Lives of the fellows

Gordon Morgan (Sir) Holmes

b.22 February 1876 d.29 December 1965
CMG(1917) CBE(1919) Kt(1951) BA Dubl(1897) MB BCh Dubl(1898) MD Dubl(1903) Hon DSc Dubl(1933) Hon DSc NUI(1941) Hon DCL Durh(1944) Hon LLD Edin(1952) MRCP(1908) FRCP(1914) FRS(1933)

Gordon Holmes was born in Dublin. He was named after his father, a landowner, descended from a Yorkshire family that had settled in King’s County in the mid-seventeenth century. His mother, Kathleen, inherited from her father, John Morgan, Dellin House and demesne at Castlebellingham, co. Louth. At Trinity College, Dublin, which he entered from the Dundalk Educational Institute, he read natural science and medicine. He then spent two years with Edinger and Weigert at the Anatomical Institute in Frankfurt, working on original anatomical research, and laying the foundation of his life interest in neurology by the detailed histological study of Goltz’s ‘dog without a forebrain’.

On his return to London he began the association with the National Hospital, Queen Square,that was to last until 1941 in the successive posts of house physician, resident medical officer, pathologist, director of research and physician. For different periods he was also on the staffs of the Moorfields Eye, the Seamen’s and Charing Cross Hospitals.

Only after he had been for some time in France with a Red Cross Hospital did the R.A.M.C, reverse its decision to reject him for service owing to his myopia; he became a consultant to the British Expeditionary Force. Arduous official duties did not deter him from notable observations on the effects of gun-shot wounds of the spinal cord and brain. This led him to the detailed analysis of cerebellar functions on which he was to become the leading authority. For his services he was awarded the C.M.G, and the C.B.E.

Holmes was the last of a long sequence of physicians and surgeons at Queen Square, among whom were numbered Hughlings Jackson, Brown-Sequard, David Ferrier, William Gowers, Charles Bastian and Victor Horsley, all of them fellows of the Royal Society, and all of them, like himself, doing outstanding research work in the little time they could spare from long hours in hospital and private practice. For nineteen years, until he joined the Emergency Medical Service, Holmes concentrated on the problems of the slow deterioration of brain function, always relying on meticulous observation to the exclusion of mere theory. This is why in his work on sensation he was the perfect foil to Head.

Very soon his reputation as a teacher brought him post-graduate students from the Dominions and America. He demonstrated with the decision of a past master, lucidly and logically, ever as impatient of the popular approach as he was of the polished oratory of after-dinner speakers and of time-wasting committee men. With his tall, powerful frame and his hawk-like eyes under beetling brows and spectacles, he intimidated candidates for the College Membership until they found that direct answers to direct questions brought out the kindliness for which he was known to his intimate friends.

His work was recognised in honorary degrees from the Universities of Dublin, Durham and Edinburgh, an F.R.S, in 1933, a knighthood in 1951, and the presidency of the Second International Neurological Congress in 1935. At the College he gave the Goulstonian lectures in 1915 and the Croonian lectures in 1922; he was a Councillor, 1932-4, a Censor, 1934, 1935 and 1937, and Conway Evans prizeman in 1952. In his earlier days he was fond of walking, and of boating on the Thames; later he took to golf and gardening.

In 1918 he married Rosalie Jobson, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., the daughter of Brigade Surgeon W. Jobson. They had three daughters.

Richard R Trail

[Biogr.Mem.Roy.Soc., 1966, 12, 311-19 (p), bibl. ; Brit.med.J., 1966, 1, 111-12 (p), 177; Charing Cr. Hosp. Gaz., 1966, 64, 75-7 (p); J. nerv. ment. Dis., 1965, 141, 497-504; Lancet, 1966, 1, 101 (p), 158; Nature (Lond.), 1966, 220, 853-4; Times, 30 Dec. 1965 (p). Port, by Harold Knight at the National Hospital.]

(Volume V, page 195)

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