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Biographical entry Symonds, Sir Charters James (1852 - 1932)

KBE 1919; CB 1916; MRCS 21 July 1875; FRCS 9 June 1881; MB BS London 1877; MD 1878; MS 1880; Hon LLD New Brunswick 1929.

24 July 1852
Dalhousie, New Brunswick, Canada
4 September 1932
General surgeon


Born at Dalhousie, New Brunswick on 24 July 1852 the son of Charles Symonds, a barrister, who died in California in 1860. He came of pioneer stock, for his ancestor William Symonds left London in 1653 in The Safety and settled in Woburn, Massachusetts. The move to New Brunswick was made by James Symonds, a notable man in his time and one of the first British settlers in St John's in 1764. Charters Symonds with his mother, then a widow, came to London in 1869. He entered Guy's Hospital, won the gold medal in surgery in 1875, filled the posts of house surgeon and house physician, and was demonstrator of anatomy in the Medical School. He took first-class honours in medicine at the University of London, obtained the gold medal in forensic medicine and obstetrics and the gold medal in surgery. With an inclination towards medicine, circumstances led him to surgery, and he was appointed surgical registrar at Guy's Hospital in 1879, assistant surgeon in 1882, surgeon in 1902, and consulting surgeon in 1912. He had charge of the throat department so long as he was assistant surgeon, and in 1882-88 he was surgeon to the Evelina Hospital for Children. At the Royal College of Surgeons he was a member of the Council 1907-23, vice-president 1916-17, Bradshaw lecturer 1916, and Hunterian orator 1921. He was also president of the Hunterian Society, of the Laryngological Society, and of the Medical Society of London.

The war found him a lieutenant-colonel à la suite, with a commission in the Territorial Force dating from 1908. He was called up therefore for active service in August 1914, and after serving for a time in Malta was sent to Salonika in 1916, as consulting surgeon with the rank of colonel. An attack of dysentery caused him to be invalided home, and he was subsequently employed as consulting surgeon at Netley and to the Southern Command. For his services he was decorated CB in 1916, and received the honour of a Knight Commander of the Most Eminent Order of the British Empire in the peace Gazette of 1919.

For more than forty years he took an active interest in the affairs of the Invalid Children's Aid Association. It was largely through his efforts that the site of the Heart Home at West Wickham was secured. He supervised the building personally, and especially planned the garden. It was through his enthusiasm that branches were opened at Bermondsey. In like manner he devoted much time and energy during his later years to the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, of which he was treasurer. He was also chairman of the Hampstead Children's Hospital.

He married in 1889 Fanny Marie (d 1930), daughter of Lieutenant-General David Shaw, of the Madras Army. He died at Rowney, Mount Park, Harrow-on-the-Hill, on 4 September 1932, and was buried in Christ Church, Roxeth, Harrow, survived by two sons, the elder of whom, C P Symonds, DM, FRCP, physician to Guy's Hospital, was created KBE. 1946, after serving as an air-vice-marshal in the war of 1939-45. He left £300 to the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund and £250 to the Invalid Children's Aid Association.

Charters Symonds has many claims to remembrance. He was a courteous gentleman of dignified bearing, who never allowed personal considerations to interfere with what he regarded as his duty. Whilst serving in Malta his tact in arranging for the successful co-operation of the temporary officers with the regular RAMC did much to add to the efficiency of the medical services in the Island. He was ideal as a teacher at Guy's Hospital, for he excelled in the science of surgery and taught the importance of a sound knowledge of pathology and of accurate observation. He was, too, so human and painstaking that his students regarded him with affectionate reverence. As a surgeon he played a great part in the development which followed the introduction of Listerian methods, although he had been brought up in the older school. At a time when new operations were constantly devised and new methods employed he was seldom at fault in assessing their safety and selecting the most useful. He was amongst the first in England to remove the appendix for acute inflammation, at Guy's Hospital on 24 August 1883 (Trans Clin Soc Lond 1884-85, 18, 285). He excelled more especially in clinical surgery, for he combined with a wide knowledge of general surgery and pathology a remarkable memory for all the cases he had seen and of the details which had been important in their management. He had, too, the gift of stating very clearly the reasons on which his decisions were based.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 16 September 1932, p 14d, 17 September, p 15b, and 20 September. p 12d; Lancet, 1932, 2, 611, with portrait; Brit med J 1932, 2, 709, with portrait; Guy's Hosp Rep 1933, 83, 259, with portrait, by G F Stebbing; personal knowledge].

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