Lives of the fellows

Seymour John (Sir) Sharkey

b.10 July 1847 d.6 September 1929
BM Oxon(1875) MA DM FRCP(1885)

Seymour Sharkey was born at St. Peter’s, Jersey, the third son of Edmund Patrick Sharkey, M.D, who practised in Ballinasloe, Ireland. After leaving Christ’s Hospital, he entered Jesus College, Oxford, in 1866, with a classical scholarship. Having taken a first class in natural science in 1870, he worked as a demonstrator under George Rolleston and in 1873 was awarded a Radcliffe travelling fellowship which enabled him to visit Berlin, Paris and Vienna. On his return he studied at St. Thomas’s Hospital, graduating as B.M. in 1875, and afterwards received resident appointments there and at the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Chest. He was elected assistant physician to St. Thomas’s in 1879 and full physician in 1890, and lectured on pathology and medicine. Sharkey soon became noted as a teacher and, in spite of his mordant wit, which was exercised on the students present, his rounds attracted large numbers, many of them from other hospitals. During his residence in London, Osier frequently attended these rounds; he later stated in public that it was in this way that he learned "all the medicine I know".

Sharkey exemplified his own view that every physician should conduct his own post mortems and pathological work. Although essentially a general physician of wide interests, he devoted some degree of specialised study to the diseases of the nervous system, being one of the first to adopt the principles of Weir Mitchell. In 1904 he was elected president of the Neurological Society of the United Kingdom. At the Royal College of Physicians, Sharkey delivered the Goulstonian Lectures in 1886 and the Bradshaw Lecture in 1906, and became a Censor. In spite of his undoubted eminence, however, he failed to build up a large private practice, presumably because of his undiplomatic habit of speaking his mind. After his retirement in 1910, he served as medical referee to the Treasury till 1923. He was knighted in 1914, and elected an honorary fellow of his old College at Oxford in 1918. Sharkey was possessed of a critical mind, his powers of observation and passion for detail being almost obsessional at times. He was slow in coming to a conclusion but, when he had done so, was unshakable and generally correct. He was a man of exuberant vitality and devoted to open-air life. He was unmarried and lived for much of his time with his friend Sir George Savage near the River Test, where they fished and golfed. He died at Portland Place, London.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1929; B.M.J., 1929; Times, 7 Sept. 1929; Al.Oxon., iv, 1279]

(Volume IV, page 308)

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