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Biographical entry Groves, Ernest William Hey (1872 - 1944)

MRCS 9 May 1895; FRCS 14 December 1905; MB BSc London 1890; MD 1900; BS 1904; MS 1905; Hon DSc Bristol 1933; FRACS 1935; Hon LLD Belfast 1937.

20 June 1872
Coonoor, Nilgiri Hills, India
22 October 1944
General surgeon


Born at Coonoor in the Nilgiri hills, India on 20 June 1872 the third and only son of Edward Kennaway Groves, civil engineer, and Isabella, his wife, daughter of the Rev W Reeve of the London Missionary Society, and was brought home to Bristol at the age of three. He was educated at Redland Hill House, Bristol, and at London University, where he graduated BSc in 1890 intending to follow his father's profession of engineering. Changing to medicine he won a scholarship to St Bartholomew's Hospital. During his student years he lived with an uncle at Hampstead who allowed him no pocket money; as he also had none from home, he usually walked to his work and earned money by coaching junior students. For three years he was demonstrator of biology at University College under T W Shore, MD MRCS and also served as obstetric house physician to Sir Francis Champneys, FRCP at Bart's; he then went to Tubingen for a year's advanced study.

On his return he settled in general practice at Chewton Mendip, Somerset, but finding no scope for his talents he moved to the working class suburb of Kingswood, Bristol. Even this busy practice did not satisfy him and, determining to become a surgical consultant, he arranged to divide his time between Bristol and London, so as to maintain his provincial consultant practice and at the same time keep in the main current of progressive surgery. He had taken the London MD in 1900 and in 1905 proceeded to the highest surgical degrees, the London Mastership, with a gold medal, and the English Fellowship. He started his own nursing home at Bristol, ably helped by his wife who had been trained as a nurse at St Bartholomew's. Here he was able to carry through much bold, original, and successful surgery. In 1908 he published his Synopsis of Surgery, a successful students'textbook often revised and reissued. He had inherited a natural aptitude towards mechanical devices which led him, a general surgeon, to a particular interest in orthopaedic operations. At that time the "carpentry" of fractures held the field; steel plates were screwed to the bone, according to the method brilliantly invented a decade earlier by Sir William Arbuthnot Lane, who like Groves was a general surgeon. Groves first advocated the indirect fixation of broken bones by the passing of steel pins through the bone attaching them to supports outside the skin. Later he advanced to the grafting of dead animal bone into the human system, and was able to prove by his very successful results, summarized in his Hunterian Oration 1930, that the living bone tissue invaded the dead graft and united the whole, even in the case of long bones, into a single, sound, serviceable bone. In 1913 he was elected surgeon to the Bristol General Hospital, and in 1914 he was a Hunterian professor at the Royal College of Surgeons lecturing on "Operative treatment of fractures". Two years later (1916) he won the Jacksonian prize with his essay on "Methods and results of transplantation of bone in repair of defects caused by injury or disease", which was printed in the British Journal of Surgery.

Groves had already attracted the attention of Berkeley Moynihan whose lifelong friend he became, and was associated with him in founding the British Journal of Surgery and the Association of Surgeons. Groves edited the Journal from its beginning in 1913 for twenty-seven years, only retiring in 1940 when his health began to fail. Much of its success was due to his ability, hard work and wide outlook. In October 1933, in honour of the twentieth year of his editorship, Lord Moynihan on behalf of the Journal presented him with a silver salver, hand-wrought by Omar Ramsden. He was also for many years assistant editor of the Bristol Medico-Chirurgical Journal. After Moynihan's death Groves delivered the first Moynihan Memorial Lecture at the College in 1940, a worthy tribute to his great friend.

During the war of 1914-18 he was commissioned captain, RAMC (T) on 23 March 1917 and had charge of the surgical division of the 21st General Hospital, Bristol. He then served for a year in Egypt, where set up workshops for splint manufacture by local Arab labour at Alexandria. The "Hey Groves splint" was widely adopted. He was appointed next to take charge of a military orthopaedic centre first at Fishponds, Bristol, and then at the Bristol Municipal Hospital, Southmead, Westbury-on-Trym, and after the armistice at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital at Bath. He organized the West Country Orthopaedic Unit, when the system of special units was begun in the early twenties. He was also orthopaedic surgeon to Lord Mayor Treloar's Hospital for Cripples at Alton, Hants. In 1922 he was called to the chair of surgery at Bristol and instituted the practice of giving his clinical teaching rounds alternate weeks at the General Hospital and the Royal Infirmary, which had recently been co-ordinated as components of the "Bristol Royal Hospital" and were both under the professor's charge for teaching purposes. When he resigned the professorship he was given the title of emeritus professor. In 1933, at the centenary of the Bristol Medical School, he was given an honorary Doctorate of Science by the University, while serving as president of the Bristol Medico-Chirurgical Society 1932-33. In 1928-29 he had been president of the British Orthopaedic Association, and in 1929-30 of the Association of Surgeons.

At the Royal College of Surgeons he was elected to the Council in 1918 and served his full 24 years; he was on the Court of Examiners 1928-34, and a vice-president 1928-29. His Hunterian Oration (1930) and Moynihan Lecture (1940) have been mentioned; he was also Bradshaw lecturer in 1926, speaking on "The reconstructive surgery of the hip". In the British Medical Association he served as president of the orthopaedic section at the Bath meeting in 1925, and went to Australia in 1935 for the Melbourne meeting, where he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Groves married in 1896 Frederica Margaret Louise, daughter of the Rev E Anderson, vicar of Berwick Bassett, Swindon. She survived him, but there were no children. He died at his house, 25 Victoria Square, Clifton on 22 October 1944 aged 72, after having been in failing health for nearly two years. Mrs Groves died on 3 December 1947.

Groves was a man of unbounded energy and ability. He was naturally friendly and sociable, and his early experience of poverty no doubt prompted his generosity but also determined his hard-headed will to success. His manifest satisfaction with his own notable achievement was taken for self-seeking by some who did not know his sterling worth and essential simplicity, and debarred him from public honours which he really deserved. His recreations were golf and swimming; while his aptitude for mechanics and his ability as a linguist enabled him greatly to enjoy motoring on the continent, combining holidays with attendance at medical conferences. He was a prolific writer, and in addition gave much time and labour to the judicious preparation of other men's work for the journals which he edited. His translation from the German of Lorenz Bohler's Modern methods of treating fractures, 1916 was evidence at once of his literary, linguistic, and surgical ability, and of his generous appreciation of other men's work. This trait, which counterpoised his self-assurance, was also shown in his Hunterian Oration, where besides expounding his own work he discussed John Hunter's pioneer bone-growth experiments and gave a summary of each of the seventy-five Orations previously delivered.


Besides those mentioned in the text his principal writings were:
Textbook for nurses: anatomy, physiology, surgery, and medicine, with J M Fortescue-Brickdale. London, 1916.
Synopsis of surgery Bristol, 1908; 11th edition, 1940.
Gunshot injuries of bones, Oxford war primer, 1915.
Surgical operations for nurses and students London, 1919.
Our hospital system. Lancet, 1928,1, 251, in which he advocated national support without national control.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 24 October 1944, p 6f; Brit med J 1944, 2, 645, eulogy by J A Nixon, CMG, FRCP, and p 739, eulogy by G Grey Turner, FRCS; Lancet, 1944, 2, 613, with portrait, a good likeness; Med Press 1944, 212,289; Brit J Surg 1941, 29, 165-167, with photographs taken in 1916 and 1941, and 1945, 32, 432 coloured reproduction of portrait by Moussa Ayoub; Bristol med-chir J 1945, 62, 31-34, with portrait; J Bone Jt Surg 1945, 27, 340-342 with portrait; information given by Mrs Groves; personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England