Lives of the fellows

Edgar Hartley Kettle

b.20 April 1882 d.1 December 1936
MB BS Lond(1907) MD Lond(1910) MRCP(1926) FRCP(1931) FRS(1936)

Professor Edgar Kettle, one of our most brilliant research workers on the pathogenesis and pathology of industrial lung diseases, was born in London to Edgar Kettle and Mary Austin Hartley. All his life he was dogged by illness; in 1898 he had to have excision of a knee joint at St. Mary’s Hospital by Edmund Owen, who tried to dissuade him from a career in medicine by telling him he was delicate and a cripple; chronic gastric trouble led to a perforated ulcer in 1934, and in 1935 he had to undergo gastro-enterostomy. He went up to St. Mary’s from Skipton Grammar School and in 1907, shortly after graduation, was appointed pathologist to the Cancer Hospital, Fulham. Before he returned to St. Mary’s in 1912 as assistant to Dr (later Sir) Bernard Spilsbury he worked for a time with Aschoff in Freiburg.

For twelve years, including those of the War, as he failed in several attempts to join the R.A.M.C., he held various posts until in 1924 he was appointed to the chair of pathology in the Welsh National School of Medicine at Cardiff. There he reorganised his department in new buildings and made it a centre for research. In 1927 he took the chair at St. Bartholomew’s Medical School, and succeeded in promoting pathology in all its aspects as an integral part of the clinical work of the Hospital before he accepted the invitation to become the first director of the newly founded Post-Graduate Medical School at Hammersmith in 1934.

Now he could give full play to his qualities as a teacher and an organiser. Within two years he had established full pathological services, organised teaching courses, and developed an active research department. Despite the further handicap of the loss of three fingers of the left hand as a sequel to the operation of gastro-enterostomy, he worked on to within a few weeks of his death.

Kettle’s main interests in research were tumours and the histo-pathology of infective processes. Between 1912 and 1916 he wrote an excellent paper on endothelioma and a minor classic entitled The Pathology of tumours (1916). But his international reputation rested on his studies on gas gangrene, on the association of infective tissue reaction with the nature of the infective pathogen, and, above all, on silicosis. In 1922 he showed with Gye that colloidal silica enhanced tuberculosis in mice; later, alone, that intravenous tubercle bacilli would infect silicotic nodules; that it was possible to identify physical and chemical features of dusts that made them pathogenic; and that he could produce in animals lesions resembling those of silicosis in man, by a mixture of dust and killed tubercle bacilli. In 1936 he was a College Councillor.

A sparsely built man, with a fine drawn face that was sad and austere in repose but vividly animated in conversation, he disliked pomposity and muddled thinking, but his criticism was always tempered by his humour and by his great capacity for commanding respect up to deep affection. In 1918 he married Dr Marguerite Pam, daughter of Leopold Pam, of London, and assistant editor of The Lancet. There were no children.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1936, 2, 1236-8 (p); J.Path.Bact., 1934, 44, 493-503, bibl.; Lancet, 1936, 2, 1427-9 (p), 1549-50; Nature (Lond.), 1936, 138, 1044; Obit. Not. roy. Soc., 1936-8, 2, 301-05 (p); St. Bart's Hosp. J., 1936-7, 44, 61-2 (p), 185; St. Bart's Hosp. Rep., 1937, 70, 1-8 (p), bibl.; Times, 2 (p), 4, 5 Dec. 1936; D.N.B., 1931-40, 510-11.]

(Volume V, page 229)

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