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Biographical entry Pollard, Bilton (1855 - 1931)

MRCS 19 November 1879; FRCS 9 June 1881; MB BS London1880; MD 1881.

11 November 1855
5 November 1931
General surgeon


Born at Rastrick near Halifax on 11 November 1855, the youngest son of Tempest Pollard, MRCS (d 1866) and Sarah Pollard, his wife. His elder brother, Arthur Tempest Pollard, was the first headmaster of the City of Oxford School 1881-87, and was headmaster of the City of London School 1890-1905. Bilton Pollard was educated on the foundation at Epsom College and entered University College, London with a scholarship in 1870. He graduated at the University of London with first-class honours in the intermediate MB examination in 1877, when he obtained the number of marks qualifying for the medal in materia medica and pharmaceutical chemistry, and with honours in forensic medicine and midwifery at the final MB examination in 1880. At University College Hospital he was successively house officer, assistant demonstrator of anatomy, and assistant to the professor of clinical surgery. In 1882 he became resident surgeon at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, returning to University College Hospital as surgical registrar in 1884. Two years later he was elected surgeon to the North Eastern Hospital for Children, which was renamed the Queen's Hospital in 1908, and held office until 1897 when he was appointed consulting surgeon. At University College Hospital he was elected assistant surgeon in 1887, surgeon in 1904, and consulting surgeon in 1915. During his period as assistant surgeon he had charge of the ear and throat department. He was professor of clinical surgery 1896-1914, when he was given the title of emeritus professor on his retirement. He was an expert colour photographer. Whilst in active work he had brass casts made of his hands the better to secure proper fitting gloves which were then coming into general use.

At the Royal College of Surgeons he examined in elementary anatomy in 1891, and was a member of the Court of Examiners 1905-15, and a member of the Council 1910-18. Owing to anxiety about his health he retired in 1914, first to Sidmouth and afterwards to Bournemouth. He acted during the war as the representative of the Royal College of Surgeons of England on the first pensions tribunal, a position which involved much travelling throughout England and Ireland. He never married. He died on 5 November 1931 and was buried in Bournemouth cemetery. He bequeathed £10,000 to University College Hospital for fellowships to be awarded to men students of the Hospital who had already served as house surgeons or house physicians, together with valuable bequests to Epsom College. His copy of Vesalius' Fabrica 1555 in a contemporary stamped binding was presented in 1932 to the RCS Library in his memory by his elder brother A T Pollard (see above), who died on 14 January 1934.

Wilfred Trotter paid a tribute to Bilton Pollard in the following terms: "Bilton Pollard was the last survivor of four men who, in the early years of this century, gave a special quality to the surgery school of University College Hospital. The others were Arthur Barker, Rickman Godlee and Victor Horsley. Barker was perhaps the most elegant surgical technician of his time. Godlee was an anatomist, an artist, a scholar, and a surgeon of great ability in the best academic tradition. Horsley was an acknowledged genius, in whose company even the most obtuse could not miss the thrill of contact with great powers. In this very distinguished group Pollard easily held his own as an influence and a force. He was no virtuoso of the operating theatre, he was no profound scholar, he had opened up no new province of surgery, but he was a complete practical surgeon, armed in every branch of the art, and the confident master of his equipment. If the light he shone with was relatively mild, it was also supremely constant and without those intermittences which seem to be unavoidable by great brilliance.

"To the superficial his practice might have seemed wanting in animation and vigour, for he came to a decision slowly, and he was one of the most deliberate operators of his generation. He has been known, at the end of an operation, when all his assistants were sinking with fatigue, to take down an elaborately completed line of suture because, after long and placid contemplation, it was found not to reach his standard of the exact and. safe. His methods, however, as a whole must have been in fundamental harmony with the needs of the living body, for his patients commonly behaved in a way not always shown by those of more dashing operators, in prosaically getting well. The degree and consistency of his practical success found their most solid testimonial in the fact that he early became the students' surgeon. It was to him that they went in their surgical necessities, and it was to him that they brought their mothers and their aunts, knowing that they would find him as sane and realistic in diagnosis as he would be competent and determined in treatment.

"Pollard's whole career was an exemplary demonstration of the familiar truth that for effectiveness in even so technical an art as surgery character can contribute as much as, if not more than, aptitude. He was a Yorkshireman, and to the attentive ear his native county lingered faintly and pleasantly in his speech. His figure was sturdy and comfortable, his. expression was mild and benevolent, but with a straight look that showed he could be resolute and formidably direct. When reproof was necessary he had the admirable art of giving it weight without anger, so that it did its work and left no by-product of bitterness and discouragement. His mind was shrewd and realistic rather than actively intellectual, and he had an implacable good sense that no ingenuity could delude. His strongest personal characteristic was his rock-like placidity. This was no mere inertia but an inward calm in which the perplexities of diagnosis were surprisingly often resolved and which made him as an operator extraordinarily independent of his audience and unruffled by complications. His serene temperament was undoubtedly the very substance of his being and in the last analysis the quality that put him among the very small band of the soundest, the most uniformly successful and, above all, the most trusted surgeons of his time."

Edited Heath's Minor surgery, 12th edition, 1901; 13th, 1906; 14th, 1909.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1931, 2, 1106 and Brit med J 1931, 2, 969, both with portraits; Univ Coll Hosp Mag 1914, 4, 130, with portrait, and 1932, 17, 2, with portrait, a good likeness].

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