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Historic Hospital Admission Records Project

Historical Background

Anthony Alfred Bowlby

BOWLBY, Sir Anthony Alfred, first baronet (1855–1929), surgeon, was born at Namur, Belgium, on 10 May 1855, the third son of Thomas Bowlby, at that time acting as correspondent of The Times, and Frances Marion Mein, the daughter of an army surgeon. He was educated at Durham School and St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, qualifying MRCS in 1879 and FRCS in 1881. A distinguished student, he won several prizes, which resulted in his first publication, Injuries and Diseases of the Nerves and their Surgical Treatment (1889).

He stayed at St Bartholomew's as house surgeon, rising through the ranks to consulting surgeon. His service as surgeon to the Alexandra Hospital for Diseases of the Hip in Queen Square, Bloomsbury lasted from 1885 until 1918, and he was also surgeon at the nearby Foundling Hospital. He was made FRCS in 1881, and succeeded Sir George Makins as President. His many distinguished offices included Hunterian professor, the delivery of the Bradshaw lecture (1915), and Hunterian orator (1919). His service to the British Medical Association lasted for most of his professional career.

On the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899, Bowlby served as senior surgeon in charge of the Portland Hospital, stationed first at Rondebosch and later at Bloemfontein. His services gained him the CMG in 1901, and resulted in a seminal co-authored publication, A Civilian War Hospital (1901), detailing the essence of surgery in the field.

In 1908 Bowlby was commissioned major in the newly formed Territorial Medical Service. When the First World War broke out, he went to France in September 1914, as consulting surgeon to the British Expeditionary Force. He ended the war as a major general, and advisory consulting surgeon to the whole of the British forces in France.

His insistence on surgery in the field was vital in transforming casualty clearing stations into field hospitals, and in the swift treatment of cases. His concern for the welfare of soldiers, and his efficiency were much valued by military and civilian colleagues.

In 1904 he had been appointed surgeon to King Edward VII, a position he retained under George V. Knighted in 1911, he was created KCMG (1915), KCVO (1916), KCB (1919), and baronet in 1923. He died while on holiday in the New Forest on 7 April 1929.