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Biographical entry Shirley, Herbert John (1868 - 1943)

CMG 1902; MRCS 30 July 1894; FRCS 8 June 1899; MB London 1895; BS 1896; MD 1898; LRCP 1894; VD; TD; DL County of London.

22 July 1868
Madras, India
14 May 1943


Herbert Johann Scharlieb, he changed his name by deed poll in 1914, was born at Madras on 22 July 1868, the younger son and second of the three children of William Mason Scharlieb (died 1891), barrister of the Middle Temple, and Mary Ann Dacomb Bird, his wife, afterwards Dame Mary Scharlieb (1845-1930) DBE, MD, MS London, gynaecologist to the Royal Free Hospital, for whom see the Dictionary of National Biography. He was educated at Lancing College and at University College, London. He qualified from University College Hospital in 1894, and took honours at the London BS examination in 1896. He served as house surgeon, house physician, and gynaecological assistant at University College Hospital, and as clinical assistant at the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital. He then volunteered for the South African War, serving as physician and adjutant to Langman's Hospital with the South African Field Force. He was mentioned in despatches, and created CMG on his return to England.

His interest now turning to anaesthesia he carried out some valuable research on the physiological action of chloroform in collaboration with Edward Sharpey-Schafer (1850-1935) FRS. They concluded that vagal stimulation by too high a concentration of chloroform vapour caused inhibition of the heart, and that atropine given before the administration afforded protection; these conclusions were generally accepted; but later investigators suggested that ventricular fibrillation is the more probable cause of such sudden catastrophes. He then set up in practice in London as an anaesthetist, and was appointed to the staff of University College Hospital, becoming consulting anaesthetist when he retired in 1932.

He took a keen interest in the Territorial Army, serving in the 1st Artists Rifles, of which he was for a time colour-sergeant and later commanding officer. In fact his heart was more in soldiering than in medicine. In 1914, having changed his name from Scharlieb to Shirley, he served as a combatant in the British Expeditionary Force in France, was lieutenant-colonel in command 2/5 Lancashire Fusiliers, and was mentioned in despatches. He was invalided in 1916 and transferred to the RAMC, receiving the rank of lieutenant-colonel, RAMC on 21 July 1917. He was in command of the Military Hospital of Manoel at Malta, and was consulting anaesthetist to Malta Hospitals; later he became senior medical officer to a transport division of the Royal Army Service Corps. He retained at the same time his combatant rank of brevet colonel commanding the Artists Rifles. He had been awarded the Volunteer and Territorial Decorations, and was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for the County of London.

After the war he resumed his practice as an anaesthetist, living at 19 York Terrace, Regent's Park, and later in a flat at 13 New Cavendish Street, W. His mother, who was still practising in her eighty-fifth year, died at his house in 1930. He was an active member of the British Medical Association, and served as secretary of the section of anaesthetics in 1910 and vice-president of the section of pharmacy and therapeutics with anaesthetics in 1936. Shirley married on 14 September 1899 Edith Mabel, daughter of Charles Tweedy of Redruth. He was survived by his only son, John, a commander in the Royal Navy. He died suddenly at 13 New Cavendish Street on 14 May 1943.

Action of chloroform on the heart and blood vessels, with E Sharpey-Schafer. J Physiol 1903, 28, xvii.
Chloroform. Practitioner's Encyclopaedia of Medicine and Surgery, edited by J K Murphy. London, 1912, p 556.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1943, 1, 711, and 2, 121, eulogy by Lt-Col H C Keates, MD, IMS; UCH Mag 1943, 28, 34, eulogy by C W Morris, OBE, MRCS; information given by his son, Commander John Shirley, RN].

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