Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Swain, James (1862 - 1951)

CB 1917; CBE 1919; MRCS 14 November 1883; FRCS 12 December 1889; MB London 1885; BS 1886; MD 1887; MS 1890; JP Co Somerset 1929.

6 January 1951
General surgeon


Born in Hertfordshire in 1862 the son of George Swain, he was educated at Westminster Hospital Medical School, which he entered with a scholarship in 1879. He won the Chadwick and other prizes, and held the usual resident appointments. He went to Bristol as house surgeon at the Royal Infirmary, and remained connected with the city for the rest of his long life. At the Infirmary he was successively senior resident officer, assistant surgeon 1892, surgeon 1902, and consulting surgeon when he retired in 1922.

There was still considerable rivalry when Swain went to Bristol between the staffs of the Infirmary and the General Hospital. The surgeons to each were also in general practice and they looked with disapproval on the rise of specialization. They did not approve when a physician specializing in throats began to operate or when an obstetrician used operative procedures. Swain was in a strong position, as he not only held high surgical degrees but was a man of determination and integrity, who never allowed anyone to quarrel with him. He gave his countenance to the younger specialists, and set the example of being a pure consultant in his practice.

When Greig Smith left the chair of surgery in the old University College of Bristol in 1897, Swain was appointed to succeed him, but such was the rivalry of the two hospitals that C A Morton of the General Hospital was appointed jointly with him. When the University of Bristol was incorporated in 1909 Swain was appointed the first professor of surgery and held the chair till 1920, when he resigned and was succeeded by E W Hey Groves, whom he outlived by six years. He was granted the title of emeritus professor of surgery.

During the war of 1914-18 Swain was consultant surgeon to the Southern Command, with the rank of colonel, AMS. He travelled widely in southern England throughout these years, and was sent several times to France. He was mentioned in despatches, created CB in 1917 and CBE (military) in 1919. During 1917-19 he was one of the British delegates to the Inter-Allied Conference on the treatment of wounds in war, which met in Paris. Swain retired completely from surgical practice in 1922 on account of failing eye-sight; he had given up his professorship two years earlier, at the age of 58. He settled at Wyndham House, Easton in Gordano, Somerset, and was appointed a local Justice in 1929; he sat regularly as a magistrate at Long Ashton.

Swain did more than anyone else to establish the flourishing modern surgical school of Bristol on sure foundations. His example of silently ignoring causes of friction helped to abolish the unfortunate rivalries of earlier days. He was president of the Bristol Medico-Chirurgical Society in 1909-10, and jointly edited its Journal from 1897 to 1924. Swain married in 1899 Hilda May, sixth daughter of Dr A J Harrison of the General Hospital, Bristol. He died on 6 January 1951, aged 88, survived by his wife, son, and daughter. He was fond of foreign travel, and knew Switzerland well. In earlier years he had been a prominent member of the Clifton Operatic Society; his performance as the Major-General in their production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance was long remembered.

On a case of perityphlitis. Westminster Hosp Rep 1885, 1, 214.
Appendicitis. Bristol med chir J 1894, 12, 9.
J Greig Smith's Abdominal Surgery, 6th edition, 1897.
Abdominal injuries. Encyclopedia medico, edited by J W Ballantyne. 2nd edition, Edinburgh, 1915, 1, 50.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1951, 1, 304, with portrait, and appreciation by Professor J A Nixon, CMG, MD, FRCP; Lancet, 1951, 1, 176, by A R Short, FRCS, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England