Lives of the fellows

Henry Arthur Treble

b.8 December 1907 d.21 June 1981
BM BCh Oxon(1932) MRCP(1935) FRCP(1955)

Henry Treble was born in Croydon, Surrey, the only child of Henry Arthur Treble MA, and Sarah Robson, daughter of Robert Bewick Toplady, a schoolmaster. HA Treble senior taught classics at Selhurst Grammar School, Croydon, and was the author or co-author of several successful books on classical subjects, notably Everyday Life in Rome with KM King for the Oxford University Press, and A Classical and Biblical Reference Book for John Murray. He was a scholarly and precise man — his brother, Treble’s uncle, was a mathematics teacher — and this critical and scholastic background was strongly inherited from both sides of the family.

Treble was educated at Whitgift School, Croydon, from 1916 to 1926; he distinguished himself on the science side but was no athlete. He entered Magdalen College, Oxford, as a Demy (foundation scholar) and took second class honours in animal physiology in 1929; from Oxford he won the senior science War Memorial scholarship to Guy’s Hospital Medical School, worth £100 per annum. At Guy’s he qualified MRCS LRCP in July 1932, adding the Oxford BM BCh in December, having served his apprenticeship under Douthwaite, Murch, Fagge and Davies-Colley; the MRCP followed in 1935, and a medical registrarship. During his postgraduate years at Guy’s he contributed a paper to Brain (1938, LXI, p. 116) with S de Navasquez on ‘A case of primary generalized amyloid disease with involvement of the nerves’, and might have been in the running for a consultant appointment, but Norman Ashton, formerly director of pathology at Canterbury and Treble’s contemporary and close friend, recalls that ‘his outspoken and even acerbic comments counted against him’.

Instead he joined the general practice of the Wachers, a Canterbury dynasty, in 1939 and was appointed honorary assistant physician to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital; it was then normal for general practice and hospital appointments to be combined, although there were already a few full time specialists on the staff. The building was brand new, opened in 1937, and the prospects for a well qualified physician excellent. Then came the war and disruption. Treble, who remained in civilian practice for the duration, lodged in a Canterbury hotel and nearly lost his life when it suffered a direct hit from a bomb - he was cut about and his spectacles broken. After the war, his father having retired, he set up house for his parents near the hospital, a matriarchy based on Mrs Treble and their old family retainers. Ashton, a frequent visitor, remembers ‘watching with admiration their swift disposal of The Times crossword’. Treble remained unmarried.

Treble’s practice of medicine was refined into an efficient machine; he thought and acted quickly; his intellectual grasp of a subject was illustrated by his self-taught mastery of dermatology, when a gap in this subject needed to be filled following the premature death of a colleague. At the bedside and in the clinic he was brisk, even brusque, with no time wasted, no small talk, recognized by some as the performance of a shy man who found difficulty in making human relationships; others, made of tenderer stuff, were frightened or repelled. His neighbours remember his kindness, often obscured by the abruptness of insecurity; thus he never quite came into the ‘beloved physician’ category although he was a much respected doctor. At the hospital he undertook more than his share of committee work and was a superb performer, as member or chairman. In 1947 he was an early member of the South East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board and he influenced the development of hospital services in the region. In 1955 he was elected fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and took great pleasure in this at a time when it was relatively rare for a provincial physician to be thus honoured. He retired from clinical practice in 1972, aged 65 and in indifferent health. A newly commissioned medical ward was named after him, which gave him some wry pleasure.

There was another HA Treble. Quite separate from his medical life, he developed an amazing range of ‘cultural’ interests, to each of which he applied his perfectionism, and each of which he shared with a group of like-minded friends. In 1942 while the war was still in progress he joined with the cathedral organist and other enlightened persons to found the Canterbury Music Club, a concert society now (1982) in its 39th season, and he remained a guiding committee member for many years; he was not a practising musician but a keen music lover with refined and specialized tastes — only the best record playing equipment was good enough for him. He was an authority on oriental ceramics and his collection of Celadon ware from the Han and Sung periods was well known. He was a passionate lover of Italy and all things Italian, a great traveller, especially to Italy, and a master of the Italian Renaissance. He was an expert gardener and an epicure. He was also a stoic who faced the problems of deteriorating health and the difficulties of a bachelor life with masterly objectivity. He was a many sided man; in the words of a professorial friend, ‘a true eccentric’.

He died at home in Canterbury. He left his residual estate to Magdalen College, Oxford, ‘for travel grants or other forms of scholarship which will encourage and enable undergraduates to travel abroad, particularly scientific undergraduates wishing to visit Italy’. A typical act.

JM Lipscomb

[Brit.med.J., 1981, 283, 626]

(Volume VII, page 580)

<< Back to List