Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas, Honoratus Leigh

THOMAS, HONORATUS LEIGH (1769–1846), surgeon, the son of John Thomas of Hawarden, Flint, by his wife Maria, sister of John Boydell [q. v.], was born on 26 March 1769. On coming to London as a very young man, he presented a letter of introduction to John Hunter, the great surgeon. Hunter at once made an appointment with Thomas for five o'clock the following morning, and on his presenting himself at that hour he found Hunter busily engaged dissecting insects. He was appointed dresser to Hunter at St. George's Hospital and a pupil of William Cumberland Cruikshank [q. v.], the anatomist. He obtained the diploma of the Corporation of Surgeons on 16 Oct. 1794, was an original member of the College of Surgeons, and was elected to the fellowship on its foundation in 1843. Thomas's early professional work was in the army and navy. He passed as 1st mate, 3rd rate (navy), on 5 July 1792, and, on the recommendation of Hunter, was appointed assistant surgeon to Lord Macartney's embassy to China in the same year [see Macartney, George, Earl Macartney]. In 1799 he volunteered for medical service with the Duke of York's army in Holland. On the capitulation of the forces to the French enemy Thomas wished to remain with the wounded, who could not be moved. He was told that he could only stay as a prisoner, and he decided to remain in that capacity. As soon, however, as his services could be dispensed with he was allowed to return home.

Thomas married the elder daughter of Cruikshank, and in 1800 succeeded to his father-in-law's practice in Leicester Place, where he resided for nearly half a century. Notwithstanding his position at the College of Surgeons, Thomas seems rather to have avoided surgery, and was generally called in for consultation in medical cases. In this branch of his profession he was very successful.

At the College of Surgeons Thomas was a member of the court of assistants from 1818 to 1845, examiner from 1818 to 1845, vicepresident in 1827, 1828, 1836, and 1837, and president in 1829 and 1838. In 1827 he delivered the Hunterian oration. In this oration there are some interesting personal reminiscences of Hunter. Thomas was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 16 Jan. 1806. He was also a member of the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg. He died at Belmont, Torquay, on 26 June 1846. Edward Thomas [q. v.] was his son.

In addition to his Hunterian oration, Thomas published: 1. ‘Description of an Hermaphrodite Lamb’ (London Medical and Physical Journal, ii. 1799). 2. ‘Anatomical Description of a Male Rhinoceros’ (Phil. Trans. 1801, p. 145). 3. ‘Case of Artificial Dilatation of the Female Urethra’ (Med. Chir. Trans. i. 123). 4. ‘Case of Obstruction in the Large Intestines occasioned by a Biliary Calculus of extraordinary size’ (ib. vol. vi. 1845). There is a portrait in oil of Thomas by James Green at the Royal College of Surgeons.

[Lancet, 1846, ii. 26; Proc. Royal Soc. v. 640; Clarke's Autobiographical Recollections of the Medical Profession, p. 113; and private information kindly supplied by Mrs. Foss and F. L. Hutchins, esq., grandchildren of Thomas.]

J. B. B.