Lives of the fellows

George Harold Arthur Comyns (Sir) Berkeley

b.16 October 1865 d.27 January 1946
MA MB Cantab(1892) MD MCh FRCS FRCOG FRCP(1909)

Comyns Berkeley, the eldest son of G. A. Berkeley, a wine merchant of Clapham, was born at Notting Hill and went to school at Dulwich and Marlborough. At Caius College, Cambridge, he read natural sciences, graduating in 1887. From there he went on to the Middlesex Hospital and took the M.B. degree in 1892. His first house appointments were at the Brompton Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children, but he returned to the Middlesex to hold junior obstetric posts and in 1903 was elected physician-accoucheur on the visiting staff, on which he remained active until 1930, when he was made consulting obstetric surgeon. Other institutions which he served in an honorary capacity included the City of London Maternity Hospital, the Chelsea Hospital for Women, the Hornsey, Eltham and Clacton Hospitals and the L.C.C. Radium Centre, Lambeth. During the 1914-1918 War he was surgeon-in-charge of the Clacton Military Hospital.

Comyns Berkeley, who was knighted in 1934, was influential in regularising and raising the standard of English midwifery among both doctors and midwives. During the course of his career he acted as Examiner in the subject for the majority of the English Universities, for the Conjoint Board, and for the Society of Apothecaries. As examiner, member and, after 1936, chairman of the Central Midwives Board, he raised considerably the status of midwives. He took a similar interest in the Royal College of Nursing. Professionally, Comyns Berkeley, a fastidious operator, was known best for his pioneer work with Victor Bonney on operative treatment for carcinoma of the cervix. He first used radium for this condition in 1912 and later served as a member of the National Radium Committee. He was a prolific author of successful textbooks. His Handbook for Obstetric Dressers and Midwives, first published in 1906, reached a thirteenth edition in 1946. Gynaecology for Nurses (1910) was almost equally popular. He was an editor of Midwifery by Ten Teachers and Diseases of Women by Ten Teachers, both well-known in their day, and collaborated with Bonney in writing a Textbook of Gynaecological Surgery (1911) and other works of note. He was also editor of the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Empire for over two decades.

The scientific aspect of medicine appealed little to Comyns Berkeley—hence the lack of enthusiasm and relative failure of his Cambridge career. But the human aspect inspired him to devote himself to the branches of medicine least connected with abstract science—midwifery and nursing. He himself was essentially a bon viveur, delighting in jovial company, enjoying travel, shooting, hunting and golf, and relishing good food and lavish hospitality. He married in 1895 Ethel, daughter of E. King Fordham of Ashwell, Hertfordshire. He died in the Middlesex Hospital.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1946; B.M.J., 1946; Al.Cantab., i, 243]

(Volume IV, page 497)

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