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Biographical entry Morley, John (1885 - 1974)

Croix de Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur; MRCS and FRCS 1911; MB ChB Manchester 1908; ChM 1911; LRCP 1911.

10 October 1885
General surgeon


John Morley was the last of a line of distinguished part-time Professors of Surgery in Manchester. Born on 10 October 1885, the son of the Reverend J S Morley, MA, schoolmaster and clergyman, he was educated at Bishop's Stortford College and Manchester University, where he graduated MB ChB with first class honours in 1908. He was house surgeon to Professor G A Wright and A H Burgess and demonstrator in anatomy to Professor Grafton Elliot Smith, with Geoffrey Jefferson and Harry Platt. He was appointed surgical registrar to Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1911, the year in which he became ChM and FRCS.

In 1912, aged 26, he was elected assistant surgeon to Ancoats Hospital, where his surgical colleagues were W R Douglas and Harry Platt. He joined a Territorial Field Ambulance in 1914 'spending three weeks in a field near Bolton' before embarking for Egypt and Gallipoli. There he established a field surgical unit that dealt with large numbers of casualties, often under fire. He was invalided home at the end of 1915 with severe jaundice and dysentery and he spent the rest of the war doing his military duties, civilian hospital work, and private practice at the same time. For his distinguished service at Gallipoli, he was awarded the Croix de Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur.

Morley was elected assistant surgeon to Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1921. He was a master surgical craftsman, a man of sound judgement and a conscientious teacher and he built up a very large practice. His combination of unflagging industry and technical excellence greatly influenced his students and assistants and many were proud to recall that they were trained by him. He was best known for gastric, thyroid, parathyroid, biliary and pancreatic surgery and for his thorough investigation of the mechanisms of abdominal pain. His observations were made at the bedside and in the operation theatre and radiological studies by E W Twining were added. The results were discussed in his book Abdominal Pain published in 1931. He succeeded his former chief, A H Burgess, to the Chair of Clinical Surgery, in 1936. His teachings were lucid and practical and his mordant humour was often directed at idle students.

He was President of the Manchester Medico-Legal Society and the Manchester Pathological Society, twice President of the Manchester Medical Society, external adviser in surgery to the University of London, and external examiner to the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Durham. He served on the Court of Examiners 1941-43. The late Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Horrocks consulted Denis Poole-Wilson, FRCS in 1947 because of attacks of pain, apparently of renal origin, resulting from gunshot wounds in Bizerta in 1943. The General had already undergone six major abdominal operations. Poole-Wilson correctly traced his problem to his biliary tract and Morley and Poole-Wilson performed a seventh operation in December 1947.

'I was operated on by that fine surgeon and very charming man, Professor Morley. When I came round from the anaesthetic he was holding up a curious looking object which he assured me was a piece of my shirt that had been lurking in my bile duct ever since I was wounded at Bizerta.'

When John Morley retired, Geoffrey Jefferson wrote, 'no one in his generation was more widely sought as a consultant or was better trusted as a surgeon.' He retired to the Eden Valley in Cumbria, exercising his skills as a shot and fisherman. His first wife, by whom he had three sons and a daughter, died in 1928. In 1930 he married Dr Margaret Greg, who survives him. His youngest son, a Pilot Officer in the RAF, was killed in action in 1943, aged 20. His elder sons are both surgeons and his daughter, a physiologist, married a physician. Honest John, as he was known, died in 1974 in his 89th year. His example of probity and professional excellence is unlikely to be surpassed.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 12 March 1974; Brit med J 1974, 2, 61-62, 231; Lancet 1974, 1, 578-579. Information from his daughter, Mrs Margaret Morgan, and from Denis Poole-Wilson FRCS].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England