Lives of the fellows

Newman Neild

b.26 May 1872 d.4 July 1934
MB ChB Manch(1896) MRCS LRCP(1897) MRCP(1907) FRCP(1928)

Every so often in the medical profession there turns up an individual to whom the term eccentric would not be unfairly applied. Recluse, antiquarian, anachronist, sorcerer’s apprentice—each of these appellations could be attached to that intriguing personality, Newman Neild. Born in Manchester, he was of Quaker stock, for his father, Theodore Neild, was principal of Dalton Hall. His mother was formerly Helen Newman. He was educated at Bootham School, York, and at Owen’s College, Manchester, and after qualifying held resident posts at the Manchester Royal Infirmary, Brompton Hospital and Great Ormond Street. At the first of these he came under the influence of Julius Dreschfeld, while at the other two he made life-long friendships with those great men who were at that time medical registrars—Robert A. Young and George F. Stillrespectively. Neild settled in practice in Bristol and in 1901 was appointed assistant physician to the General Hospital, which he served until his sudden death in 1934.

Neild’s principal interests lay in materia medica and therapeutics, but they were of past centuries. He did not pretend to be scientific for he practised the healing art with enthusiastic unorthodoxy. Simples and medicinal plants fascinated him, and he owned an important collection of herbals. He did not hesitate to employ many of these mediaeval remedies, and when he chose he borrowed freely from folk-lore, and also from the armamentarium of homoeopathy—though employing these drugs in his own allopathic fashion. His students were privileged to witness such empirical gestures as Scutellaria for debility, ignatia for depression, mistletoe for epilepsy, zinc for night-sweats, bichromate of potash for premenstrual pain, cane sugar for heart failure, injections of seawater for shock, garlic (in the boots) for chest disease, and even— be it said—mouse-pie for enuresis. Neither heroic doses nor very small ones were despised. Thus he employed steadily increasing amounts of Fowler’s solution for chorea, and massive doses of calomel for mild constipation. On the other hand patients with troublesome vomiting might be required to sip a tumbler of water to which a single drop of Lugol's iodine had been added, one with facial neuralgia to have leeches applied to his toes, and one with persistent headache to suffer a seton in the nape of his neck. It is not surprising that with their therapeutic innovations of salvarsan and insulin Neild looked askance at his colleagues, and they, in turn, at him. He was very much the cat that walked alone.

At the bedside he examined his patients rapidly, but in no perfunctory fashion. He took pride in the art of percussion and in cases of pleural effusion liked to demonstrate Grocco's triangle, and shifting dullness by tilting the patient from one side to another. The tapping out of dull patches over swollen hilar glands was another tribute to his expertise. He paid great attention to the appearance of the tongue, the odour of the breath, and especially to the stools. Indeed a ritual visit to the sluice, where the bedpan of every patient was laid out for his inspection, was the solemn climax to his teaching round. Augury by ordure was indeed his hobby, and by observing the motions of the bowels he divined the mysteries of life and death. Obviously he loved teaching, but so torrential and so rapid was his flow of talk that students often found him hard to follow.

His quick, bird-like mind hopped from topic to topic and his conversation was of the allusive type. Inattentive listeners, or those whose wits moved at a more leisurely pace, could not keep up with the knight's-move progression of his argument. Withal he was witty in an impish or mischievous way, and no mean mimic. Towards his pupils he was passionately loyal, and to support them and further their interests he would battle on until every imaginable obstacle was surmounted. They on their part were devoted to him, though it was obvious that ‘Nogs’—as they called him—was out of step with most of the other chiefs.

He did not have a big practice and was not in great demand as a consultant, but his out-patient clientele was enormous. It was here that he was supreme. He conducted these clinics standing in the doorway of the waiting-room, and letting the patients file past. To each one he handed out some lightning-like instruction or advice, laced with a pertinent jest or a quip. He would never discharge a patient, nor delegate his clinic to another; nor for that matter would a single one of his flock have consented to see anybody else. Outside of medicine he had numerous interests, including botany, natural history, occultism, and the stage. He collected much—old books, flints, bric-a-brac. Porcelain was perhaps his favourite quest, and he became well-known as an authority on Bristol china, especially its Delft ware.

His appearance was reminiscent of Beaverbrook, for he was clean-shaven, short and gnome-like. His hair, thin on top, was worn long back and sides. His jerky movements, flitting smile and rapid gestures mirrored his mental agility. Generous, warmhearted but touchy, he made one think of Fluellen. Right up to the time of his death he went on with his hospital work in his usual energetic fashion, though warning notes of anginal pain had latterly been sounding.

By his wife, Gertrude, he had two daughters.

Richard R Trail

[Bristol med.-chir. J., 1934, 51, 198-9; Brit.med.J., 1934, 2, 93; Lancet, 1934, 2, 167-8.]

(Volume V, page 304)

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