Lives of the fellows

Richard Douglas (Sir) Powell

b.25 September 1842 d.15 December 1925
KCVO MD Lond Hon DSc Oxon Hon MD Dubl RUI Hon LLD Aberd Birm MRCS FRCP(1873) Hon FRCPI

Richard Douglas Powell was born at Walthamstow, the son of Captain Scott Powell of the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers by his wife, Eliza, daughter of Richard Meeke, and spent part of his childhood at Toft near Cambridge and part at a private school in Streatham. He was a medical student at University College, London, qualifying and graduating, with first-class honours, in 1865, and acting as house physician to William Jenner. His first assistant physician’s post was at the Brompton Hospital (1868), where he was later made physician (1875) and consulting physician (1889), and he also held consulting appointments at the Marylebone Dispensary and Evelina Hospital for Sick Children. He obtained his first posts at a teaching hospital in 1871, when Charing Cross elected him assistant physician and lecturer on materia medica. These he relinquished, however, when the Middlesex Hospital offered him an assistant physicianship in 1878. He remained in permanent association with the Middlesex as lecturer, physician (1880) and consulting physician (1900).

His appointment as Physician-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria in 1887, thanks largely to Jenner’s influence at Court, and, twelve years later, as Physician-in-Ordinary in succession to Jenner, firmly cemented the success, of which his clinical and pathological work had laid the foundations. He held the same office under Edward VII and George V and attended the last illnesses of both Victoria and Edward. He figured prominently in the affairs of London medical societies, being president of the Clinical Society, the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society — in its centenary year — and the Medical Society of London, and took a leading part in securing the amalgamation of the majority of these societies into the Royal Society of Medicine in 1907. The Royal College of Physicians likewise owed much to his support. He was Censor for the years 1898, 1899 and 1902 and President for five successive years (1905-10) as well as giving the Lumleian Lectures in 1898 and the Harveian Oration in 1914. The former dealt with the treatment of heart diseases which, with chest diseases, were the main subject of his writings. His chief work was On the Principal Varieties of Pulmonary Tuberculosis with Practical Comments (1872) of which a sixth edition, with modifications to its title, appeared in 1921. But Douglas Powell was an accomplished general physician as well as a widely recognised specialist, and the impression of dignity conveyed by his tall, spare figure and stern, immobile features, together with his unfailing sense of what was correct for every important occasion, were valuable assets in the many offices that he filled.

Powell married firstly, in 1873, Juliet, daughter of Sir John Bennett, sheriff of London and Middlesex, by whom he had three sons and two daughters, and, secondly, in 1917 Edith Mary Burke, daughter of Henry Wood of Cleveland Square, London. He died in London.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1925; B.M.J., 1925; Presidential Address to R.C.P., 1926, 29; D.N.B., 1922-30, 686]

(Volume IV, page 218)

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