Lives of the fellows

Harold Thomas Swan

b.2 February 1922 d.29 June 2011
MB ChB Edin(1944) MRCP(1949) DCH(1951) MD(1961) MRCPath(1963) FRCPath(1973) FRCP(1974) FRCP Edin(1985) Litt D Sheffield(1992)

Harold Thomas Swan was a consultant haematologist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital and the Children’s Hospital, Sheffield. Born in Peterhead, he was the son of Hugh Douglas Swan, a Minister of the Church of Scotland, and his wife, Lizzie Rutherford née Brown. Her father, James Farmer Brown, worked for the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company and also carried out 60 years of pioneering social work in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh. Educated at Peterhead Academy, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Infirmary.

Qualifying in 1944, he did house posts in Norwich and then enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to do his National Service. As a surgeon lieutenant he served from 1945 to 1947, mainly in the Far East. He was Port Health Officer in an oil transhipment floating port in Ceylon; senior medical officer in the 7th mine sweeping flotilla searching for Japanese mines off the coasts of Malaya, Borneo, and Sumatra; and resident medical officer at a naval base in Singapore.

On demobilisation he resumed house jobs at Birkenhead Hospital from 1947 to 1949 and then spent a year in appointments in paediatric medicine in Edinburgh. From 1951 to 1954 he trained in medicine and haematology with Sir Stanley Davidson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.136] at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and during this time spent a year in the USA as a haematological research fellow at the New York postgraduate University Medical School in 1952.

Appointed assistant haematologist at the United Sheffield hospitals in 1954, he became consultant haematologist in 1965. He had also become clinical lecturer in the department of haematology in 1954 and honorary consultant haematologist to Sheffield Regional Hospital Board, Weston Park Hospital in 1970. From 1968 he was clinical dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Sheffield and honorary associate secretary and secretary of the British Society for Haematology (of which he was a founder member) from 1968 to 1974.

He published extensively on his research topics, such as lymphopenia, a relationship between fibrinolysis, age in men and prostatic carcinoma, an association between blood group A and pernicious anaemia and the use of myleran in the management of chronic myeloid leukaemia. President of the British Society of Haematology in 1981, he was also president of the Scottish Society of the history of Medicine from 1995 to 1998.

The author of many book reviews, he also wrote extensively on the history of medicine. In the paper ‘Medicine in Sheffield: incorporating a developed section on the history of penicillin’ (Q J Med 1991 81 1041-9) he meticulously listed the use of penicillin for superficial infections as early as 1930 in Sheffield. Patiently assembling and cataloguing archival records including some ‘Osleriana’ which he donated to the College archives, he researched and published histories of the Sheffield hospitals and medical school, and of the city itself. He was a direct descendant of James Fortune, the surgical instrument maker who had been an apprentice of Joseph Lister and who was the eponymous subject of a poem by Sir Walter Scott.

Passionate about music, particularly Bach, he played the piano and violin and sang with the Sheffield Bach Choir and later, in retirement in Edinburgh, with the choir of St Giles Cathedral. He also enjoyed visual art, hill walking and horticulture.

In 1951 he married Elisabeth Anne née Ede. She was the daughter of Harold Stanley (‘HS’) Ede, the art connoisseur who founded the Kettle’s Yard collection (later donated to Cambridge University) and wrote the book Savage messiah (Cambridge, Kettle’s Yard Gallery, 1971) about the life of the artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. When he died, Elisabeth survived him, together with their three sons and four grandchildren.

RCP editor

[Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh Obituaries; BMJ 2011 343 5638 - both accessed 1 November 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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