Obituary Of Dr. Thomas Horrocks Openshaw

Posted: November 10, 2008 in Obituaries
Thomasopenshaw2 (WinCE)Dr. Thomas Horrocks Openshaw examined the half of a kidney sent to him after the murder of Catherine Eddowes.
Consulting Surgeon to the London Hospital and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.
The late Mr. T.H. Openshaw, whose death took place on November 17th, after some weeks’ illness, was a Lancashire man who, owing to a family connexion, was educated at Bristol Grammar School, on leaving which he began to train as an engineer. He did not pursue that calling for long, but exchanged it for the study of medicine at the London Hospital, from which he proceeded to the membership of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1882, and the Fellowship in 1886. His other qualifications were L.S.A. 1882, L.R.C.P. London 1884, M.B. Durham 1883, B.S. 1885, and M.S. with honours from the same University in 1887. After holding the usual house offices he was elected assistant surgeon to the London Hospital, and in due course surgeon to out-patients, full surgeon, and, on superannuation, consulting surgeon. As assistant surgeon to Mr. Waren Tay, who confined his interest mostly to ophthalmology, Openshaw had unusual opportunities, for Mr. Tay’s beds were practically at his disposal. Of these opportunities he made good use, and perfected his technique as an operator. He for some time held the post of lecturer on anatomy, and at a later period on surgery. In 1916 he was elected a member of the Council of the College of Surgeons, on which he sat until 1924. In 1893 he was elected assistant surgeon to the National Orthopaedic Hospital, which institution was afterwards amalgamated with the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital under the auspices of King Edward’s Hospital Fund.
From  that date he took a keen interest in the treatment of deformities, and when the orthopaedic department was formed at the London Hospital it was placed under his charge, and remained so until his retirement from the active staff.
Openshaw had long taken an interest in military surgery as an officer of a volunteer bearer company, and, after the formation of the Territorial Army, of the R.A.M.C.T.
He was surgeon to the Lincolnshire Yeomanry, in which he rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. When the events of the war in South Africa called for great reinforcements and the Imperial Yeomanry Field Hospital was formed and sent out under Colonel Stonham (surgeon to the Westminster Hospital), Openshaw was one of its staff. He left it, however, after the capture of Pretoria, and became principal medical officer of No. 2 Model School Hospital at that place, in which he had a freer hand and better opportunities of doing good work than he had in a subordinate position with the Yeomanry hospital. Of these opportunities he fully availed himself. On his return to London after the cessation of regular hostilities he found, like some others, that practical patriotism such as his did not pay, for he had to build up his private consulting practice afresh. The days had gone when a distinguished surgeon could rush out in a blaze of publicity to the seat of war, do a number of spectacular operations, and return in six weeks with an enhanced reputation. But Openshaw’s solid merit could not be long overlooked, and he soon recovered his practice.
When war was declared in 1914 Openshaw was not included in the scheme of Territorial and other hospitals on the staffs of which many of his colleagues found themselves in important positions. The somewhat remarkable scheme for the formation of a great naval hospital near Edinburgh, to be staffed by London men, included him, and when this idea failed to develop into reality he was temporarily without any position such as his experience and capabilities deserved. At the London and the Orthopaedic he, like the rest of their staffs, treated the wounded who replaced so many civilians in their wards. An opportunity of special usefulness soon offered itself, however.
In 1915 it was brought to the notice of a wealthy and philanthropic lady, Mrs. Gywnn Holford, that the old defective methods of supplying war amputees with artificial limbs had broken down. The Commissioners of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea had hitherto supplied prostheses of this sort through instrument makers, without expert surgical advice. Even this imperfect method broke down under the strain of the thousands of cases needing attention. Mrs. Holford was properly advised to consult an orthopaedic surgeon, and accordingly was introduced to Mr. Openshaw. As the result of her enthusiasm and indomitable energy, Queen Mary’s Convalescent Auxiliary Hospital Committee was formed, and Rochampton House, then in the hands of the builders, was borrowed from Mr. Kenneth Wilson. In all the questions which arose, as to the best kind of limbs to be supplied and the choice of makers who should supply them, Openshaw’s advice was sought and taken, and most of the orthopaedic surgeons who joined him as colleagues as the work increased were appointed on his recommendation. The hospital was opened in July, 1915, and it is well known that it was a great success and served as a model for many of those which were afterwards established in different parts of the United Kingdom for the supply of artificial limbs.
Meanwhile his experience and abilities as a consultant were not neglected. He was appointed consulting surgeon to the Eastern Command, with the rank of colonel, in which capacity he had to visit a large number of auxiliary and other hospitals in the East of England, and to spend much time in travelling. When in 1918 the foundation of the British Orthopaedic Association was mooted, he was one of the three signatories of the circular letter calling together a preliminary meeting, the others being Sir Robert Jones and Mr. Muirhead Little. He declined office in the association, however, and took little or no part in its subsequent meetings, but he was at one time president of the Orthopaedic Subsection of the Section of Surgery of the Royal Society of Medicine, and took part in many of its meetings and of the Section which it ultimately became. He was a vice-president of the Section of Diseases of Children, which included orthopaedics, at the Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association at Liverpool in 1912, and president of the Section of Orthopaedics at Portsmouth in 1923.
Openshaw was not fond of using his pen. He wrote no book and contributed few papers to the medical press. His tastes were not literary. He had a blunt manner, made the more noticeable by that Lancashire accent which he never lost, but in an unguarded moment he would display, despite his native shrewdness, a disarming candour. If his colleagues found him a rather incalculable factor and sometimes wondered what "Tommy" would next be at, he was always popular and received a smiling welcome in whatever circle he entered. In his younger days he was a keen cyclist and he was always devoted to fishing. His other enthusiasms were Freemasonry and the Shipwrights Company, of which he was a past-master, and at whose dinners his speeches were always well received.
Openshaw was a good operator. His sure anatomical knowledge and his quick decision in emergencies served him well. His service at the London bridged over the change from the antiseptic to the aseptic ritual in the theatre. Having achieved excellent results with antiseptic methods he was loath to change, and it was some time before he yielded to the innovation of operating in gloves, for his skin was unaffected by frequent immersion in 5 percent. carbolic lotion. Being justly of the opinion that his powers were unimpaired he took his superannuation hardly, although it was in the usual course, and he bewailed the enforced cessation of his hospital work, but found some compensation in private practice and in making himself useful as the only medical member of the committee of the Royal Surgical Aid Society.
We are indebted to Mr. ROBERT MILNE, surgeon to the London Hospital, for the following appreciation:
The news that Openshaw had entered upon the Great Adventure must have come as a great surprise to very many members of the profession. His very robust, sturdy figure had been about town, and at the London Hospital old students’ dinner only four weeks ago, with no suggestion of failing bodily or mental vigour. No one meeting him called him probably anything but "Tommy," so wide-spread was this shortening of his full name, and the universal use of the title marks the width of his popularity and the esteem he won on all hands. Many memories crowd upon one who has been in touch with him since he lectured us on anatomy, and who helped to shoulder him along the platform when he left for the South African war thirty years ago, but the outstanding feature about "Tommy" was his honesty of purpose and his loyalty. In council he spoke little, but he was right in his views. He was a sportsman all his years – when he played football, when he led parties of students to Ascot on a cycle – and his final illness came partly through his zeal to capture a pike in the West Country, and partly through his loyalty to keep a professional appointment when he was not really fit. His interests were always orthopaedic, and his out-patient departments were filled with children who loved him. He might not remember their names correctly always, but he remembered their special likes, and he always had an appropriate word for them. He had a wide experience even before radiographs were introduced and before the laboratory was important; he had trained himself to accurate observation, so that his clinical instinct in diagnosis and appropriate treatment was really wonderful. His lucid speech, with a Lancashire burr and dogmatic mien, made him such a popular and practical teacher that his Friday mornings attracted patients and students alike. He loved work and he loved his London Hospital. When one could get him talking his reminiscences were voluminous, for he was steeped in the traditions and the lives of the great surgeons, in the lore of surgery, and of the London Hospital. He was a keen Freemason, interested in the historical details and past of the city companies, and an energetic volunteer. In spite of all these activities, he was always available to help actively or by advice a professional colleague, and to stick by him through thick and thin. The loss of his son, to be followed soon by the loss of his wife, were two staggering blows which did not fail to leave their traces on him towards the end, but he accepted these losses with the courageous fortitude one associated with his character. He continued his work, he continued his fishing, but he slackened in his zeal. We shall miss his form, his cheery word, his tales and experiences, but his memory will be with us as the personification of honesty and loyalty.
Dr. HERBERT R. SPENCER sends the following tribute:
Many will mourn the loss of our dear friend T.H. Openshaw, commonly known as Tommy Openshaw or "Oppy." I believe he was a very skilful surgeon, I know he was an honest and kind one, and as a man he was one of the best. He had some grevious domestic losses, and of late his health had not been good. Yet up till near the end of his life he had a keen appreciation of the good things it offered, and the catholicity of his tastes as a sportsman was, I think, not surpassed by that of any member of our profession. Hunting, shooting, fishing in all weathers, he was equally keen on them all. With his friend Pockett – a good sportsman, who predeceased him – he would shoot all day, and then travel by motor through the night to another shooting or fishing the next day, and his friends never cease to marvel at the astounding energy he showed when he had passed his three-score years and ten. He was the beloved president of the Red Spinner Angling Society, to which he presented the challenge cup which he himself won outright in 1925. Some notable fish which were taken by his rod were a chub and barbel each weighing over 7 lb., a tench of 5 lb. 14 oz., a trout of 6 lb. 4 oz., and a pike weighing over 24 lb. He was especially fond of pike fishing, and was not deterred by the most inclement of weather from its pursuit. On these occasions he used to wear an abundance of coats and wraps, which gave his short figure an imposing appearance. I think his ambition was to catch a "record" pike which should surpass the somewhat doubtful weight of Colonel Thornton’s (said to have weighed about 48 lb.) On the last occasion on which I saw him he was meditating an attack on a monstrous pike in one of the Duke of Marlborough’s lakes, which he had coveted for a long time. I hope he succeeded. In any case, his 24-lb fish was no mean trophy. Openshaw was in every deed a sportsman. Take him for all in all we shall not look upon his like again.
Source: The British Medical Journal, Nov. 23, 1929, page 986

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