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Biographical entry Moffat, Henry Alford (1871 - 1953)

DSO 1917; OBE 1946; MRCS 9 May 1895; FRCS 11 June 1896; LRCP 1895; BA Cape Town 1891; Hon LLD 1950; Hon DCL Witwatersrand 1952; JP Cape district.

Kuruman, South Africa
21 April 1953
General surgeon


Born at Kuruman, South Africa in 1871, son of the Rev J S Moffat and great-grandson of Robert Moffat the pioneer missionary and father-in-law of David Livingstone, who set up his mission at Kuruman in 1824, he was educated at St Andrew's College, Grahamstown and the University of Cape Town, and took his medical training at Guy's Hospital, where he was house surgeon and obstetric resident. He qualified in 1895 and after taking the Fellowship in 1896 returned to South Africa as resident medical officer at the New Somerset Hospital, Cape Town. While still at Guy's he had volunteered for medical service with the Greek Army in the war against Turkey, and was awarded the decoration of a Chevalier of the Order of the Saviour. During the South African war he served with Plumer's forces, but was invalided with enteric.

He practised for a short time in Rhodesia, and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Southern Rhodesian Medical Corps. He then set up as one of the first surgical consultants at Cape Town, and served for many years on the honorary staff of the New Somerset Hospital. He was one of the first clinical lecturers on the surgical staff of the Medical School of Cape Town University, which awarded him an honorary LLD in 1950. The University of the Witwatersrand at Johannesburg elected him an honorary DCL in 1952.

During the first world war Moffat served with the SAMC in the campaigns in South-West and in East Africa, with the rank of Colonel. He then transferred to the RAMC, served as a surgical specialist in France, and won the DSO in 1917. During the second world war he was in command of Wynberg Military Hospital, South Africa for five years, and won the profound respect of his staff and patients, maintaining strict discipline by example rather than precept. He was created OBE (military) for his services.

Moffat excelled as a diagnostician and gave infinite care and attention to every patient, particularly in the post-operative period. He was a deeply religious man of humanitarian views and did a great deal of charitable practice among the poor and needy, especially in the Coloured community. He retired from practice in 1933 and settled at Hermanus where he was active in civic affairs, until the outbreak of war in 1939 called him to practice again.

Moffat was of little stature, but great heart. He was well read and had travelled widely, and he held decided views on moral questions, but was withal humorous and tolerant. He was shy and self-effacing, but generous of time and trouble for his colleagues, particularly those younger than himself. He knew and loved the mountains, trees and plants of South Africa. Moffat died on 21 April 1953 aged 81.

Case of venereal papilloma. Surg Gynec Obstet 1910, 10, 638.
Hernia, with special reference to the Workmen's Compensation Act. Transvaal med J 1912-13, 8, 5.

Sources used to compile this entry: [S Afr med J 1953, 27, 439 by W Lennox Gordon with appreciations by his partner R Lane Forsyth and by T Lance Impey; information from Leslie Bisset his executor].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England Library