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Biographical entry Jones, Sir Robert (1858 - 1933)

Baronet 1926; KB 1917; KBE 1919; CB 1917; MRCS 26 July 1878; FRCS by election 11 April 1918; FRCS Edinburgh 1889; Hon FRCSI 1912; ChM Liverpool 1909; Hon DSc Wales 1917, Harvard 1921, and Smith's Coll USA 1921; DL Co Lancaster.

28 June 1858
14 January 1933
General surgeon and Orthopaedic surgeon


Robert Jones was born at Rhyl on 28 June 1858, the son of Robert Jones and Mary Hughes, his wife. He was educated at a small private school, at Sydenham College, and at the Liverpool School of Medicine. Even before he qualified he acted as assistant to his maternal uncle, Owen Thomas, the inventor of the Thomas splint. This uncle was the descendant of a line of Welshmen who combined farming with bone-setting, H O Thomas being the first to regularize the position by taking the MRCS in 1857; he was a man of a most humane and generous disposition, who had a large general practice in the poorest parts of Liverpool and utilized, without parading, his hereditary of knowledge orthopaedic surgery. From him Jones learnt much, more especially at the free Sunday clinic which was a feature of the practice in Nelson Street. This clinic Jones continued after the death of his uncle, and at it many surgeons learned the principles of bone and joint surgery, for it was open to all practitioners. He served for a time as surgeon to the Stanley Hospital, until having obtained the FRCSEd in 1889 he was appointed surgeon to the Royal Southern Hospital, Liverpool. Here he performed the duties of the office without specializing upon the orthopaedic side until 1905, when he abandoned general surgery. Liverpool was at that time practically the only point of debarkation from the United States and it thus became the practice for American surgeons visiting England to inspect the hospitals in the city. Jones welcomed them courteously and with characteristic bonhomie. They watched his operations, partook of his hospitality and his name soon became much better known abroad than at home. Sir Harry Platt, in his Robert Jones lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons on 4 November 1942 (Brit J Surg 1943, 30, 291, with portraits), describes Robert Jones's important work in the early eighteen-nineties, when he organized and administered the casualty service for the ten thousand workmen engaged in excavating Manchester Ship Canal. He was a pioneer in the treatment of diseases of bones and joints by open air and sunlight, first at the Shropshire Orthopaedic Hospital at Baschurch, which was founded by Dame Agnes Hunt, and later at the Liverpool Children's Hospital at Heswell in Cheshire. His reputation increased slowly but steadily, until in 1913 he was nominated president of the section of orthopaedics at the International Medical Congress held in London, having occupied a similar position at the British Medical Association's meeting in the previous year.

In 1908 he accepted a commission as captain à la suite, RAMC, in the newly formed Territorial Force, and was called up at the beginning of the war in 1914. He served for a short time as a medical officer in France, but it soon became apparent to him that the treatment of gunshot wounds and other skeletal injuries left much to be desired both at the front and in many war hospitals at home. In 1916 he published a useful little book upon Injuries to Joints, indicating the correct methods which should be employed, and after some hesitation the War Office appointed him director of a military orthopaedic hospital at Liverpool with the rank of lieutenant-colonel and charge of 500 beds. From this time onward his value was appreciated and his advance was rapid. He was appointed Director-General of Military Orthopaedics with the rank of major-general, AMS, and a member of the War Office Advisory Board, becoming finally consultant orthopaedic surgeon to the Ministry of Pensions. In reward for his services he was decorated CB (mil) on 1 January 1917, a Knight Bachelor 13 June 1917, a Knight Commander (mil) of the most excellent Order of the British Empire on 3 June 1919, and a Baronet on 28 January 1926.

Jones married on 21 March 1887 Susie (d 1918), daughter of William Evans of Liverpool, by whom he had two children: Arthur Probyn Jones, LLB, of King's College, Cambridge, barrister, who died in 1951, and Hilda, who married Frederick Watson. In 1918 John Rankin founded the Lady Jones lectureship in orthopaedic surgery at the University of Liverpool, the lectureship was formally established in 1924 and a research scholarship added.

Jones died after a short illness on 14 January 1933. His remains were cremated and the ashes interred in Liverpool Cathedral, where they were the first burial.

Robert Jones did for orthopaedic surgery what had already been done for opthalmology and laryngology: he developed it as a specialty, where before it had been for the most part an appanage of general surgery. An easy writer, a fluent speaker, and a genial companion, he was full of life and was a great driving force. Slightly above middle height, he had a fine open countenance and a bluff manner of address, which quickly put people at their ease and made them friends. Himself open and straightforward in all his dealings, he thought no evil of anyone and was always ready to see the good side of each man's character. In his early days he was a good boxer and had a grip of iron, which stood him in good stead for osteoclasia and the bending of the metal splints, which he used extensively in his practice.

On the occasion of his seventieth birthday The Robert Jones Birthday Volume, a collection of surgical essays, Oxford, 1928, edited by H A T Fairbank, W R Bristow, and H Platt, with a preface by Sir Berkeley Moynihan, was published in his honour. A Robert Jones National Memorial Fund was formed by appeal launched at a Mansion House meeting on 18 July 1934. In April 1935 the College Council accepted the proposals of the memorial fund committee to found a Robert Jones professorship at the Royal College of Surgeons for an annual lecture or lectures on some subject connected with orthopaedic surgery, for which £1000 was allocated and to found a travelling research fellowship, for which £2,000 was allocated, to be awarded alternately by the University of Liverpool with the Liverpool Medical Institution and by the Royal College of Surgeons (Lancet, 1935, 1, 1075). The Liverpool Medical Institution as a special memorial formed a Hugh Owen Thomas and Robert Jones library of orthopaedic surgery (Brit med J 1935, 1, 377).

On infantile paralysis (acute anterior poliomyelitis), its early treatment and the surgical means for the alleviation of deformities, the Fothergillian oration. Trans Med Soc Lond. 1914, 37, 315.
Injuries to Joints, Oxford war primers. London, 1915; 2nd edition, 1918. Orthopaedic Surgery, with R V Lovett of Boston, USA New York, 1923; 2nd edition, 1929.
Manipulative surgery, the Cavendish lecture, W Lond med J 1924, 29, 97.

A bronze plaque in the Anna Clinic at Leiden, unveiled 31 May 1931.
A three-quarter-length in oils (in military uniform) by E R Morrison, 1920, was presented to the RCS by his son Sir Arthur Probyn Jones, and daughter Mrs Frederick Watson on 8 June 1933.
A cast of his hand is in the Owen Thomas and Robert Jones room at the Liverpool Medical Institution.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 16 January 1933, p 14b and c; Lancet, 1933, 1, 166, with portrait; Brit med J 1933, 1, 123, with portrait, pp 170 and 977, and 1934, 1, 177; Brit J Surg 1933, 20, 545, with portrait; L'pool med-chir J 1933, 41, 11, with portrait; Welsh Outlook, February 1933; F Watson, The life of Sir Robert Jones, London; 1934; W Blair-Bell, in Med Press, 1935, 191, 4, with portrait; personal knowledge; the portraits reproduced are fairly good likenesses, but were all taken late in life].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England