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Biographical entry Waterhouse, Sir Herbert Furnivall (1854 - 1931)

KB 1917; MRCS 4 August 1887; FRCS 12 June 1890; MB CM Edinburgh 1887; MD 1889; LRCP London 1887.

13 February 1854
27 May 1931
General surgeon


The fourth child and eldest son of the Rev Charles James Waterhouse, who, after taking his arts degree from St John's College, Cambridge, BA 1851, entered the Church and became a chaplain in the Indian Army. Herbert Waterhouse was born in Singapore on 13 February 1854, and was educated at Brighton College, Sussex. He entered the University of Edinburgh as a medical student in 1882, and graduated with distinction MB CM in 1887. He then served as a resident surgeon at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and acted as president of the Royal Medical Society, subsequently becoming resident surgeon at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, where he came under the notice of Sir William Macewen. In 1887 he applied for and was awarded the William Dickson travelling fund of £40 to assist him in investigating the aetiology of septic peritonitis, and to enable him to attend surgical and ophthalmic clinics in a German university. He chose Göttingen, where he worked in the laboratory of Professor Johannes Orth and took as subject for his Edinburgh MD thesis "An experimental inquiry into the influence of certain factors in the causation of peritonitis". The thesis gained the gold medal, and was translated into German by Professor Orth. It appeared in Virchows Archiv, 1890, 119, 342, under the title "Experimentelle Untersuchungen über Peritonitis", and was a good piece of experimental surgery at the very beginning of bacteriology. In 1889 he was awarded the Goodsir memorial prize for an essay containing the results of original investigations in anatomy, human and comparative, and for two years 1889-91 he acted as one of the University demonstrators of anatomy, Sir William Turner being then professor. Robert Howden, David Hepburn, and James Musgrove were his fellow demonstrators, of whom Howden was elected professor of anatomy in the University of Durham.

Waterhouse came to London in 1890 on his appointment as demonstrator of anatomy in the medical school attached to Charing Cross Hospital, and in this school he lectured on anatomy 1897-1901, was dean 1901-05, and lecturer on clinical surgery from 1905. In 1891 he was elected assistant surgeon, becoming surgeon in 1903 on the resignation of John Astley Bloxham, and consulting surgeon in 1929. At the Victoria Hospital for Children in Tite Street, Chelsea he was appointed surgeon to out-patients in 1893, surgeon in 1905, and consulting surgeon in 1924. At the Royal College of Surgeons he was an examiner in elementary anatomy in 1894, a member of the Court of Examiners 1909-19, and a member of the Council 1915-23. Waterhouse also did much good work at the Medical Defence Union, of which he was elected a member in 1894, a vice-president in February 1923, and president in October 1925.

Early in the war he became associated with a remarkable enterprise. Queen Alexandra, hearing that the Russian Army was deficient in hospital equipment, appointed a committee to collect funds for a hospital to be sent to Russia to help the army on the Eastern front. This Anglo-Russian hospital was put under the charge of Lady Muriel Paget as organizing secretary, with Dr Andrew Fleming as officer in command and Waterhouse as principal surgeon. The unit proceeded to Petrograd in December 1915, where with the help of Russian doctors and nurses the hospital was opened with accommodation for about 100 patients. In the following summer a field ambulance was commissioned and sent to the front, attached to the Imperial Guards under the command of General Brusiloff, and in the summer of 1916 was present during the attack on the Austrian army, when nearly four hundred thousand prisoners were taken. It was largely due to the administrative and organizing powers of Fleming and Waterhouse that the hospital became popular and was enabled to fulfil its mission. For his services he received the honour of Knighthood on his return to England in 1917.

Waterhouse was president of the clinical section of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1926-27, secretary of the section of diseases of children at the meeting of the British Medical Association in 1895, and president of the same section in 1922. He married in 1892 Edith Florence, who died in 1929, daughter of J G Harker of Middleton St George, Durham, and was survived by two daughters. Walking past the corner of Wigmore Street and Cavendish Square in the spring of 1930, he was driven against the area railings by two motor cars which had come into collision, and was rendered unconscious for several days. He seemed to recover in due course but several months afterwards developed symptoms of inflammation in one of the lumbar vertebrae. He died quite suddenly, whilst talking in his own drawing room at 7 Wimpole Street, on 27 May 1931. Subsequent examination showed that death was due to heart failure associated with a clot in the pulmonary artery.

Waterhouse was rapid and dextrous as a surgeon, impatient of delay, quick to distinguish the useful from the valueless, somewhat too enthusiastic, and with little capacity for sustained interest or tedious back-work. He excelled as a teacher and his lectures were always full of anecdotes. He was largely responsible for introducing the use of tincture of iodine made with rectified spirit to sterilize the skin before operation, a method which replaced the more elaborate preparation by washing with soap and water with the subsequent application of a solution of biniodide of perchloride of mercury, which was then in general use. The original paper on the subject appeared conjointly with W Stephen Fenwick, surgical registrar to the Charing Cross Hospital, in The Lancet, 1910, 1, 1063, and afterwards in an address "On certain subjects of surgical interest" delivered before the Sevenoaks division of the BMA, British Medical Journal, 1910, 2, 61. As a man Waterhouse was a good type of the English surgeon of his generation; tall, good-looking, courteous in manner, easy to address, and a fluent speaker; being possessed of ample means he wrote but little. W G Spencer wrote of him: "He constantly referred to experience at Gottingen: (1) that the killing form of peritonitis is caused by streptococci; (2) that tetanus germs are in horse-dung from old horses chronically affected, and so in dung-heaps and road-earth. From Russia he brought back the use of crystals of permanganate of potash for phagedena wounds. I used it many times; it fizzes up and makes the wound hot, but does not pain, and quickly cleans."

In addition to those mentioned, he contributed to Treves's System of Surgery, 1896, 2, 450, the article on "Affections of the mouth, palate, tongue, tonsils, and pharynx", and to Quain's Dictionary of Medicine, 3rd edition, 1902, the articles on "Diseases of the nose, pharynx, and oesophagus" and on "Carbuncles and boils".

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 25 and 27 May 1931; Lancet, 1931, 1, 1262, with portrait; Brit med J 1931, 1, 1005, with portrait; neither portrait is a good likeness; William Hunter's Historical account of Charing Cross Hospital and Medical School, London, 1914; information given by Miss Waterhouse; personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England