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Biographical entry Symonds, Frederick (1813 - 1881)

MRCS April 28th 1837; FRCS Aug. 12th 1852; Hon MA Oxon 1870.

11 September 1881
General surgeon


The son of John Symonds, a surgeon-apothecary of Oxford. He came of a medical stock, and was the sixth generation of a line of doctors. He was educated at Christ's Hospital - the Bluecoat School - in London, and was apprenticed to his father at Oxford. Whilst still an apprentice he was Assistant Apothecary at the Radcliffe Infirmary, the Assistant Apothecary being defined as the "person who waits upon the Surgeons and Apothecary". He resigned the office in 1827, and entered the North London (now University College) Hospital.

Symonds had an abiding love of the sea, and made a voyage to the East as a ship's surgeon. In 1833 he returned to Oxford and began to practise with his father, and attended the science lectures of Dr Charles G B Daubeny in 1835. He was admitted 'chirurgus privilegiatus' in the University on March 22nd, 1843, and was elected Surgeon to the Radcliffe Infirmary on April 14th, 1853, on the death of William Cleoburey (qv), his competitor being R Eaton Rusher, who had been a 'surgeon's pupil' at the Infirmary in 1845 under Charles Wingfield (qv). He held office until 1878, when he retired and was elected Hon Surgeon.

Many of the sufferers in the Shipton railway accident in 1877 were treated at the Radcliffe Infirmary, and the directors of the Great Western Railway Company afterwards presented Symonds with a handsome piece of plate in recognition of his services.

He was elected University Coroner in 1869, and having become a member of Magdalen College he was made an Hon MA of the University in 1870. For twenty years (1857-1877) he was Surgeon to the 1st Oxford Volunteer Rifle Corps. He was also Surgeon to the Oxford Dispensary.

Symonds married Anne, daughter of Fleet-Surgeon Alexander Dewar, by whom he had one son and three daughters. The son, Horatio Percy Symonds, succeeded his father and had the chief surgical practice in and around Oxford. Frederick Symonds died from cancer of the prostate on Sept 11th, 1881, at 35 Beaumont Street, where he had long lived.

Symonds had a great love of his profession and a bold honesty which made him popular with his patients, and for many years he was the leading surgeon in the city and its neighbourhood. He eagerly laid hold of the newer methods of surgery and was prepared to take greater risks than his fellows. Hence he figures in the local rhyme
"Dr Hussey - slow and sure;
Dr Symonds - kill or cure;
Dr Hester - good old man,
Is sure to cure you if he can."

Symonds made time to ride to hounds, seeing his patients early and late in order to get to the meet. He was the subject of one of the caricatures by Leech in Punch, where a doctor is shown changing into hunting kit in his carriage with the legend : "Fox-hunting doctor: 'Not in time? Oh, nonsense! Send my horse on, see my patients early, dress in the brougham and there I am.'" On one occasion in the hunting-field he attended King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, who had had an accident, and brought him back to Oxford in his carriage. His hero was Nelson and he was an enthusiastic collector of Nelson relics.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Gibson's Radcliffe Infirmary, 1926, 179].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England