Humphry, George Murray (DNB01)

HUMPHRY, Sir GEORGE MURRAY (1820–1896), surgeon, born at Sudbury in Suffolk on 18 July 1820, was third son of William Wood Humphry, barrister-at-law and distributor of stamps for Suffolk. He was educated at the grammar schools of Sudbury and Dedham, and in 1836 he was apprenticed to J. G. Crosse, surgeon to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. In 1839 he left Norwich and entered as a student at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, where he came under the influence of Peter Mere Latham [q. v.], William Lawrence [q. v.], and (Sir) James Paget [q. v. Suppl.] He passed the first M.B. examination at the London University in 1840, obtaining the gold medal in anatomy and physiology, but he never presented himself for the final examination. He was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 19 Nov. 1841, and on 12 May 1842 be became a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. In the same year three of the surgeons at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, resigned their office, and on 31 Oct. 1842 'Mr. Humfrey' was placed third out of six candidates in a contested election for the vacant posts. This appointment made him the youngest hospital surgeon in England, and he at once began to give clinical lectures and systematic teaching in surgery. In 1847 he was invited to act as deputy to the professor of anatomy, and he gave the lectures and demonstrations upon human anatomy from 1847 to 1866. He entered himself a fellow-commoner at Downing College in 1847, graduating M.B. in 1852 and M.D. in 1859. On the death of the Rev. Dr. William Clark, the professor of human and comparative anatomy, in 1866, the duties of the chair were recast, and Humphry was elected professor of human anatomy in the university. He held this office until 1883, when he resigned it for the newly founded but unpaid professorship of surgery. In 1869 he succeeded Professor (afterwards Sir) George Edward Paget [q.v.], who was then elected president of the council, as the representative of the university of Cambridge on the General Medical Council. In 1880 he delivered the Rede lecture before the university of Cambridge, taking 'Man, Past, Present, and Future' as the subject of his address. He served on the council of the senate of the university, he was an honorary fellow of Downing, and in 1884 he was elected a professorial fellow of King's College, Cambridge.

At the Royal College of Surgeons of England Humphry filled all the offices which his physical strength and his devotion to the university of Cambridge would permit. Elected a fellow on 26 Aug. 1844, when he was still a year below the statutory age, he served as a member of the council from 1864 to 1884, was Arris and Gale lecturer on anatomy and physiology from 1871 to 1873, a member of the court of examiners from 1877 to 1887, and Hunterian orator in 1879. He declined to be nominated for the offices of vice-president and president.

He was elected a F.R.S. in 1859, and he served on the council of this society 1870-1. He was long a member of the British Medical Association, acting first as secretary and afterwards as president of the Cambridge and Huntingdon branch. He delivered the address in surgery at the general meeting held at Cambridge in 1856, presided in the section of anatomy and physiology at the Worcester meeting in 1882, and was president of the whole association at the Cambridge meeting in 1881. In 1867 he presided over the physiological section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1870 he gave six lectures on the architecture of the human body as a part of the Fullerian course at the Royal Institution of London. He took an active part in the formation of the Cambridge Medical Society, and for some time was president. He presided at the annual meetings of the Sanitary Society of Great Britain, held in London in 1882 and in Glasgow in 1883. In 1887 he was the first president of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and he served as president of the Pathological Society of London during the years 1891-3. He was knighted in 1891.

Humphry died at his residence, Grove Lodge, on 24 Sept. 1896, and is buried at the Mill Road cemetery, Cambridge. A bust by Wiles was presented to Addenbrooke's Hospital by the vice-chancellor of the university. A portrait by Mr. W. W. Ouless, R.A., hangs in the Fitzwilliam Museum, and has been engraved. A portrait by Miss K. M. Humphry, painted on the occasion of the enrolment of Professor Humphry as a freeman of his native town, is in the public hall at Sudbury, Suffolk.

He married, in September 1849, Mary, daughter of Daniel Robert McNab, surgeon, of Epping, by whom he had a daughter and one son, Mr. Alfred Paget Humphry, senior esquire bedell of the university of Cambridge.

Beginning as a general practitioner without a practice, poor and without influence, Humphry became the most influential man in the university of Cambridge, and converted its insignificant medical school into one which is world-renowned. Before all things he was a scientific man and a collector. The Museum of Anatomy and Surgical Pathology engrossed much of his attention, and many of his holidays were spent in journeys designed expressly to secure specimens to fill its shelves. As an anatomist he was one of the earliest workers who attempted to bring human anatomy into line with the growing science of morphology. He was a good and successful surgeon, though a great operation was a severe trial to him. He was the first in England to remove successfully a tumour from the male bladder, and one of the first to advocate the advantages to be derived from the suprapubic method. He had no amusements and was sparing in all that concerned his own indulgence, but he was most hospitable and in large matters profusely generous. Having begun poor, he ended rich. He was full of research and resource, and generally succeeded in getting his own way, but his aims were unselfish and were always directed to the improvement of his profession.

Humphry's works were:

  1. 'A Treatise on the Human Skeleton, including the Joints,' Cambridge, 1858, 8vo; an important work containing the results of original research in several directions. The excellent plates by which the book is illustrated were drawn by his wife.
  2. 'On the Coagulation of the Blood in the Venous System during Life,' Cambridge, 1859, 8vo; of this subject he had had painful experience during his own illnesses.
  3. 'The Human Foot and the Human Hand,' Cambridge and London, 1861, 12mo.
  4. 'Observations in Myology,' Cambridge and London, 1872, 3vo.
  5. 'Cambridge: the Town, University, and Colleges,' Cambridge, 1880, 12mo; a very excellent little guide book.
  1. 'Old Age: the Results of Information received respecting nearly Nine Hundred Persons who had attained the Age of Eighty Years, Including Seventy-four Centenarians,' Cambridge, 1889.

Humphry was also founder and co-editor (with Sir William Turner, M.D.) of the ' Journal of Anatomy and Physiology,' Cambridge and London, 1866.

[Personal knowledge; private information; Trans. Royal Med. and Chirurg. Soc. 1897, vol. lxxx.; St. Bartholomew's Hospital Reports, 1896, vol. xxxii.]

D’A. P.