anatomy and Curator of the Pathological Museum, in which latter capacity he worked zealously at the compilation of the catalogue of the surgical, obstetrical, and gynaecological preparations (see Descriptive Catalogue of the specimens illustrating medical pathology in the Museum of University College, 1887-1890-1891). For a time he was on the surgical staff of the North-West London (afterwards the Hampstead General) Hospital, the Cancer Hospital, and the Poplar Hospital for Accidents, posts he resigned after his appointment as Assistant Surgeon to Westminster Hospital.

At the Westminster Hospital he at once made his mark as a teacher of surgical pathology. His wide knowledge and previous experience enabled him to restore the Museum, collect further specimens, and write a catalogue. Of this accurate and multifarious information he made good use in his Manual of Surgery (3 vols, 12mo, London and New York, 1899). In succession he was a Teacher of Operative Surgery, Lecturer on Systematic Surgery, and then on Clinical Surgery. He became Surgeon to the Hospital in 1897.

Stonham's commanding, spare figure, striking face, and the force be threw into speech and movement, impressed not only students but colleagues and patients, whilst he possessed the skill which accorded with his appearance. He was perfectly ambidextrous; his long thin hands were used most skilfully and with rapidity at the beginning and towards the end of an operation, whilst in between he proceeded with all due care learnt by long practice in dissecting. Of his skill as a surgeon one instance will suffice: he succeeded for the first time in ligaturing the first part of the left subclavian artery for an aneurysm of the second part which was rapidly increasing. At the first operation Stonham ligatured the arterial branches distal to the sac; at the second operation he divided the clavicle and ligatured the first part of the artery. In 1921, five years after Stonham's death, the patient spontaneously returned to Westminster Hospital for another trouble. The aneurysm had remained cured, and the patient was exhibited at the Clinical Section of the Royal Society of Medicine (see Proc Roy Soc Med, 1920-1, xiv (Clin Sect), 58 by W G Spencer.

He was Examiner in Elementary Anatomy to the Conjoint Board, Examiner in Surgery to the Society of Apothecaries and to the Royal University of Ireland.

A brusque manner was accompanied by a natural kindness under the surface. His personal acts of kindness to students and nurses at the Hospital were long remembered. He was not a reader of medical literature, but he was an ornithologist with a wide knowledge of bird lore. He filled his house with a beautiful and rare collection of birds and their eggs, and he published in 4to, Birds of the British Islands, 1906-11, notable for the guidance which he gave to L M Midland in making the black-and-white drawings, as well as for the value of the text. In early life he was an enthusiastic climber as a member of the Alpine Club, and he made some noteworthy ascents. This, and some of his ventures after birds' eggs, may have overstrained him, for he had some attacks of pulmonary inflammation which were ominous of a persistent emphysema.

Stonham had a distinguished career in military service as a volunteer. He joined the Yeomanry and took part in organizing its ambulance service. Upon the outbreak of the South African War he was appointed Surgeon-in-Chief of the Yeomanry Field Hospital, which he took out to South Africa. As the hospital advanced up country, the Field Ambulance arrived soon after the capture of the Derby Militia by De Wet. It devolved upon Stonham, as Major RAMC, Officer in Command and the senior officer present, to arrange matters temporarily with the Boer General, and to transmit the first knowledge of the capture to the British authorities. For his South African services he received the Medal with four Clasps, was mentioned in dispatches and decorated a CMG. He edited the Record of the Yeomanry Field Hospital.

After his return he devoted an immense amount of time to the training of recruits and the providing of equipment and horses for a Mounted Ambulance. Despite lack of funds, the London Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance, with Lieut-Colonel Stonham, RAMC (T), had been well practised in field manoeuvres, and on the outbreak of the War in August, 1914, was ready, and Stonham could have taken out the completely furnished Mounted Ambulance with the First Expeditionary Force. Unfortunately he had to undergo the severest trial to his patience: his trained men and horses were transferred to fill up deficiencies elsewhere. He had to spend a bad winter in East Anglia, replacing what had been taken from him, whilst watching for a threatened invasion. In 1915 his Ambulance, being then reorganized, was ordered to Egypt, where Stonham served further as Inspector of Hospitals and Consulting Surgeon. But the previous winter had caused additional pulmonary trouble; he was weakened by dengue and dysentery. Phthisis advanced rapidly; he was forced to go to Cannes on sick-leave. Becoming worse, he arrived home in January, wasted and breathless, and died at his house, 4 Harley Street, on Feb 1st, 1916. His funeral, with military honours, took place at Golder's Green, and his name is inscribed on the College Roll of Honour.

His Ornithological Collection was dispersed by sale. His estate amounted to over £24,000. He was survived by his widow and a daughter, Kathleen, who married Kenneth McLean Marshall, CBE, a Metropolitan Police Magistrate. His portrait hangs in the Board Room of Westminster Hospital. A clever cartoon in the students' magazine, The Broadway (Westminster Hosp Gaz), is entitled the "Mounted Don Quixote", in reference to his Mounted Ambulance and his attempts to get improvements adopted.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1916, i, 375. Personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England