Lives of the fellows

George Ernest Beaumont

b.16 July 1888 d.23 April 1974
MRCS LRCP(1912) MA Oxon(1915) DPH(1917) MD(1919) FRCP(1920)

George Beaumont was born at Oxford, the son of E.T. Beaumont, JP, on 16 July, 1888, and educated at Magdalen College School, going on to become an undergraduate at University College, Oxford. His clinical work was carried out at The Middlesex Hospital where he qualified in 1912. His life encompassed two world wars and enormous social changes. He lived through a period of great medical discovery, though essentially he remained a conservative physician with the attributes of the old school. As a young student of The Middlesex in 1908 he might have heard Rudyard Kipling’s address at the opening of the Medical School: ‘In all times of flood, fire, famine, plague, pestilence, battle, murder or sudden death, it will be required of you that you report for duty at once, go on duty at once, and remain on duty until your strength fails you or your conscience relieves you, whichever may be the longer period. This is your position. These are some of your obligations. I do not think they will grow any lighter. Have you heard of any legislation to limit your output? Have you heard of any Bill for an 8-hours a day for doctors? I am afraid you have not’. Such principles remained his guide throughout his life. As a teacher, his single-minded devotion to medicine and his habit of following the Socratic method of developing a subject through aptly posed questions made a deep impression on many of his junior colleagues and students.

He will be best remembered by many students for his Tuesday afternoon teaching rounds. Started after the war at the request of returning Service doctors, his rounds became one of the great events of the week at The Middlesex. Miss Smyth, his only secretary, who supported him loyally for many years, relates how he would worry each week about which patient to demonstrate and would spend the whole week in preparation, so that by Tuesday he knew every detail of his patient. The front hall would be crowded with postgraduates awaiting his arrival. His encyclopaedic knowledge of medicine, coupled with a superb dramatic performance and often spiced with pungent wit, gave him his well-deserved reputation as a great medical teacher. Many were the anecdotes which emanated from Beau’s rounds.

He allowed himself few distractions apart from a weekly game of bridge and his affectionate caring for his Siamese cats. He spent almost all his spare time writing medical books and he achieved a prodigious output. He wrote a complete textbook of medicine, almost the last to be written by a single author. It proved very popular and went to nine editions, all of them revised and much rewritten. But this mammoth work was only a fraction of his writing which included: Applied Medicine; twice reprinted; Recent Advances in Medicine, written with Dr (later Sir) Charles Dodds, thirteen editions; A Pocket Medicine, five editions; the section on ‘Diseases of the Lungs’, nearly three hundred pages, in Price’s Textbook of Medicine, written with Sir Robert Young, which went into many editions; and several articles in the Dictionary of Medicine and in the British Encyclopaedia of Medical Practice.

Despite his popularity as a teacher he was very reserved. He did not enjoy society and few came to know him well. He was, behind his defensive mask, very sensitive and easily hurt. He was probably unaware of his great popularity.

In 1941 he developed severe rheumatism and the description of his illness can be recognised in his Applied Medicine. This led to his tonsillectomy since it was still the era of the septic focus. Woe it was to the surgeon who placed his tonsils in formalin and prevented the production of a vaccine! He bore the illness stoically and refused to let it interfere with his work despite considerable disability.

Beaumont was essentially an individualist who had found it difficult to adapt to present forms of medical practice, including the National Health Service. He was critical of the decision to increase the number of Fellows of the College and he looked back nostalgically to the time when the Fellowship was conferred on only a handful of the most eminent physicians of the day. When he was elected in 1920, at the age of 32, there were only 363 Fellows (including fellows elected 1920 [list printed 1921, p.33]).

His uncompromising honesty sometimes upset people and despite his popularity he was probably a lonely person. He was certainly a great physician of the old school and will be remembered for his many contributions to Medicine and The Middlesex.

KP Ball

[Brit.med.J., 1974, 2, 337; Lancet, 1974, 1, 943; Times, 26 Apr 1974; Middlesex Hospital Journal, 1974]

(Volume VI, page 33)

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