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Biographical entry Davies, Hugh Morriston (1879 - 1965)

MRCS 1903; FRCS 1908; MB BCh Cambridge 1904; MCh 1907; MD 1908; LRCP 1903; Hon ChM Liverpool 1943; Hon LLD Wales 1961.

10 August 1879
4 February 1965
Thoracic surgeon


Hugh Morriston Davies was born at Huntington on 10 August 1879, son of William Morriston Davies (MB Ed 1873), who was in general practice there. He was educated at Winchester, Trinity College, Cambridge, and University College Hospital, London, qualifying with the Conjoint Diploma in 1903. He won the Fellowes Gold Medal in Clinical Medicine and the Erichsen Prize in Surgery at UCH Medical School, proceeded to both MCh and MD at Cambridge, and took the Fellowship in 1908. He was appointed an assistant surgeon to his hospital in 1909 before his thirtieth birthday.

While serving as assistant to Sir Victor Horsley he published important research in 1907 on sensory changes in the face, following Horsley's Gasserian ganglion operation for trigeminal neuralgia. He also joined Wilfred Trotter, a few years his senior, in experiments on themselves, using each other as controls, when they cut various skin nerves to study the innervation of the skin and altered sensibility during nerve regeneration. Their results, published in the Review of neurology, 1907, and the Journal of physiology, 1909, superseded the conclusions from similar experiments published in Brain, 1905, by Henry Head, W H R Rivers, and James Sherren.

Davies was keenly alert to the newest advances, and studied the possibilities of radiology in the diagnosis of chest disease. He went to Berlin in 1910 to learn about the beginnings of thoracic surgery there and the new pressure chambers for anaesthesia in surgery of the lungs. During 1911 he introduced a positive pressure machine of his own design, and an artificial pneumothorax apparatus. In 1912 he performed the first thoracoplasty operation in Britain, and his patient lived on in good health for twenty-seven years. The same year he diagnosed a tumour of the lung by X-rays, and successfully removed it - the first such operation ever performed. In 1913 he tied the main pulmonary artery with success. Encouraged by Horsley and Trotter he introduced during the next four years many new intrathoracic surgical procedures with great success, while severely criticised by more conservative colleagues; at a professional meeting the chairman asked him not to speak, because a surgeon could have nothing to contribute to the discussion of tuberculosis.

In January 1916 he suffered an accident which halted this career of brilliant achievement and further promise, when he was only thirty-six. During an emergency operation he was handed a cutgut suture which accidentally contained a glass splinter. The glass pierced the skin of his right hand, suppuration supervened, and his most eminent colleagues, both physicians and surgeons, gave very pessimistic opinions. Wilfred Trotter incised the hand and forearm, which prevented the spread of infection, but his right hand was permanently damaged and useless. He resigned from his hospital, and started to write a monograph on thoracic surgery.

He heard in 1918 that the Vale of Clwyd Sanatorium was for sale. He bought it and settled there. In a comparatively short time he made it a centre for thoracic surgery attracting attention from all over the world. By 1921 he himself took up major surgery again, using his left hand. He was appointed the first thoracic surgeon to the Welsh Memorial Association for Tuberculosis, and consultant to many Welsh hospitals and to those in Cheshire and Lancashire. He was not only a brilliant and tireless worker himself, but a masterful organiser. At Wrightington Hospital he was at the centre of eight areas, under the Lancashire County Council, with a population of two million, dealing with the tuberculosis problems of his county, and held regular clinical conferences with his eight chief assistants.

During the second world war he was consultant thoracic surgeon to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force for the north west of England, organised arrangements for the treatment of both military and civilian chest casualties, and led and trained the North-West Chest Unit at Broadgreen Hospital, Liverpool, where he held a weekly conference with all his staff. Davies continued to work, operating, teaching, advising and writing, till he was eighty. He then retired to a remote cottage at Llanarmon near Mold in North Wales, where he cultivated a natural rock-garden. He was awarded the Weber-Parkes Prize by the Royal College of Physicians in 1954.

He married Dorothy Lilian, daughter of Dr W L Courtney, and they had two daughters. He died at his country home on 4 February 1965 aged 85; Mrs Davies died on 15 October 1966 aged 88.

Morriston Davies generously gave the College his autographed manuscript of Wilfred Trotter's famous book The Instincts of the herd in peace and war.

Thoracic surgery, 1919.
Recent advances in the surgery of the lung and pleura. Brit J Surg 1923, 11, 228. Pulmonary tuberculosis, 1933.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1965, 1, 593-4 by HR with portrait, and appreciations by KWM and GLC; Lancet 1965, 1, 387 with portrait, and appreciation by THS, RC, BJB and LJT; Ann Roy Coll Surg Eng 1965, 36, 246-9 by Sir Clement Price-Thomas with portrait; The Times 5 February 1965].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England