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Biographical entry Digby, Kenelm Hutchinson (1884 - 1954)

OBE 1939; MRCS 7 February 1907; FRCS 9 June 1910; LRCP 1907; MB BS London 1907.

4 August 1884
23 February 1954
Anatomist and General surgeon


Born on 4 August 1884 at Ealing, he was the son of William Digby (1849-1904), senior partner of William Hutchinson, East India merchants, and of his second wife, Sarah Maria Hutchinson. They were both from Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. William Digby was a journalist in England and India and a liberal politician, and was awarded the CIE for famine relief work in 1877-79.

Kenelm Digby was educated at Quernmore School, Kent and studied medicine at Guy's Hospital, where he won the Michael Harris, Hilton and Beaney Prizes and was house surgeon and resident obstetric assistant. He qualified in 1907, and from 1909 to 1911 was surgical registrar and anaesthetist at Guy's Hospital. He was admitted FRCS in 1910, and in 1912 became principal medical officer to the Great Central Railway.

Digby in 1913 went to Hong Kong as professor of anatomy at the newly opened university. In 1915 he was also made Ho Tung professor of clinical surgery, and occupied these chairs until 1923 when he became professor of surgery.

Digby was honorary consultant in surgery to the Hong Kong Government from 1915 to 1948, and from 1930 to 1948 surgeon at the Queen Mary Hospital. In 1939 he was appointed OBE for medical services to Hong Kong.

In December 1941, after the capture of Hong Kong by the Japanese, Digby was offered his freedom from internment if he co-operated, but he steadfastly refused and chose to enter the Stanley Camp. He was there for four years and throughout this period he resisted the severe pressure to force his collaboration. As senior surgeon to the camp hospital Digby contributed much to the morale of the three thousand internees, many of whom contracted diseases; his own health and strength were impaired.

After the liberation of Hong Kong in 1945 Digby retired and was honoured with the title of emeritus professor. However in 1949, owing to his failing health, he returned to England and did research work, mainly on the subepithelial lymphatic glands in immune reactions, at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Digby's medical interests were wide; he published many papers on various subjects and in 1919 a book entitled Immunity in Health: the functions of the tonsils and the appendix. He was president of the Hong Kong and China Branch of the BMA in 1946, and from 1952 to January 1954 served on the Overseas Committee of the Council of the BMA as representative of the Far Eastern branches.

Digby had great integrity, honesty of purpose and enthusiasm. He was a zealous teacher and in spite of heavy commitments he managed to keep up with advances in medicine by visiting the leading surgical centres in England and the United States whilst on leave.

In 1913 he married Selina, daughter of John S Law, and they had two daughters. Digby died on 23 February 1954 at the age of 69.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 24 February 1954 p 10 e; Brit med J 1954, 1, 586, with appreciation by Professor L J Davis; Lancet 1954, 1, 525].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England