Bolton Genealogy

Dr. J M Thornley
They operated in frock coats - Bolton Evening News, Tuesday, February 2, 1965 (By Frank N.Morris)

NINETY YEARS OLD today, Dr. Joseph M. Thornley, of Dunluce, Chorley New-rd., Lostock, provides a rare link between modern medicine and surgery and the days, which he well remembers, when surgeons operated in frock coats (and without rubber gloves). Students invited to watch could do so without bothering to don gowns. Aseptic rules had still to be tabled. It was enough for a fellow to scrub his hands before turning his attention to the Table. And one of the essential pieces of theatre equipment was a hot iron, used to stop bleeding—a scorching thought for the Kildares of this world. Yet the frock-coat era produced in Lord Lister the most distinguished surgeon ever to practise in this country, and Dr. Thornlev must be one of the few doctors still alive to have watched Lister operate. At the time he was a student at Glasgow University. It was at the Western Infirmary in that citv that Dr. Thornley, at a respectful distance, observed the great man at work. Strapped down Revolutionary in his technique, Lister was using carbolic spray as an antiseptic: Lister it was who introduced antiseptics, subsequently commonplace, but the essential commonplace of all surgery. Now, the antiseptic technique has itself been superseded bv the aseptic approach. One of Dr Thornlev's treasured possessions, resting proudly on the sideboard, is an amputation set taking us back to the days when not only antiseptics but also anaesthetics had still to be developed. It is an amputation set to his father, himself a doctor, and it includes four or five knives, intrinsically things of beauty one might say, and a couple of saws, one for dealing with larger bones, the other for coping with smaller ones. This particular amputation set, being a special gift, was never used.

But when its contemporaries were wielded, the patient could not be anaesthetised; he was simply strapped to the operating table. His cries of anguish were smothered by the simple device of ringing a bell in the hospital tower — built specially for this purpose.

Ahead of time Few doctors can have qualified at such an early age as did Dr. Thornley. Having gone up to Glasgow at 16 for what was then the usual four-year curriculum he emerged fully-fledged at 20 — though since the official minimum age stood at 21 he could not be registered.  After taking a number of locums he set up in practice in Eskrick-st. For a number of years he stayed there, but he subsequently moved to Spennymoor in Ivy-rd., from where he retired about 15 years ago. Rather earlier, he had retired as consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Bolton Royal Infirmary, where he was still operating when he was well in his 70s and where for more than 40 years he had been in charge of the eye department. Under his supervision the department underwent a complete transformation. But Dr. Thorney, a member of one of Bolton's best-known medical families, personifies an era fast fading, before the onrush of specialisation. He worked in general practice;  he  also took responsibility for a whole hospital department, an impossible combination for a GP today. On top of that, his reputation as an obstetrician was widespread. No branch of midwifery found him faltering, because in his time (before Caesarean section had been heard of) he tackled every branch of it with a skill that won acknowledgement all over town and beyond it. All that came before we each began to specialize on less and less, in the days when a whole-man of a doctor weighed up his patient as a whole man instead of as a collection of specialist organs.


OBITUARY, B.E.N. November 26, 1971

BOLTON'S oldest doctor, Dr Joseph Milton Thornley, died today in Hollywood Nursing Home, Bolton. He was 96. His death means the end of almost a century-long medical association with Bolton by the Thornley family. His father, Dr Joseph Thornley, senior, started practice in the town in 1880. Dr Thornley, of Chorley New Road, Bolton, ended his medical practice in Ivy Road Bolton, in 1948, after a career spanning 53 years.

Dr. J M ThornleyDr Thornley, who was the oldest member of the Bolton Medical Society, leaves a widow, Mrs Jessie Thornley. Born in Bolton in 1875 he qualified at Glasgow University where he watched operations performed by Lord Lister. After a number of posts as an assistant, he set up practice in Eskrick Street, Bolton. For nearly 40 years he was ophthalmic surgeon at Bolton Royal Infirmary and operated there when well into his seventies. The funeral will be at Overdale.