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Biographical entry Gill, Richard (1856 - 1933)

MRCS and FRCS 8 December 1881; BSc London 1878; MB 1879; BS 1880.

3 August 1856
13 January 1933


Born 3 August 1856 at 2 Soho Street, Liverpool, the ninth child and sixth son of George Gill, MD JP, of Abercromby Square, Liverpool, and Mary Ann Hinchclife, his wife. He was educated at the Royal Institution, Colquit Street, Liverpool, and entered St Bartholomew's Hospital in October 1874, after gaining the preliminary scientific exhibition. At the Hospital he took the junior scholarship in 1875 and the senior scholarship in 1879. At the University of London in 1877 he was placed in the first class honour list at the preliminary scientific examination in organic chemistry, zoology, and physics and obtained 1st class honours in logic and chemistry at the first BSc examination 1878. He was awarded the exhibition and gold medal in chemistry and was placed first in the honours list in anatomy at the first MB examination in 1878, and obtained first class honours in the following year at the final examination. In 1880 he took the degree of Bachelor of Surgery. He was admitted a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons England in 1881, having passed the necessary examinations before he had attained the legal age of 25 and without presenting himself for the diploma of MRCS as is usual.

He was elected house physician at the Great Northern Central Hospital 1880, and in October of the same year was nominated house surgeon to Sir William Savory at St Bartholomew's Hospital. This office he served for a year, being the last of those who had no assistant house surgeon and whose "take in" lasted a whole week. In 1881 he was appointed assistant chloroformist to St Bartholomew's Hospital, his chief being Joseph Mills, the first whole time anaesthetist to the Hospital, and retained the office until 1893, when he was appointed chief chloroformist, a title afterwards changed to administrator of anaesthetics to the Hospital and demonstrator of anaesthetics in the Medical School. He resigned both positions in 1916, when he was complimented on his retirement by being elected a governor of the Hospital, but he never became consulting anaesthetist.

He married on 3 June 1913 Elizabeth Ann, daughter of Deputy Surgeon-General John Ashton Bostock, of the Scots Guards, CB Hon Surgeon to Queen Victoria, and Chevalier of the Legion of Honour; Mrs Gill died in June 1939. He had died suddenly at Shaftesbury on 13 January 1933.

In early life Gill had a remarkable power of assimilating facts which he could rapidly reproduce on paper, and he thus made an admirable examinee; of this faculty he made little use in after life. He was wholly without ambition, and was content to lead the placid life of a philosopher when he might have enjoyed the stirring existence of a surgeon in the active practice of his profession. Averse to society and somewhat of a recluse, he married rather late in life, and was but little known even to the men of his own generation. The few who knew him became his staunch friends, for they recognized his strict integrity and his entire absence of self-assertion. From the technical side he was an extremely fine anaesthetist, having learnt the art from Joseph Mills, who had set the tradition at St Bartholomew's Hospital. It was an education in itself to see Gill administer chloroform in a long and difficult abdominal operation. Requiring only a drop bottle and chloroform and a small square of lint, he would produce perfect anaesthesia and relaxation with a minimum quantity of the drug. He was equally successful with administration of gas and ether with Clover's apparatus or by means of a small bag. As an anaesthetist he insisted that the patient should be carefully watched during the whole period of administration, and emphasized the necessity of considering him as an individual rather than as a machine to be kept in a state of insensibility. As a practical teacher he was excellent; as a lecturer he was difficult to follow and was unable to hold his audience, for his brain worked faster than his tongue. It happened from time to time when he was lecturing that he would pause and, after a longer or shorter interval, would continue some sentences ahead of where he had stopped, leaving his hearers to fill up the gap for themselves. He taught as an axiom that "automatic breathing is the true sign of anaesthesia". As an anaesthetist he may be said to have devoted his whole working life to St Bartholomew's Hospital. For many years he was in the Surgery from 11 to 1 and in the operating theatres from 1.30 until late in the afternoon. During the war he was attached as anaesthetist to the First London General Hospital with the rank of captain RAMC(T) but, being unable to adapt himself to military discipline, it was found necessary to invite his resignation.

In 1887 he published in Blackwood "An enquiry into the nature of the operation of free trade", which was afterwards reprinted as a pamphlet. In 1894 he wrote "Notes on chloroform anaesthesia", St Bartholomew's Hospital Reports, 30, 17; in 1895 "The mechanical factor in anaesthesia", Ibid 31, 155; in 1896 "On variation of the pupil during chloroform anaesthesia in the normal subject", Ibid 33, 56; and in 1898 "The stomachic phenomena during chloroform anaesthesia", Ibid 34, 107, 1906 he published in two volumes The CHCl3 problem, the first volume being entitled "Analysis" and the second "The physiological action of chloroform"; the work is highly metaphysical.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1933, 1, 167; Brit med J 1933, 1, 169; St Bart's Hosp J 1933, 40, 79, with portrait, a speaking likeness; additional facts given by Mrs Richard Gill; personal knowledge].

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