Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Holland, Sir Eardley Lancelot (1880 - 1967)

Kt 1947; MRCS 1903; FRCS 1905; MB BS London 1905; MD 1907; LRCP 1903; MRCP 1908; FRCP 1920; FRCOG foundation 1929.

21 July 1967
Obstetrician and gynaecologist


Sir Eardley Lancelot Holland had been senior obstetrician and gynaecologist to the London Hospital for 20 years. In 1943 he was elected the fifth President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. His academic achievements were many and deservedly he was regarded as one of the most outstanding obstetricians of his time.

He was born in 1880 the eldest son of the Reverend W L Holland, Rector of Puttenham and was educated at Merchison Castle. From here he gained the Warneford Entrance Scholarship into King's College Hospital attaining four other scholarships and the Warneford Medal as well. As might be expected he had a brilliant record as a student winning many prizes and then first class honours in the London MB BS final examination in 1905. Two years later he was awarded the London Unversity Gold Medal when taking the MD and already had the FRCS. In 1908 he passed the examination for the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians and was elected a Fellow in 1920.

After completing his junior house appointments at King's he spent a valuable year in Berlin working with Professors Olhausen, Bumm, and Orth, and in later life often referred to this training as being the most instructive and formative in his whole education; it also gave him a lifelong friendship for the country and its people. On returning to England he became in turn resident medical officer at Queen Charlotte's Hospital and the Hospital for Women, Soho Square, and in 1907 was appointed obstetric registrar and tutor at King's College Hospital.

In 1914 he was appointed to the honorary staff of King's College Hospital as assistant obstetric physician, but stayed only a short time, for after two years he applied for and was appointed to an identical post at the London Hospital where he felt there were greater opportunities for clinical research. He was no sooner appointed than he joined the RAMC and saw service in France as a surgical specialist, and really took up his appointment at the London in 1919. He now turned his considerable powers of application to the research work, begun at King's on the causation of stillbirth, which he had been invited to investigate by the Ministry of Health; his results were published as a report by the Ministry in 1922. Working in close collaboration with the late Hubert Turnbull FRS, he produced a treatise that must surely stand as a classic in original research and in providing information of enormous value to obstetrics and paediatrics. Even to-day it can be read with great advantage as a model of how precise and clear a report should be.

His thirty years at the London saw great changes in obstetrics and gynaecology, and it was during his earlier years that the title obstetric physician was changed to obstetric surgeon. The reason for the change was no mere whim, for the obstetrician was now fast becoming a gynaecological surgeon and Eardley Holland was no exception. He was an extremely able surgeon in vaginal operations especially, which probably stemmed from his early training in Berlin. To see him operate in a case of neglected third degree tear of the perineum was to witness surgery at its precise best. He was never quite so much at home in the abdomen, and used jokingly to recount a story concerning his comparative inexperience in this field in his early days as a chief. Called to the London to a possible abdominal emergency, he would recall how the experienced ward sister would meet him and after the patient had been examined would invariably give him the clue whether or not operation was indicated, by saying "Will you have your coffee before you operate, Sir?", if it was to be done, but if not "Will you have your coffee before you go, Sir?"

In 1920 he was elected FRCP, and he was a founder Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists which came into being in 1929 under the sponsorship of the Gynaecological Visiting Society, of which he was one of the original sixteen members. From 1937 to 1940 he was adviser in obstetrics to the Ministry of Health and had the responsible task of organising the evacuation from London to the country of pregnant women at the outbreak of war in 1939 and himself took charge of the obstetric emergency service of Hertfordshire and East Anglia, until he became President of the RCOG in 1943. It was under his guidance as President that the College published A report on a national maternity service, which was later to prove most valuable as a model for establishing that part of the National Health Service.

His honorary consultant appointments at the London Hospital and the City of London Maternity Hospital, although time and strength consuming, had to allow opportunity for his very considerable private practice, and this constant war of attrition on health and happiness was the basis for his well remembered advice - "never allow yourself to be crushed between the upper millstone of hospital work and the nether one of private practice". He was very much in favour of a full time medical service that offered generous reward for work done. Yet he himself had a tremendous capacity for work, in which were evenly balanced great industry and most precise exactitude. It was typified in his research into the causes of stillbirth especially that in breech delivery, for he insisted on being called personally, either day or night, to every breech birth at the City of London Maternity Hospital where he was an honorary obstetrician at the time. Even at the end of the longest day's work, often after 10.00pm, he would meet his registrar for that day's quota of time allocated to the revision of a new edition of Eden's Midwifery. The burden was always somewhat mollified by refreshment in the form of beer, but as well the chief's secretary saw to it that his needs for tobacco were fully met by a row of pipes filled by herself and left ready. The work could then go on far into the night, unless interrupted, as it often was, by a call to a midwifery case to which both temporarily adjourned.

His many public appointments included Membership of the Royal Commission on Population, of the Central Midwives Board, and of the Council of King Edward's Hospital Fund.

He had been an examiner in most British universities, the National University of Ireland, the University of Cairo, and the Kitchener Medical School, Khartoum. In 1949 he was President of the 12th British Congress of Obstetrics and Gynaecology held in London.

His publications were many and appeared in both British and American journals. He was co-author with Dr T W.Eden of A manual of obstetrics, and later its sole author. He was a former editor of the Journal of obstetrics and gynaecology of the British Empire and of British obstetric and gynaecological practice. He was a brilliant editor and a master of simple lucid English. None who worked with him will fail to remember his oft repeated correction - "My dear boy, an era commences but labour begins."

In 1951 he published Princess Charlotte of Wales - a triple obstetric tragedy, which was based on much personal historical research work done on this subject and resulted too in his collection of many relics connected with this royal disaster, which he bequeathed to Brighton Corporation for display in the Royal Pavilion.

He was accorded many academic honours: Hon LLD Birmingham and Leeds; Hon MD Dublin; Hon FRCS Edin; Hon MMSA; Hon Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, of the American Gynaecological Society, and of the Royal Medical Society, Budapest; Fellow of King's College, London.

He enjoyed the eminence to which his outstanding professional ability carried him and the honours that came with it, but as well he dearly loved the simple things in life - his family, his home, and his lovely garden. He knew a good deal about astronomy, and greatly enjoyed demonstrating the points of interest in the night sky to his guests on starry evenings.

He enjoyed too his association with his hospital students and they his. His matinée (as his Thursday afternoon 'public' maternity round was called) was an institution in the clinical teaching at the London. His strategy was to call for the labour-theatre case-book and pick out a few cases of interest that had been dealt with since the last matinée, and woe betide those who hadn't the case at their finger tips, be they clerk, resident accoucheur, or registrar. But the game he loved to play was to feign ignorance of the subject in hand, and then to proceed to lead the unwary clerk "up the garden path". The popularity of this special form of teaching was borne out by a very large weekly attendance.

The esteem in which Eardley Holland was held both at home and abroad was shown by the constant flow of distinguished visitors to his wards and operating theatre. He was a man of extremely high ideals and in attempting to reach them kept raised the standards in the department of which he was so proud. For this the London and those of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with him will ever be grateful.

There were three daughters of his first marriage with Dorothy Marion, eldest daughter of Dr Henry Colgate, who died on 14 October 1951. His second wife Olivia, who survived him, was the daughter of the late L L Constable JP.

He retired to West Dean, Chichester in 1954 and died there on 21 July 1967 in his eighty-eighth year. He was a tall man of strikingly handsome appearance and great charm of manner. A memorial service was held in Chichester Cathedral.

Recent work on the aetiology of eclampsia. J Obstet Gynaec Brit Emp 1909, 16, 255-273, 325-337, 384-400.
The results of a collective investigation into Caesarian sections performed in Great Britain and Ireland from 1911 to 1920. J Obstet Gynaec Brit Emp 1921, 28, 358-446.
Cranial stress in the foetus during labour. J Obstet Gynaec Brit Emp 1922, 29, 549¬571.
On the causation of foetal death. Ministry of Health: Reports on Public Health and Medical Subjects, No 7 1922.
Child life investigations. A clinical and pathological study, with Janet E Lane-Claypon. Medical Research Council: Special Report Series, No 109 1926.
Manual of obstetrics, with T W Eden. 8th edition, 1937.
Birth injury in relation to labour. Amer J Obstet Gynec 1937, 33, 1-18.
Princess Charlotte of Wales - triple obstetric tragedy. J Obstet Gynaec Brit Emp 1951, 58, 905-919.
Obstetrics, in Aleck Bourne and Eardley Holland British obstetric and gynaecological practice 1955; 2nd edition 1959.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 22 July 1967 p12g, 9 August by A W Bourne, 17 August memorial service, and 30 October his will; Brit med J 1967, 3, 313 with portrait and eulogy by J H P, and p378 by A W Bourne; Lancet 1967, 2, 268 with portrait and eulogy by VL; J Obstet Gynaec Brit Commonwealth 1967, 74, 779-81; information from Robert Percival].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England