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Biographical entry Phillips, Miles Harris (1875 - 1965)

MRCS 1900; FRCS 1903; MB London 1900; BS 1903; DSc 1939; LRCP 1900; FRCOG 1929; Hon MD Bristol 1933; Hon DSc Sheffield 1939.

29 January 1965
Obstetrician and gynaecologist


Miles Harris Phillips was born at Portishead, near Bristol in 1875, and was educated at Bristol Grammar School where he became captain of cricket, and his love of the game was life-long. He did his pre-clinical studies at University College, Bristol, and then came to King's College and the London Hospital for his clinical work. He qualified with the Conjoint Diploma and the MB London degree in 1900, and three years later passed the BS and also the FRCS examinations.

His long and distinguished career as an obstetrician and gynaecologist began in 1904 with his appointment as house surgeon to the Jessop Hospital for Women, Sheffield. In 1907 he became a member of the honorary staff, and from 1921 till his retirement in 1935 he was senior surgeon, and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Sheffield University. This was a part-time chair, but his enthusiasm for teaching brought him to the hospital at 9 o'clock on most mornings, for he regarded the demands of a busy private practice as of secondary importance to his academic duties. His students greatly appreciated his ability to teach them from his own extensive practical experience, and though he was an exacting chief, his postgraduate assistants realized that his strictness and insistence upon the highest standards of clinical work were to be accepted in their own best interest. His patients also became aware of the depth of his personal care for them, and loved him in return.

The high regard of his colleagues was indicated by his election in 1929 as a Foundation Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of which he became Vice-President from 1937 to 1940. His expert knowledge of the literature of his specialty made him a valued member of the library committee of the College for the rest of his life; and his own library was remarkable not only for its size but particularly for the large number of classical items concerning the development of the practice and the science of midwifery during the past four centuries, which made it what must have been the finest collection of old obstetrical books in private ownership.

Other evidences of esteem were the award of the honorary MD degree by the University of Bristol in 1933, and of the Honorary DSc of Sheffield in 1939. He acted as an external examiner in the Universities of London, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Belfast and Dublin.

Phillips was the author of several articles on the history of obstetrics, William Smellie being one of his great heroes. He was an active member of the North of England Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society for over 30 years, and its President from 1918 to 1920. He was also President of the Section of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the Royal Society of Medicine.

In the years between the wars the medical profession in Sheffield and three remarkable leaders - Arthur Hall, Ernest Finch and Miles Harris Phillips - and it seems strange to-day to realize that their retiring age from hospital practice was sixty. It is not surprising, therefore, that when Phillips retired to Laugharne in Carmarthenshire he should have become involved in the establishment of a department of obstetrics and gynaecology in the local hospital, and the maternity wing of the Carmarthenshire Infirmary is now named after him.

In 1909 he married Edna Sinnock of Portishead, and the fifty-four years of family life which followed were intensely happy, for his wife sustained him with devotion and affection throughout the busy years of practice and the long period of retirement. When he died at the age of 89 on 29 January 1965 his wife and their two sons survived him, and he was buried in his native parish of Portishead.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet 1965, 1, 389; Brit med J 1965, 1, 456; The Times 1 February 1965 pl4d].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England