Lives of the fellows

Philip Hamill

b.15 October 1883 d.3 March 1959
BA Cantab(1906) BSc Lond(1906) MA Cantab(1920) DSc Lond(1910) MD Cantab(1913) MRCS LRCP(1910) MRCP(1912) FRCP(1919)

Philip Hamill was born at Bedford Park, the son of a civil servant, Philip Hamill, and his wife, who was formerly Anne Molyneux. From St. Paul’s School, where he was a scholar, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, on a scholarship, and after taking a first class degree in both parts of the natural sciences tripos stayed on for two years as a Coutts-Trotter research student in physiology. This experience under the direction of Professor W. E. Dixon gave him a life-long interest in pharmacology, which he taught with therapeutics at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital for many years.

As a leading expert on this subject he became secretary to the Pharmacopoeia Committee of the General Medical Council and a member of the Therapeutics Trials Committee of the Medical Research Council, and visited all the medical schools to inspect and report on their teaching.

Hamill’s association with London hospitals was extensive. After qualifying he held a succession of posts at St. Bartholomew’s. He then became pathologist at the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Chest and physician to the National Heart Hospital. He was a junior demonstrator in pathology at St. Bartholomew’s until he went to Mesopotamia with the R.A.M.C, in 1916. He subsequently became physician to the Metropolitan Hospital and to the St. Andrew’s Hospital, Dollis Hill, after his demobilisation in 1919.

His career as a consultant began in 1914, but was interrupted by the war until 1919. At the bedside he showed some of the qualities of the old-fashioned general practitioner of the best type. Large and impressive in manner, with a soft and comforting voice and gentle hands, he was a past master in such important details as making the patient comfortable by nursing care and the food and drink of the invalid. He avoided subjecting his patient to the numerous investigations, often of an unpleasant nature and so fashionable in scientific medicine, unless he saw a clear indication for them. With regard to surgery, when he considered that operative intervention was desirable, there was no-one who could be more persistent in his persuasion of both patient and surgeon.

It is hard to understand why he was not as successful as some of his contemporaries. Paradoxically his first and his lasting absorption in pharmacology may have stood in his way, while the variety of his interests, which included cardiology and general medicine, may have prevented that concentration upon one of them so necessary to success. Again, he may have been unfortunate in the timing of his application for vacancies. One always felt that he had been unlucky, and that many of his contemporaries achieved a success in practice out of proportion to their abilities when compared with his.

He always focused an intense concentration upon the affair of the moment. During a viva voce examination, for instance, he might introduce the treatment of gall-stone colic to an examinee with the words ‘I’m writhing on the ground in agonising pain’. His eyes would be fixed intently upon the candidate as though actually observing the hypothetical scene. When teaching he insisted upon the value of personal clinical experience. Again, in a practical demonstration in pharmacology, he was as acutely interested in the outcome as the most inexperienced among his audience. He watched with excitement, after the injection of atropine into an experimental animal, for the preliminary slowing of the heart and for the subsequent tachycardia. This quality of enthusiasm added a vivid quality both to his demonstrations and to his lectures, which made them memorable.

His hobbies were sailing and gardening. He first sailed when he was invalided to Bombay after contracting sandfly fever in Mesopotamia during the First World War. To gardening he brought much of his special knowledge of chemistry, analysing the qualities of the soil and noticing its effect upon the growth of plants.

In 1918 he married Maude Zehetmayr, by whom he had two sons and two daughters.

Richard R Trail

[, 1959, 1, 722, 794, 1050; Lancet, 1959, 1, 586-7, 739; Times, 6 Mar. 1959.]

(Volume V, page 170)

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