Nineteenth Century research at Addenbrooke’s

AHPH 1_1_16aSir George Murray Humphry was one of the giants of Cambridge medicine in the nineteenth century and surgeon at Addenbrooke’s Hospital for 52 years.  He was elected surgeon in 1842 and he immediately began to use the hospital with the deliberate design of making a school of Medicine in Cambridge.  Although the hospital was small with about 70 in-patients and, about 120, out-patients annually, he managed to give three clinical lectures a week and also some bedside teaching ‘for those who chose to attend’.

Unfortunately the earliest patients cases notes for the Hospital have not survived but Humphry produced many papers on treatment he gave and research he carried out including in 1856 ‘A Report of some cases of Operation…’ In this report Humphry describes a number of his cases, not all ending successfully, and tries to draw useful conclusions from them for his colleagues.  For example, although his ovariotomy patient succumbed to tetanus and died, he had collected the results of 105 ovariotomies and analysed them, to work out the condition in which the operation was most likely to be successful and whether in fact it should be done at all.  His results with excision of the knee joint so pleased him that later nervous patients were to try to quell his enthusiasm with ‘now Dr Humphry, I am not going to have my knee took out’.

In 1889, Humphry published: ‘Old Age: the results of information received respecting nearly nine hundred persons who had attained the age of eighty years, including seventy-four centenarians’.

In the preface to this volume he says: ‘in my Presidential Address at the Cambridge Meeting of the British Medical Association in 1880 I drew attention to the advantages that might be derived by utilizing the organisation of that great body, then numbering more than eight thousand members, for the purpose of collecting information upon various subjects of medical interest.  A “Collective Investigation Committee” was consequently formed, and carefully-considered Circulars of Inquiry upon several subjects were issued’.

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