Lives of the fellows

Francis Henry (Sir) Champneys

b.25 March 1848 d.30 July 1930
BART BA Oxon(1870) BM(1875) MA DM MRCS FRCP(1882) JP

Francis Champneys was the fourth son of William Weldon Champneys, D.D., dean of Lichfield, by his wife Mary Anne, daughter of Paul Storr of Beckenham. His father was a leading figure in the evangelical revival and a pioneer in social movements for the care and education of the poor; the influence of this religious background remained a lifelong inspiration to the son. His love of music was fostered at Winchester by S. S. Wesley and, in later life, by his friends Sir John Stainer and Sir George Martin, for whom he composed several of the tunes in Hymns Ancient and Modern. In 1866 he won an exhibition to Brasenose College, Oxford. He captained the college boat and took a first class in natural science in 1870. He studied medicine at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and, having gained the Radcliffe travelling fellowship in 1872, he spent some time in Vienna, Leipzig and Dresden. He graduated as B.M. in 1875 and then obtained junior appointments at St. Bartholomew’s and the Hospital for Sick Children. In 1880 he obtained the posts of assistant obstetric physician to St. George’s Hospital, and physician to the General Lying-In Hospital. In the latter Hospital, Champneys, with his friend John Williams, made history by applying Lister’s antiseptic principles for the first time in an English maternity ward, with dramatic success. He became obstetric physician to St. George’s in 1885, but five years later accepted an invitation to succeed Matthews Duncan as physician-accoucheur to St. Bartholomew’s.

Probably Champneys’ greatest achievement was his part in the formation of the Central Midwives Board set up by the Midwives Act of 1902; he was its first chairman and remained in office till his death. From his student days, he had been appalled by the way in which the unskilled midwives of the day spread infection, illness and death among mothers and children. The passing of the Act, against virulent opposition, eventually established a compulsory training and qualification for all midwives, thus founding a highly skilled profession in place of a body of ignorant and dangerous handy-women. Champneys was president of the old Obstetrical Society of London in 1895-96 and of the Royal Society of Medicine from 1912 to 1914. He was created a baronet in 1910 and in the same year became one of the founders of the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. In 1911 he was appointed as a Crown nominee of the General Medical Council, remaining a member until 1926. His last contribution to the advancement of his speciality was as a founder member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. He examined for the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Champneys was personally short, virile and handsome. He married in 1876 Virginia Julian, daughter of Sir John Warrender Dalrymple, baronet, of North Berwick, and had one daughter and three sons, one of whom is Sir Weldon Dalrymple-Champneys, F.R.C.P, who succeeded to the baronetcy. Champneys died at his home at Nutley, Sussex.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1930; B.M.J., 1930; Times, 31 July 1930; D.N.B., 1922-30, 169; Al.Oxon., i, 237]

(Volume IV, page 285)

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