Lives of the fellows

Henry Adolph Magnus

b.11 November 1909 d.12 September 1967
MRCS LRCP(1932) MB BS Lond(1933) MD(1937) MRCP(1949) FRCP(1956)

Born in Birmingham, his father was David George Henry Magnus, an engineer, and his mother Lucy, was the daughter of Thomas Swift of independent means. He was educated at St. Christopher’s, Bath, and Mill Hill School, proceeding to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College in 1927, where he obtained the Conjoint qualification in 1932.

Magnus held resident appointments at Barts as casualty house physician and as house physician to the Medical Unit under George Graham, and from 1933 to 1934 he was resident medical officer at the Papworth Village Settlement. He was then appointed as a research assistant in the Department of Bacteriology at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College, where he worked with L.P. Garrod and A.Q. Wells on experimental appendicitis. After brief sojourns in the routine bacteriology laboratory and clinical laboratory he became senior demonstrator in pathology to G. Hadfleld in 1935. He was promoted to senior lecturer in morbid anatomy in 1945-6.

At the outbreak of war he crossed to France early with the Expenditionary Force and escaped at Dunkirk, only to find himself posted to the Middle East as consultant pathologist to a general hospital with the rank of major. He became Assistant Director of Pathology in Palestine and when hostilities ceased returned with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel to a similar post in Eastern Command. He was demobilised in 1945 and returned to his post of senior lecturer in morbid anatomy at Barts.

In July 1946 he was appointed Morbid Anatomist at King’s College Hospital Medical School and in 1947 succeeded E.ff. Creed as Director of the Pathology Department. He was appointed to the newly created Chair of Morbid Anatomy at that School in 1948, a post he held until his death.

His chief publications were "The Gastric Lesion in Pernicious Anaemia" with C.C. Ungley, Lancet, 1938,i, 420, "Experimental Production of Malignant Papillomata of the Lung in Mice" Journal of Path, and Bact. 1939, 49, 21, and "Primary Reticulosarcoma of Bone", with H.L-C. Wood, Bone and Joint Surgery, 1956, 38, v 258. In 1957 he delivered the Kettle Memorial Lecture, which was published as "Reassessment of the Gastric Lesion in Pernicious Anaemia", J. clin. Path. 1958, 11, 289, and "The Stomach in Pernicious Anaemia" Acta Haemat. 1960, 24. A member of the Association of Clinical Pathologists, the Pathological Society of Great Britain and the British Society of Gastroenterology, he served on the editorial board of the Journal of Clinical Pathology and of Gut and was highly regarded for his constructive assessment of papers. He served for periods as Secretary of the British Society of Gastroenterology and as Secretary and Vice President of the Section of the Royal Society of Medicine. He examined for the University of London, The College of Pathologists, The Royal College of Physicians, The Royal College of Surgeons, as well as for the Conjoint Board. He was Secretary of the Board of Studies in Pathology in the University of London.

Magnus was a brilliant teacher and his colourful personality made him popular with both undergraduates and postgraduates. He could hold his audiences’ attention by his sound sense and an ability to enliven his lectures with clinical anecdotes.

He was especially interested in the affairs of students and would take enormous trouble to help them when academic or personal guidance was needed. His disarming charm and bantering good humour made him popular with staff and students and he was frequently depicted in the Christmas pantomime. A fair but kindly examiner, he would always do his best to help a nervous or shy examination candidate.

The high promise of his earlier research was interrupted by his war service and apart from a reassessment of his earlier findings, which were presented as the Kettle Lecture, his subsequent contributions were small. On the other hand his experiences in the army had created a personality under which his staff and technicians were happy to serve. He showed a personal interest not only in their careers, but also took enormous trouble at times of illness and distress. This was recognised in his election as President of the Institute of Medical Laboratory Technicians from 1960 to 1964, during which time its Golden Jubilee was celebrated. Magnus’s stocky build and powerful outline of his features, with his purposeful gait and determined and incisive manner inevitably made him a strong personality. He devoted himself wholeheartedly to King’s and to King’s matters, and with his forceful personality he could bring into effect matters which lesser beings would have found impossible. With so active a person and so vital a personality it was inevitable that mistakes and wrong decisions would sometimes be made. Indeed he could be a ruthless enemy; this last could lead those with whom he could not get agreement to seek posts elsewhere. His volatile and mercurial temperament sometimes caused stormy scenes which often led to an amicable settlement more quickly than by erudite argument in committees.

He played an important part in influencing the Medical School in its decision to build the extension completed in 1958 and in reestablishment of the Chairs of Medicine, Surgery and Midwifery, which had been held in abeyance for many years, and which had to be carried against the far from wholehearted support of his clinical colleagues. He is usually credited with the development of the Division of Pathology but this concept was in fact initiated by his predecessor E.ff. Creed, who during his time in office had already begun the expansion of the Pathology Department, with the creation of a separate Department of Bacteriology. To Magnus must be attributed the creation of a sub-department of Experimental Pathology in King’s to fill the gap in research activities of his own department, which were precluded by his genius as a teacher and administrator.

Magnus had a zest for life which with a forceful, breezy manner and infective enthusiasm enabled him to contribute to any gathering. He never drove a car, probably on account of the attacks of migraine from which he suffered, and his three main hobbies were gardening (at which he was highly accomplished), cooking and deep sea fishing.

In 1935 Magnus married Agnes Kathleen Aiken, daughter of a merchant of Belfast. There were two sons of this marriage, neither of whom has followed their father’s profession.

CH Gray

[, 1967, 3, 803 & 4, 179; Lancet, 1967, 2, 679; Times, 14 Sept 1967]

(Volume VI, page 325)

<< Back to List