Lives of the fellows

Richard Hume Townshend

b.10 August 1918 d.7 January 1997
BSc Manch(1939) MBChB(1942) MRCS LRCP(1942) DTM&H(1947) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1971)

A scion from Castletownshend in Cork where his forbears were rewarded by Cromwell for their help in the suppression of the Royalists, Richard Hume Townshend was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, and educated at Haileybury College. Proceeding to medical studies in Manchester, he was an outstanding student, gaining a BSc degree in 1939, then the Bradley memorial prize and later the surgery prize. Indeed before graduation in 1942 he took over as solo RMO from R Logan in Salford Royal Hospital where ten nurses were killed in a bomb blast during a blitz air-raid.

He later followed R Logan to Liverpool and to sea on troopships in the South Atlantic and round the Cape to India. Together they pioneered the use of intensive arsphenamine IV daily for primary syphilis for two weeks on duty at sea. Such attempts maintained the ship’s manpower, morale and reduced the risks of re-infection when treated ashore in Liverpool over the four month routine therapy.

In 1945 as surgeon lieutenant, Townshend transferred to RNVR and was posted to HMS Nile in Alexandria where he volunteered to serve as medical officer on an admiralty floating dock to be towed by three ocean-going tugs to Bermuda. However the single officer in command had to be landed as a psychiatric emergency at the Azores and Townshend took over the command of the floating dock which proceeded to Bermuda as planned.

On being demobilized in 1946 in Liverpool he joined the research team at the School of Tropical Medicine, testing the new synthetic drug paludrine on benign and malignant tertian malaria. The results were quickly published in three papers.

In 1947 he passed his diploma in tropical medicine. He married a research colleague Mary Tottey in 1948, just after taking his MRCP. He returned to general medicine, working as a senior registrar in Salford Royal Hospital for two years. He then transferred to the chest clinic in nearby Manchester. He was there for a further three years before being appointed as a consultant chest physician in Sheffield, based at Lodge Moor sanatorium.

In that pre-antibiotic era the only treatment for tuberculosis was rest in bed in clean air and rest to the lung by pneumothorax. In 1953 alone 690 new cases were notified in Sheffield. To try to contain the spread of infection, Townshend worked closely with the medical officers of health for the rehousing of the contact’s family from overcrowded slums to the new council housing estates in the suburbs. With school doctors he helped to initiate Mantoux tubercular skin testing of the children and later BCG vaccination. With the arrival of streptomycin and better living standards this ‘curse of consumption’ fell to barely sixty new cases in 1980, mainly on out-patient surveillance. The TB sanatorium at last was obsolete - but not chest physician Townshend.

With his broader clinical interests, he was supervising the mass miniature radiography service and working on asbestosis and pneumoconiosis. He reported a case of acute cadmium pneumonitis in 1968 and its follow up seventeen years later. However, it was bronchial cancer that was increasingly dominating his clinical work. In Yorkshire Townshend pioneered the introduction of the bronchoscope and by 1968 reported on ‘1001 bronchoscopes’ to the Medico-Chirurgical Society in Sheffield. He spoke unencumbered by his severe stammer as he could do successfully on such occasions, although these were challenges which he naturally avoided. But the stammer was no barrier to his generous communication with staff and colleagues and his empathy with patients and their families.

Thus his opinion on diseases of the chest was widely sought by fellow consultants and family doctors. He was a clinical teacher at the Sheffield Medical School and regularly lectured to nurses.

He served on the committee of the British Thoracic Association and on advisory groups to the Ministry of Health on BCG protection, as well as on the X-ray of all new immigrants.

In 1982 on retirement he returned to his extended family of farmers and clergy on the Welsh borders, in the village of Llanfairwaterdine. With his wife he created a magnificent garden out of a steep wilderness which was open for charity every June. He was a keen fly fisherman and also an expert ornithologist. He made nesting boxes in the valley and took part in bird surveys for the RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology. With his wife Richard was active in the small community and particularly in the church in this idyllic valley. The church was overflowing at the Thanksgiving Service. He died from a coronary thrombosis following an operation for a hip replacement.

R Logan

[Brit.med.J., 1997,314,1557]

(Volume X, page 496)

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