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Biographical entry Gauvain, Sir Henry John (1878 - 1945)

KB 1920; MRCS 26 July 1906; FRCS by election 7 April 1927; BA Cambridge 1902; MB BCh 1908; MD MCh 1918; LRCP 1906; Hon MD Melbourne 1935; JP Co Hants.

28 November 1878
19 January 1945
Alton, Hampshire
General surgeon


Born in the Channel Isle of Alderney on 28 November 1878, the eldest surviving son of Captain William Gauvain, HM Receiver-General for the Island, and his wife Catherine Le Ber. After a severe attack of scarlet fever while at a preparatory school in England, he was educated privately in Alderney and London till he won a scholarship at St John's College, Cambridge, where he took first class honours in the Natural Sciences Tripos, Part 1, 1902. He received his medical training at St Bartholomew's Hospital, where he was senior science scholar and served as house surgeon, midwifery assistant, and clinical assistant in the departments of children's diseases and orthopaedics.

In spite of his youth and recent qualification (1906), he was appointed in 1908 the first medical superintendent of Lord Mayor Treloar's Cripples Hospital and College at Alton, Hants. The man and the hospital mutually made each other. Gauvain's first interest was in the surgery of bone and joint tuberculosis. These branches of surgery were then in their heroic age, but Gauvain believed the conditions to be curable by fresh air and sunlight, and with rare prevision set out to make his hospital the best of its kind. While always remaining an active and able surgeon, he threw himself wholeheartedly into a campaign for the recognition of "natural" treatment for tuberculous child-patients, nor did he neglect the good effect on their health of regular education. Auguste Rollier had been before him in his famous open-air clinic at Leysin (1903) in Switzerland, but Gauvain believed and taught that the variety of weather available in England, with the accessibility of the sea, made this country peculiarly suitable for successful treatment. He was also influenced by the example of Berck-sur-Mer in France which for at least twenty years had devoted itself to the sea-air cure of tuberculous patients. At the sea-side and the country Gauvain devised "sun-traps" with draught-free aeration giving protection by wind-break hurdles and heat from braziers where necessary. He paid several visits to the Finsens Institute in Denmark and was elected an Honorary Member of the Copenhagen Medical Society.

Though always ready to improvise, Gauvain did not disdain to use the most modem methods, and after thirty years he lived to see Alton fully rebuilt and equipped with the finest electrotherapeutic devices as "the hospital of his dreams". He had begun with old South African War huts which he turned into five efficient surgical units, on a terrace which was the show-piece for foreign visitors. In 1920 he started a seaside branch at Hayling Island, and the experiments which Sir Leonard Hill, FRS carried out for him fully proved the value of the system of alternation of sea and sunlight which Gauvain had established. He also started a "trade-teaching" college for his young patients, and was thus a pioneer of "occupational therapy" and "rehabilitation" twenty years before those expressions became current.

Gauvain created the modern view of bone and joint tuberculosis. He also made himself an authority on hospital planning. He was an excellent speaker and administrator, and was in demand for consultation and as a lecturer. He was consulting surgeon to the King Edward VII Welsh National Memorial Association for treatment of tuberculosis, and consulting surgeon in tuberculosis to the London and Essex County Councils, and consulting surgeon to the Hampshire County Council and the King George's Sanatorium for Sailors at Bramshott, where he established an Open-air ward. He examined in tuberculosis-treatment for the University of Wales. At the Royal Society of Medicine Gauvain served as president of the sections of electrotherapeutics and of diseases of children. He was chairman of the Joint Tuberculosis Council (see the life of Ernest Ward), a vice-president of the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis and of the International Light-treatment Commission. From 1932 to 1937 he was a vice-president of the Institute of Hygiene and, till his death, of its successor the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene. In 1935 he went to Australia for the Melbourne meeting of the British Medical Association and was president of the sections of tuberculosis and public health, speaking on "Sea-bathing in the treatment of tuberculosis". The next year, 1936, he was in the United States and was honoured with the Gold Key of the American Congress of Physical Therapy. In 1938 he was making plans to establish a hydro-therapeutic centre for the treatment of anterior poliomyelitis at Hayling Island. Cheerful and optimistic, Gauvain was as friendly with his child patients and their parents as with the City Fathers, who were the patrons of his hospital and whom he persuaded to look on it as their week-end cottage. He also started at Alton a private hospital, the Morland Hall Clinics. In 1940 he took in at Alton a hundred Belgian refugee cripple children from a home at Ostend. Gauvain was elected FRCS, as a Member of twenty years' standing, in 1927; he had been knighted in 1920. He was also a Commander of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Gauvain married in 1913 Louise Laura (Lulie), daughter of William Butler, MRCS, IMS. He died at Morland Hall, Alton on 19 January 1945 aged 66. Lady Gauvain survived him only two months, and died on 15 March 1945. Their son had died before them; their daughter, Suzette, married Major Ronald Ormiston Murray, RAMC, sometime resident medical officer at the Treloar Hospital. A memorial service was held on 2 February 1945 at St Bartholomew-the-Great, Smithfield. It was attended by the Belgian Ambassador, and the Archbishop of York, Dr C F Garbett, delivered the funeral oration. Gauvain's recreations were travel, sailing, and fishing. He took a keen interest in the welfare of his native Isle of Alderney. One of his last acts was to write a letter to The Times on behalf of the other Channel Islanders who were still under German occupation, although the mainland of France had been liberated for several months; the whole population of Alderney had been successfully evacuated to England in 1940.

Gauvain's career ran parallel to that of W T G Pugh at Carshalton, and he was succeeded at Alton by one of Pugh's former staff, E S Evans, FRCS.


The sun cure. The Times, 11 May 1922.
The pioneer light-treatment department at Alton. Proc Roy Soc Med 1925, 19, electrotherapeutics, p 1; Lancet, 1925, 2, 10.
Evolution of hospital schools, with Evelyn Holmes. Lancet, 1929, 1, 789 and 838. Mechanical treatment of spinal caries. Lancet, 1911, 1, 568.
A sign of pathological activity in tubercular disease of the hip joint. Lancet, 1918, 2, 666.
All-weather balconies. Lancet, 1927, 1, 755; 1933, 1, 321.
Planning a hospital, Annual oration. Trans Med Soc Lond 1938, 61, 246. Gauvain was an advisory editor of the British Journal of Tuberculosis.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 20 January 1945, p 7e, 25 January, funeral, 3 February, memorial service, 13 February, p 6e, eulogy by Brigadier F G French, Judge of Alderney, 25 July, will; Lancet, 1945, 1, 162, with portrait and eulogy by E C Morland, FRCP and S, formerly editor of The Lancet; Brit med J 1945, 1, 167, with portrait; Public Health, 1945, 58, 60; Med Press, 1945, 213, 96; J Roy Inst Pub Hlth 1945, 8, 78 ; J Bone Jt Surg 1945, 27, 342, with portrait; Brit J phys Med 1945, 8, 55, with portrait, eulogy by W T T; information from Lady Gauvain].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England