Sir Frederick Treves

frederick treves



Frederick Treves was born in 1853 in Dorset. He was initially educated at the Merchant Taylors’ School in London, but left in 1871 to enter the Medical School at University College, London, and at the Medical School of the London Hospital. He practiced medicine in Derbyshire for two years and then returned to London Hospital in 1879 as a surgical registrar, then as a surgeon at the hospital, building up a consulting practice over time. He published his first text, Surgical Applied Anatomy in 1883, and later in that year took up the care of Joseph Merrick, later known as “the Elephant Man.” He also obtained a side employment as a dissector at the London Zoo, which allowed him to study comparative anatomy. During the course of this work Sir Frederick produced many beautifulwatercolor drawings of the GI anatomy of various animals, which are included in his papers, which are held by the Archives of the Royal College of Surgeons, and which are reproduced here. Mr. Treves continued to practice and write in surgery until he was called to service in the Boer war in 1899, where he was in command of a field hospital, and wrote a critique of the management of the sick and wounded that led to a reorganization of the British army medical service. He returned to England from South Africa in 1900 after the death of his 18 year old daughter from ruptured appendicitis, and he was appointed “surgeon extraordinary” to Queen Victoria. By 1902 Sir Frederick had performed over two thousand surgeries for appendicitis.

On Tuesday, June 24, 1902, Sir Frederick performed emergency surgery for appendicitis on King Edward VII. Prior to the anesthetic, the King made Sir Frederick a Baronet. After a successful outcome for the King, Sir Frederick continued to operate at London Hospital until 1910, then retired to travel and write. He produced several very well regarded travelogues until dying abruptly in 1923 of an inflamed gallbladder.

It is often remarked that the generation born around 1900 witnessed remarkable changes over the course of their lifetimes – from horse and buggy to man on the moon, from paper and pencil to computers. This generation witnessed the same progress in medicine, as related by Mr. Michael Lavelle, a consultant surgeon in Haywards Heath, England, in the 2000 British Medical Journal.

EMG will be 100 years old this month. She is both a friend and a former patient. I first met her as a friend in 1984, and in 1993 I found myself operating on her for gallstones. Laparoscopic surgery had arrived, and so I performed a laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Preoperatively, she mentioned that she had had her appendix removed as a child, and as a routine I asked her the name of the surgeon. “Treves—Frederick Treves,” she said.

It turned out that she had had her appendix removed at home in Ealing at the age of 6 (in 1906). Her father was well off and was able to command the services of a surgeon in his home, rather than allowing his child to be taken to the local hospital. At that time, the operation of appendicectomy was still not commonly performed, but it had gained in popularity when Sir Frederick Treves had operated on the Prince of Wales in 1901 ((sic), the night before his coronation, and drained an appendix abscess that had been brewing for several days. The coronation had to be postponed, but the Prince of Wales survived to be crowned King Edward VII. Treves is also remembered today for his role in studying and looking after “the Elephant Man.”

EMG remembers waiting for Treves to arrive, and she remembers a table being taken upstairs to one of the bedrooms for the operation. She then remembers that after the operation she was in bed for three weeks. During that time, she had a day nurse and a night nurse, and her mother was not allowed to see her at all. In fact, her mother peeped through the keyhole one day and when the nurse found out about this she stopped up the hole. EMG remembers having regular dressing changes, and this was a very painful business. The local doctor supervised the dressings, and if EMG behaved herself—that is, she didn't scream the place down—he left a penny on the mantlepiece. After three weeks, she was allowed out in a push chair and had to suffer the taunts of the local children. At about the same time, EMG remembers that another child of her age developed appendicitis and went to the local hospital, but died in hospital.

When I performed EMG's laparoscopic cholecystectomy in 1993, I was able to visualise the caecum and thus see the results of Sir Frederick Treves's handiwork. She has a large incision in the right iliac fossa, which would have been necessary in prerelaxant days to gain access to the appendix.(Lavelle)

The Dorset Ancestors group has a lovely tribute to Frederick Treves in their website.


Bibliography of Sir Frederick Treves

Scrofula and its gland diseases; an introducton to the general pathology of scrofula, with an account of the histology, diagnosis and treatment of its glandular affections (1882)

Surgical Applied Anatomy (1883)

Intestinal Obstruction, its varieties with their pathology, diagnosis and treatment (1884)

The anatomy of the intestine and peritoneum in man(1885)

The Influence of clothing on health (1886)

A Manual of Operative Surgery (1892)

A System of Surgery (1895)

The tale of a field hospital (1900)

The Other Side of the Lantern: An Account of a commonplace tour round the world (1905)

Highways and byways in Dorset (1906)

Uganda for a holiday (1910)

The Country of the ring and the book (1913)

Made in the trenches, composedentirely from articles & sketches contributed by soldiers, Edited by Sir Frederick Treves and George Goodchild (1916)

The cradle of the deep: an account of a voyage to the West Indies (1920)

The Riviera of the Corniche Road (1921)

The Lake of Geneva (1922)

The elephant man and other reminescences (1923)


Digitized versions of these books are available online.

To see the anatomic drawings of Sir Frederick Treves click here