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Biographical entry Morison, James Rutherford (1853 - 1939)

MRCS and FRCS 11 December 1890; LRCP Edinburgh 1874; FRCS Edinburgh 1879; MB Edinburgh 1875; Hon LLD 1919; Hon MA and DCL Durham 1919.

10 October 1853
Hutton-Henry, County Durham
9 January 1939
General surgeon


Born on 10 October 1853 at Hutton-Henry near Castle Eden, Co Durham, the eldest child of a family of six. His father, John Morison, LRCP Edinburgh 1840, MD Aberdeen 1860, was surgeon to the Wingate Grange, Trindon Grange, and Rodridge Collieries; his mother was Dorothy Dunn, daughter of Margaret Rutherford. James was educated privately at home until went to study medicine at Mason's College, Birmingham, and afterwards at Edinburgh University. At the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary he acted as dresser to Joseph, Lord Lister, was house surgeon to Patrick Heron Watson, and resident physician to the obstetric ward, becoming resident medical officer to the Cowgate Dispensary. He settled in general practice at Hartlepool in 1879, where he was appointed medical officer of health and after some opposition he was elected physician to the Hartlepool Hospital in 1881. He remained for fifteen years in Hartlepool, making the time and money to take out a postgraduate course under Billroth at Vienna in 1878-79.

Finding no scope for his surgical talent in Hartlepool he moved to Newcastle in 1888, abandoned general practice and was amongst the first to devote himself entirely to surgery. Holding no official position in the Medical School, he devoted himself at first to assisting students in the dissecting room, to teaching them surgical anatomy on the living subject, and to instruction in the names and uses of surgical instruments. Proving himself an excellent teacher and a capable surgeon with ideas of his own, he was elected assistant surgeon to the Royal Infirmary in 1888, William Christopher Arnison being then professor of surgery. He was promoted surgeon in 1897 and consulting surgeon in 1913. In the University of' Durham he was professor of surgery from 1910, when he succeeded Frederick Page, until 1921. From 1905 he held a commission in the RNVR as staff surgeon, and during the war he acted as surgeon to the Northumberland War Hospital at Gosforth. During this period he introduced 'Bipp' (Bismuth one part, Iodoform two parts, and Paraffin quant suff to make a paste). It was claimed that 'Bipp' was a prophylaxis against, and a cure for sepsis, that it enabled a septic wound to be sewn up without drainage, and that it enabled healing to take place under a single dressing. The preparation was largely used and with considerable success.

He married twice: (1) Louisa Mushet, and (2) Charlotte Maria Simonsen. Both died before him and he was survived by two sons and two daughters. His health began to fail shortly after the war and he underwent an operation for gall stones in 1923. He then retired from practice, settled at Hilton's Hill, St Boswell's-on-Tweed in 1924, and from 1929 occupied himself with a little farm of one hundred and twenty-six acres. There he was visited on his eightieth birthday, 10 October 1933, by a party of twelve of his old house surgeons. He died in a nursing home at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 9 January 1939, aged 85, and was buried at St Boswell's.

Morison has many claims to remembrance. He was first and foremost a pioneer of modern surgery in the North of England. As early as 1889 he was operating upon the colon and the stomach, suturing fractured patellae with catgut, and operating upon torn semilunar cartilages. He was a great teacher, who founded a school of surgery in Northumberland and Durham, and was a maker of surgeons. Having been himself a general practitioner in a colliery district he was able to understand miners from personal knowledge and to further the interests both of them and of their medical attendants. He is described as a handsome man, standing erect, with piercing eye and an outspoken intimation that he would stand no nonsense. He was generosity itself and was incapable of a mean action. His views on surgery were twenty years ahead of his time. His short visit to Vienna had brought him under the influence of Billroth, whose views on the value of a knowledge of pathology to surgery he was never tired of stressing. He was always intensely interested in all research relating to surgery and advocated it at a time when very few surgeons had left the beaten track.

A medallion portrait was presented by his former house surgeons on his retirement in 1915; it is in No 1 theatre of the Royal Victoria Infirmary (Brit med J 1915, 2, 455, with photograph of the portrait). A portrait in oils, painted by subscription in 1923, was presented to him in 1927. It represents him as an invalid. He gave it to the Durham School of Medicine and it now hangs in King's College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The cheque which accompanied the presentation of the portrait was at Morison's wish applied to found a "Morison travelling scholarship" of the triennial value of £180. In 1933 the house committee of the Royal Victoria Infirmary named a ward "The Rutherford Morison Ward".


An introduction to surgery. Bristol, 1910; 3rd edition, with C F M Saint, 1937. Abdominal injuries, with W G Richardson. Oxford war primers series, 1915.
Surgical contributions 1881-1916. 2 vols, London, 1918.
Bipp treatment of war wounds. London, 1918.
Abdominal and pelvic surgery. Oxford, 1925.
Editor of the Journal of the Northumberland and Durham Medical Society from 1897; secretary of the Society 1891-95, president 1900.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 11 January 1939, p 12c; Lancet, 1939, 1, 178, with portrait; Brit med J 1939, 1, 139, and p 194, with portrait, and p 479; Grey Turner and Arnison The Newcastle-upon-Tyne School of Medicine, 1934, with portrait at p 196, a good likeness; Newc med J 1939, 19, 1-5, with a portrait of Morison "curling" on the Dee; information from his son, C Rutherford Morison, MRCS, of Harrogate].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England Library