Lives of the fellows

Robert (Sir) Hutchison

b.28 November 1871 d.12 February 1960
Bt(1939) MB ChB Edin(1893) MD Edin(1896) Hon LLD Edin(1934) Hon MD Melb(1935) Hon DSc Oxon(1936) Hon LLD Birm(1938) MRCPE(1896) MRCP(1897) FRCP(1903) Hon FRCPE(1931)

Robert Hutchison, who was to become a national figure, a great scholar and writer, a beloved and inspiring teacher and a distinguished President of the College, was born at Carlowrie House, Kirkliston, West Lothian. His father, Robert, the son of a wine merchant, had, as a country gentleman, established a reputation for his knowledge of forestry that was recognised in a fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh; his mother was Mary Jemima, daughter of the Rev. Adam Duncan Tait, minister of Kirkliston. His eldest brother, Sir Thomas Hutchison, Bart., was Lord Provost of Edinburgh, 1921-3.

From the Collegiate School he entered Edinburgh University to graduate with the highest honours, and to hold, among other posts, a junior residency at the Sick Children’s Hospital. Study at Strasbourg and Paris led to a post in the department of clinical pathology until he secured a residency at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, in 1896, and then one in the physiology department of the London Hospital until 1900, when he joined the staff of both hospitals.

Thereafter his reputation as a teacher and a writer grew steadily, for he had the ability to express in concise and fastidious language his extraordinary powers of clinical observation. Within a few years he had a continuous flow of students, impressed by his tall, gaunt, rather stooping figure, and entranced by his incisive comments on ward rounds. They listened with joy even when his caustic wit reached towards sadism in such alliterative condemnations of themselves as ‘a curious collection of crapulous cretins creeping from crib to crib’, and he would make a newcomer cringe with such reminders as that he was ‘percussing a child’s lung not the cellars in the basement’, while he himself was ‘not aware that the kidney was an organ that lent itself to percussion’. They did so because they sensed that his individual method of teaching was really in part a pose, an assumption of cynicism, that failed to hide a mind that was intellectually gay and a heart that felt deeply for all human suffering, especially the sufferings of children, though seldom for the sufferings of a candidate for the College Membership.

His books gained enormous popularity; the issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood that celebrated his eightieth birthday lists 276 references to books, articles and letters to the press. Already for over forty years few students had not bought a copy of his Lectures on diseases of children (1904, etc.).

His distinctions and honours were many, the highest being Harveian orator in 1931, president of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1934-5, and President of the College, 1938-41. He was also Goulstonian lecturer in 1904, a Councillor, 1922-4, a Censor, 1925, 1926, and 1929, and Lloyd Roberts lecturer in 1939.

In 1905 he married Dr Laetitia Nora Ede, daughter of the Very Rev. William Moore Ede, Dean of Worcester. They had five children, of whom two sons and one daughter survived him. His portrait by James Gunn was presented by Lady Hutchison to the College in 1960.

Richard R Trail

[Arch. Dis. Childh., 1951, 26, 365-72 (p), 467-75 (p), bibl;, 1960, 1, 571-3 (p), 655-6, 735-6, 810, 973; J. Pediat., 1961, 58, 137-9; Lancet, 1960, 1. 442-3 (p); Lond, Hosp. Gaz., 1951, 54, 146-9 (p); 1960, 63. 33-5; Times, 13 Feb,1960. Port., by Sir James Gunn, 1938.]

(Volume V, page 208)

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