Lives of the fellows

Henry (Sir) Head

b.4 August 1861 d.8 October 1940
BA Cantab(1884) MA MD Hon LLD Edin Hon MD Strasbourg MRCS FRS FRCP(1900)

Henry Head was born at Stamford Hill, the eldest son of Henry Head, a Lloyd’s insurance broker, who came of a Quaker family, and his wife Hester, daughter of Richard Beck. He was educated at Grove House School, Tottenham, Charterhouse and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated as B.A. in 1884, having obtained first class honours in both parts of the natural science tripos. He then undertook experiments on the action of the vagus nerve, under Hering’s direction at Prague, before completing his medical training at University College, London. Having qualified in 1890, he obtained junior posts at University College Hospital, the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Chest, and the County Asylum, Rainhill. He next became registrar at the London Hospital where he was elected assistant physician in 1896 and physician and consulting physician at later stages of his career. Meanwhile, he had already established himself as a coming leader in neurology by publishing in Brain (1893-96) his M.D. thesis on Disturbances of Sensation, with especial reference to the Pain of Visceral Diseases. In 1903 he decided to make observations on the sensory changes following section and regeneration of the radial and external cutaneous nerves. For this purpose the nerves of his own left arm were cut and sutured. The results, of which W. H. R. Rivers acted as an observer, were first published in Brain in 1908 and raised Head’s reputation to the highest level. They and other articles by Head and five fellow-workers were reprinted in Studies in Neurology in 1920. His last major work, Aphasia and Kindred Disorders of Speech, appeared in 1926. He was also the author of articles in Allbutt’s System of Medicine, and he edited Brain from 1910 to 1925.

Head’s achievements were recognised by the award of the Marshall Hall medal of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society in 1903, the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1908, and the Moxon Medal of the Royal College of Physicians in 1927. To the College he delivered the Goulstonian Lectures in 1901 and the Croonian Lectures in 1911, and, to the Royal Society, the Croonian Lecture of 1921. He was knighted in 1927. Head, who ranked with the great English neurologists, was a teacher of infectious enthusiasm and vitality, who combined a scientific outlook with a vivid imagination; a large rotund figure with beard and moustache and a voice that became falsetto in moments of excitement. He was a man of wide interests and catholic tastes. He owed much to the support of his wife, Ruth, daughter of Anthony Lawson Mayhew, fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, herself a highly gifted woman. They had no children. He died at Reading, a victim of Parkinson’s disease.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1940; B.M.J., 1940; Times, 10 Oct. 1940; D.N.B., 1931-40, 410; Al.Cantab., iii, 306]

(Volume IV, page 421)

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