Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Harris, Henry Albert (1886 - 1968)

MRCS 1920; FRCS by election 1967; BSc Cardiff 1907; MA Cambridge 1934; DSc London 1929; MD 1933; MB BS 1921; LRCP 1920; MRCP London 1933; Hon DSc Wales 1938.

13 September 1886
Rhymey, Monmouthshire
10 September 1968


Henry Albert Harris was born on 13 September 1886 at Rhymey, Monmouthshire, where his father was manager of the Bessemer Steel Plant; when that works closed four years later the family moved to Merthyr Tydfil where his father died when Henry Albert was 8 years old. As he was the youngest of six children his mother had a hard time educating them, but he distinguished himself by winning a scholarship from the local school which took him to University College, Cardiff where he graduated BSc in 1907, and also obtained the Board of Education Certificate in the theory and practice of teaching.

After teaching for some years in the local schools he came to London to be a demonstrator in physics at the East London College, and it was not till he reached the mature age of 30 that he began the medical course, entering University College on a Bucknill Scholarship. Four years earlier, in 1912 he had married Margaret Llewellyn Webb, and therefore had to continue part-time teaching at the East London College in order to maintain his family. In spite of these difficulties he won the Junior and Senior Gold Medals in Anatomy and Physiology, and during his clinical years acted as a part-time demonstrator in anatomy under Sir George Dancer Thane, and later under Sir Grafton Elliot Smith. These duties, valuable as they were as a foundation for his life's work, did not interfere with clinical study, for he was awarded the Cluff Memorial Prize and the Senior Fellowes Gold Medal in Clinical Medicine while being promoted to the post of senior demonstrator in anatomy. He qualified with the Conjoint Diploma in 1920, and graduated MB, BS with honours a year later. No doubt it was such early struggles which produced the toughness of personality which characterized the rest of his life.

Although it became clear from the time of his graduation that his career was to be in anatomy, he continued for the next ten years a close attachment to clinical medicine and especially to paediatrics, working as a part-time assistant in the Medical Unit of University College Hospital, and clinical assistant to the Child Welfare Clinic. He thus became specially interested in bone growth, using radiography as a method of research, and in this field his work is commemorated by "Harris's lines" of condensation in the metaphyses of long bones associated with periods of illness in childhood. The results of these researches were ultimately published in his book on Bone growth in health and disease, 1933. He was engaged in research in the United States in 1925-26 as a Rockefeller Medical Foundation Fellow, and in 1927 became Assistant Professor of Anatomy at University College. In 1929 he was awarded the DSc of London University and the William Julius Mickle Fellow¬ship, and in the following year the Alvarenga Prize of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Symington Prize of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1931 he was a Hunterian Professor of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and was appointed Professor of Clinical Anatomy, a post especially created for him at University College and Medical School. He was elected Fellow of University College in 1932, and in 1933 took the MD, and also the MRCP. He was awarded the honorary degree of DSc by the University of Wales in 1938.

In view of this remarkable catalogue of achievements it is not surprising that he was elected to the Chair of Anatomy at Cambridge in 1934, and to a Professorial Fellowship at St John's College in 1935. He then had to undertake the task of modernizing the anatomy department and museum, which, with the necessary improvements in the teaching programme, occupied so much of his time that his research activities had to suffer. However, he had the satisfaction of creating a new department which after his retirement in 1951 remains as a permanent memorial to him as teacher and administrator.

Unlike the majority of medical teachers he had been specially trained to teach, and his methods were fully appreciated by the student body in London and Cambridge. As a token of this he was given a presentation by a large number of his former staff and students to celebrate his 80th birthday, and in 1967 the Royal College of Surgeons elected him to the Fellowship.

At the time of his retirement he was still full of bodily and mental vigour and therefore accepted the Chair of Anatomy at Cairo which he held until political complications drove him out and he moved to Khartoum, from which he finally retired at the age of 70 to return to Cambridge, where he died on 10 September 1968, three days before his 82nd birthday. He had a happy home life and enjoyed inculcating into his 5 children and 8 grandchildren the qualities of uprightness and toughness which he had admired in his own father and mother.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 12 September 1968; Brit med J 1968, 3, 748; Lancet 1968, 2, 739].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England