Lives of the fellows

George Augustus Auden

b.27 August 1872 d.3 May 1957
MB Cantab(1897) MD Cantab(1900) DPH Cantab(1910) MRCS LRCP(1896) FSA(1920) MRCP(1909) FRCP(1919)

George Auden, scholar, hygienist, psychologist and archaeologist, was born at Horninglow near Burton-on-Trent, the son of the Rev. John Auden, M.A. (Cantab.), and Sarah, née Hopkins, whose father was a country gentleman farming his own land. He went to a preparatory school at Spondon House, Derbyshire, before going to Repton, the little Derbyshire town to which he finally retired. He entered Christ’s College, Cambridge, with a classical exhibition but studied natural sciences. The giants of his day were Sir Michael Foster, C. Roy, Alex Macalister, Alex Hill, W. H. Rivers, N. B. Hardy and Corbett. The exhibitioner in classics soon became a science scholar; he gained a first class in the natural sciences tripos in 1893 and was both natural science scholar and Porteous gold medallist.

His main clinical work was at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. After qualification he was Sir James Berry’s house surgeon at the Royal Free and Dr Samuel West’s house physician from May to August 1896. He then returned to St. Bartholomew’s as Dr Gee’s house physician. 1896-7, and next year was appointed resident house physician to the General Lying-in-Hospital in Lambeth (June-December 1898). He won the Kirke’s scholarship and gold medal in 1896, and the Lawrence gold medal and scholarship at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1895.

From 1905 to 1908 he was assistant physician at York County Hospital, but his main work was in the city of Birmingham where he was school medical officer from 1908 to 1937. He soon realised how difficult it was for his assistant medical officers to assess nutrition and malnutrition. Statistics of weight and height were not enough. Environment, previous illnesses, convalescence and extra nutrition all had their eifects.

Although he was a pioneer in the introduction of the ‘milk in school’ scheme he was against ‘titillation of the palate by some exotic flavour such as vanilla or peppermint’, which he thought would quickly cloy and cease to attract. He tried to cut out dead wood, exemplified by his doubting the value of routine medical examinations of children.

He was then lecturer in public health for Birmingham University and in 1939 was appointed professor of public health, which appointment he held until his resignation in 1945. He was also medical officer to Birmingham University when that post was created in 1942, and psychiatrist to Birmingham Children’s Hospital from 1935 to 1945. His examination and testing of feeble minded children was pioneer work, and was carried on partly with Dr Eichholz of the Board of Education.

He had numerous other interests. With his brother, H. A. Auden, he translated Rathgen’s Konservirung von Alterthumsfunden (1905) and he translated the catalogue of the pre-historic collection at the National Museum, Copenhagen. In 1911 he went on a tour of Canada primarily to give an address to the jubilee meeting of the Ontario Ministry of Education, and in 1932 gave a course of lectures on mental deficiency and social medicine at Ann Arbor University, Michigan. His main contribution was undoubtedly his work for handicapped children.

The 1914-18 War interrupted his work in Birmingham. He joined the Army in September 1914, and went to Gallipoli in 1915 in the 2nd South Midland Mounted Field Ambulance with the Bucks., Berks, and Dorset Yeomanry. At Suvla Bay he was in charge of an advance dressing station and related to his son how he carried a badly wounded sergeant on his back to safety. A frozen foot gave him much trouble in later life. In 1916 he became a lecturer at the Imperial School of Instruction at Cairo.

Later he saw service in France and later still he was attached to the Black Watch at Cromer. This sojourn in the Army brought him into opposition with Mr George Cadbury, the chairman of the Birmingham Education Committee, a pacifist who wanted to turn Auden out of his job. Cadbury did not succeed and later Birmingham honoured Auden by renaming the Moseley Road School for partially sighted children ‘The George Auden School’, an honour that gave him great pleasure. Not only did he found the school; he scoured the second-hand bookshops of Birmingham to pick up bibles and other books with large type. He was also adviser on sanitation to Rugby School where his friend and contemporary, A. I. Simey, F.R.C.P., was school physician.

The secret of Auden’s life was, as one of his sons said, that the notion of two cultures was utterly unknown in his house. Books of all kinds filled his library and his sons took it for granted that the arts and sciences were equally ‘humane’. He had a rain gauge on the lawn, and a revolving barometer in the study making graphs of the weather. The family on cycle tours collected fossils, minerals, beetles and wild flowers, rubbed brasses in churches and visited barrows and stone-circles.

His archaeological studies led to his election as F.S.A, in 1909, the year after he became a foreign member of the Society of Northern Antiquaries of Copenhagen. On holidays in his earlier days he went rock climbing and later was an ardent fell walker. He read and re-read with passion the favourites of his youth, the classics, Icelandic sagas, and Tennyson’s In Memoriam. His knowledge of the classics is best exemplified by his paper ‘The Madness of Ajax as conceived by Sophocles clinically considered’ (J. ment Sci., 1926, 72, 503-12).

He was, however, tone deaf and neither he nor his wife had any appreciation of the visual arts, as illustrated by the absense of a picture of real merit in the house. He was unfailingly generous with his money to his family, but was considered by his sons as a miser. His eldest son, G. B. Auden, became a farmer in Gloucestershire; the second, J. B. Auden, Sc.D. (Cantab.), a geologist working for the United Nations; and the third, W. H. Auden, the erstwhile professor of poetry at Oxford.

His wife died in 1945; he had married her in 1899 as Constance Rosalie, daughter of the Rev. R. H. Bickell, of Wroxham, Norfolk.

In his retirement he lived a strictly disciplined life, having breakfast at 6.0 a.m and always working by 8.0 a.m. He wrote twelve articles for the parish magazine on the history of Repton from before the Ice Age to modern times. In addition to this he was a craftsman making nearly all the furniture in his room, including his own bed.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1957,1, 1187; Lancet, 1957,1, 999, 1050; Times, 6 May 1957.]

(Volume V, page 16)

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