Lives of the fellows

Herbert Ritchie Spencer

b.16 January 1860 d.28 August 1941
MD Lond Hon LLD Aberd MRCS LSA FRCP(1899)

Herbert Spencer was born at Atherstone in Warwickshire, the second son of Henry Spencer, railway contractor, and was named after his uncle, the philosopher. As a boy he received a sound classical education at the local grammar school. He entered University College, London, in 1879 and qualified as a doctor four years later. Having held house appointments at University College Hospital, he toured Australasia and Europe before returning to the Hospital as an assistant in the midwifery department under Sir John Williams. In 1887 he was made assistant obstetric physician and in 1893 professor of obstetric medicine. He remained on the active staff till 1925, when he retired as consulting obstetric physician and emeritus professor. Spencer examined for both Royal Colleges and for the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London. At the Royal College of Physicians he delivered the Harveian Oration in 1921, the Lloyd-Roberts Lecture in 1924, and the FitzPatrick Lectures in 1927. These lectures gave evidence of his vast knowledge of the history of his own speciality, and he was responsible for establishing Harvey as an obstetrician of the first rank. His writings on practical midwifery, notably his Lettsomian Lectures Tumours Complicating Pregnancy, Labour and the Puerperium (1920) and Caesarean Section (1925) were based on painstaking research. A careful operator and a sound teacher, he was conservative in outlook and suspicious of innovations. In manner he was forthright if not brusque, with a tendency to be obstructive in committees. A lover of travel and field sports, he collected objets d'art and old books, and owned a unique library of early works on obstetrics.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1941; B.M.J., 1941; Presidential Address to R.C.P., 1942, 11]

(Volume IV, page 416)

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