Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences


First Medical Officers at the Hospital.

THE first Surgeons appointed to the Hospital were Mr. Harry Blaker, Mr. Robert Taylor and Mr. John Lawrence. Mr. Harry Blaker was Surgeon to the Royal Family and had £300 a year for attending the household at the Pavilion, and a tradition exists that he vaccinated the late King, but this is perhaps doubtful.*

He certainly attended the Princess Royal, after-wards Empress of Germany, evidence of which exists in the old accounts of the firm. He also attended Mrs. Fitzherbert, and was one of the witnesses to a codicil of her Will.

Mr. Robert Taylor was always looked on as an excellent surgeon, and on one occasion he tied the common carotid for pulsating tumour of the orbit. He was a most gentlemanly and courteous old man, though of an irritable temper, and could on occasion swear very fluently.

He was very fond of horses, and always drove himself in a park phaeton and pair. Dr. Ormerod told me an anecdote respecting him which is perhaps worth repeating.

Dr. Ormerod was sent for to see a patient in the country, and a trap met him at the railway station.

As they were going along the driver said : "Do you know Mr. Taylor, sir?"

"Yes," said Dr. Ormerod.

"Very hasty man, Mr. Taylor, I used to drive for him. One day, sir, in St. James's Street, he had gone into a house and I was sitting outside with the carriage, when a man from the waterworks came and turned on the cock in the middle of the road, and the water flew up in a jet two or three feet high, splashed the horses and frightened them so that I was obliged to wait a few doors off."

"When Mr. Taylor came out, he just did swear, and he took hold of the waterworks man and held him over the spout till he was wet through."

I attended Mr. Taylor for several years, indeed, up to the time of his death, and I once asked him if this story was true?

"Of course it was," he said. "What right had the fellow to frighten my horses?"

In contrast to this, I must relate another inci-dent told me by Mr. Couling, trifling in itself, but showing how extremes of character may meet in the same person.

Mr. Taylor and Mr. Couling met in consultation at the house of a lady of title, living at Palmeira Square. While waiting in the drawing-room, one of the children, a little boy, came in; Mr. Couling shook hands with him without rising from his seat, but Mr. Taylor got up and shook hands most courteously, remarking : "We ought always to be particular in our behaviour before children, if we wish them to grow up as gentlemen."

Mr. Lawrence was, I believe, an excellent Sur-geon. I was once taken to assist in stopping secondary hæmorrhage after a circular amputation of the thigh, which was, I was told, very well done by him.

These three first surgeons all resigned on the same day, and the three first House Surgeons, Mr. Benjamin Vallance, Mr. E. J. Furner and Mr. John Lawrence, Junior, were appointed to succeed them, and were Surgeons to the Hospital when I first went there as pupil.

Mr. John Lawrence died, in two or three months from appendicitis. He was most anxious to have an operation, and sent for Sir William Ferguson to perform it, but operations for appendicitis were not dreamed of in those days, and Sir William declined to do it. Mr. Lawrence was a capital surgeon, and had a great reputation. Mr. H. M. Blaker succeeded him.

The three physicians were Dr. King, Dr. Jenks and Dr. Brown. Dr. Brown was a man of gentle-manly manners, and very well informed, but his professional knowledge was rather antique.

Dr. Jenks had been an Army Surgeon and was in the Peninsula War and had amputated at the shoulder-joint at the Battle of Toulouse. He was a man of considerable ability.

I knew little of Dr. Brown, who left the Hospital soon after I went there.

If the memory of things which happened fifty years ago can be relied on, medicine and surgery and the management of patients, must have been very primitive and crude. The walls of the wards were whitewashed, there was no attempt at orna-mentation, the floors were of deal boards with wide interspaces, and these were occasionally scrubbed. The food was good and stimulants were prescribed freely. The beds were very close, with small cubic space for each. Both nurse and patients conspired to keep the windows closed, especially at night, night air being considered injurious. The smell was, consequently, sickening and erysipelas and pyæmia were almost always present in a greater or less degree. Arteries were secured with waxed silk ligatures, one end of which was cut short and the other left hanging out of the wound; when they separated at about the ninth or tenth day, there was frequently secondary hæmorrhage, half-healed stumps were torn open, and the almost impossible task of securing a vessel in the midst of granulations, which bled on the slightest touch, was attempted. Wounds were usually dressed with wet lint, which constantly from neglect (it was impossible to keep it wet) became dry; but frequently stumps, even on the second day, were poulticed, a copious excretion of yellow pus, "pus laudabile," being thought to prevent erysipelas. There were about three or four sponges in the Ward, which were used for all patients one after another, almost without washing. When stumps were dressed, pus used to flow out by the ounce through the fingers of the man who supported the flaps. Fractures were treated much as now, with splints, but sloughs and bedsores were much more common. Anæsthetics were not well understood, and were looked upon rather with dread, and I well recollect seeing a thigh amputated without anæsthetic. The patient, a man from Rottingdean, was brought in with comminuted fracture of the thigh; it did badly, and secondary amputation was decided on at a consultation. It was also decided not to use chloroform (ether was then never used) for fear of increasing shock! Mr. Lowdell tried to amputate the thigh by the flap operation, but the knife, which transfixed the limb, caught against a fragment of bone. Never shall I forget the agonised cry of the poor man—"Please cut me through, Doctor, pray cut me through." The limb was eventually taken off by cutting the flaps from without inwards, but the patient died next day.

Cupping was so constantly prescribed, especially for pain in the back, that two or three out-patients were occasionally seated in chairs, in a row, and all cupped at the same time, the cupping glasses being taken off and replaced in rotation. Doctors and patients seemed to rejoice in physic, especially patients, who were not satisfied unless they had plenty, and the more uncomfortable it made them the better they were pleased. "It must be doing me good, it does 'sarch' me so." The older men knew nothing of the stethoscope, which had not been introduced very many years. "There's a great noise in his chest, I wonder he does not cough and spit more," said one old physician, after sapiently listening to the chest of a man suffering, I believe, from bronchitis.

A few months after the commencement of my pupilage, Dr. Ormerod was appointed Physician to the Hospital. He was a man of fine intellect, highly cultured, of great industry, and quite up-to-date, having worked with Sir James, then Mr. Paget, till his health failed, and he was obliged to give up his prospects at St. Bartholomew's, and, as he told me, come down to Brighton to die. His influence in the Hospital was soon felt. There were a good many preparations in the Museum which had been brought into being by Mr. Furner, when House Surgeon, many years before. He put these up fresh and re-wrote the histories. I well recollect almost my first interview with him : I was in the Museum cleaning some preparation jars when he came in. I was about to retire when he stopped me, and from that time till his death was my guide, teacher and friend. It was his custom on his admission week to come to the Hospital punctually at 9 a.m. and take histories of his cases, which were written down at his dictation by his clerk, whom he took great pains to instruct in the examination of patients, in the ordinary clinical testings and in morbid anatomy whenever an opportunity occurred. As soon as he could, he made me his clerk, and also taught me how to work with the microscope, and advised me what books to read. I shall always remember him with the greatest gratitude and affection.

Almost the last case I saw as a pupil before going to Guy's, is perhaps worth mentioning. A man was knocked down by an engine at the Station, he fell between the rails and the engine passed over him, compressing his pelvis. When the swelling subsided, it was found that he had dislocation of the heads of both femora on to the Dorsum Ilii. There was no manipulation in those days. Attempts were made by force and pulleys for two hours to reduce these dislocations under anæsthe-tics. One was reduced the other converted into a dislocation on the pubes.

* Since writing the above, I am informed by Mr. C. Somers Clarke that this statement is quite correct. Mr. Harry Blaker vaccinated both King Edward VII. and the Princess Royal, afterwards Empress of Germany. He brought some vaccine matter from them and vaccinated two of his own grandchildren, telling his daughter, their mother, that her children should have royal blood in their veins. One of the children vaccinated was Mr. Clarke's own mother.

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