Lives of the fellows

Sheldon Francis (Sir) Dudley

b.16 August 1884 d.6 May 1956
OBE(1919) KCB(1942) MB BS Lond(1914) MD Lond(1919) DPH Eng(1919) DTM & H Lond(1921) LLD Edin(1953) MRCS LRCP(1906) MRCP(1928) FRCP(1933) FRS(1941) Hon FRCSE(1946)

Vice-Admiral Sir Sheldon Dudley was a good administrator and an excellent general physician, who kept abreast of every development in diagnosis and treatment and had a special interest in epidemiology. His mother was Edith Bella, eldest daughter of Richard Whittington, prebendary of St. Paul’s and rector of St. Peter’s, Cornhill. He was born into the Naval Medical Service at Lisbon, where his father was Surgeon Captain John Dudley. Educated at Merchant Taylors’ School and St. Thomas’s Hospital, he entered the Service immediately after qualifying in 1906, and of his thirty-nine years until his retirement in 1947 spent twelve at sea, thus laying the foundation of his knowledge of practice.

During the First World War Dudley served at the Royal Naval Hospital, Chatham, at the aircraft depot at Dunkirk, and in the hospital ship ‘Agadir’. In 1919 he became pathologist at Haslar Hospital, and two years later professor of pathology at the Royal Naval Medical School, Greenwich, to which he returned after sea-service in 1927 as director of medical studies until 1922, when he was appointed professor of hygiene.

His early interest in epidemiology was shown in his work on diphtheria among the boys at the Naval School, Greenwich, where his careful and patient investigations led him to believe that a sub-clinical infection could result from exposure to doses too small to overcome the natural defence mechanisms. This research gained him the Gilbert Blane medal, the Neech prize of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, the Chadwick prize and gold medal, and the Milroy lectureship of 1931, when he chose as his subject ‘Lessons in the distribution of infectious diseases in the Royal Navy’.

What must have pleased him especially was that his work led to the national campaign for diphtheria immunisation. From 1941 to 1947 he was director general of the Royal Naval Medical Service.

Dudley was one of the first physicians in England to see the potentialities of mass X-ray examination; the Royal Naval was the first of the Medical Services to use it. He had always been interested in the early discovery of tuberculosis, and the College owes him gratitude for the facilities he made available to the Committee of the Prophit bequest.

Well deserved honours were showered on him apart from those bestowed by his own Service. He was an Honorary Surgeon to King George VI, a Commander of the Legion of Merit, U.S.A., an Officer of the Legion of Honour, a Grand Commander of the Legion of St. Olaf, and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Orange Nassau. London made him a Freeman as did the Worshipful Company of Barbers and the Merchant Taylors’ Company; Edinburgh University made him an honorary LL.D, and its College of Surgeons an honorary fellow. Above all he must have appreciated the F.R.S, granted him in 1951, for he was the first naval surgeon to be so honoured since T. H. Huxley a hundred years earlier.

In 1913 he married Ethel Edith Wood, née Franklyn, a widow with one son; they had no family.

Richard R Trail

[Biogr.Mem.Roy.Soc., 1956, 2, 85-99 (p), bibl.;, 1956, 1, 1113, 1177-8; J. roy. nav. med. Serv., 1956, 42, 135-6 (p); Lancet, 1956, 1, 755 (p); Times, 8 May 1956.]

(Volume V, page 111)

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