Lives of the fellows

John Roger Charles

b.12 October 1872 d.8 April 1962
MB ChB Cantab(1898) MRCP(1900) FRCP(1912)

John Roger Charles was born at Pelsall Hall, Staffordshire, the son of John Smith Charles, landed proprietor, by his wife, née Anne Snowdin Browne, the daughter of James Browne, of Pipe Hall, landed proprietor. On both sides of his family Charles was descended from many generations of landed gentry living in that area of Staffordshire which abuts on Shropshire, not far from Market Drayton. The records of the family on his father’s side are traceable to John de Charns (as the name then was variously spelt), who in 1245 was witness to a deed of James De Audley in the register in Lichfield Cathedral. There were intermarriages with many other Staffordshire families including the Audleys, one of whom was a surgeon in Birmingham in the mid-eighteenth century. Another was senior fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and his will shows a bequest for the provision of Communion rails for the Chapel in 1783.

Charles was a keen antiquarian and had an almost unrivalled knowledge of the records of his native county, naturally showing greatest interest in items referring to his own family, as of one given special duties at the time of Crecy, 1346, and of others who went through various vicissitudes associated with their loyal support for the ruling dynasty; one, for instance, had to purchase a pardon from the Yorkists for his adherence to the losing Lancastrian cause. He was educated at Rugby and Caius College, Cambridge, where he graduated with honours in the science tripos.

He then went up to St. Thomas’s Hospital, where he was a clinical assistant house physician to Sir Seymour Sharkey, for whom he retained a life-long veneration and upon whom he was said to have modelled himself. He was also a house man at Addenbrooke’s, and in 1903 obtained the position of assistant casualty physician at the General Hospital, Birmingham. When a vacancy occurred for assistant physician at the Bristol Royal Infirmary in 1905 he applied and was elected. He thus commenced what was to be his life’s work. He became full physician in 1908 and finally retired in 1932.

As he had always been interested in military affairs, at the time of the German ‘scare’ and Lord Robert’s appeal in 1908 he joined the Montreal R.F.A., serving till 1912. When war broke out in 1914 he at once volunteered his services, but was returned for duties in England. With the rank of captain, R.A.M.C.(T), he not only served in his own hospital (then the 4th Southern General) with charge of medical beds, but was also responsible for visiting some fifty-four subsidiary hospitals monthly to classify and report upon discharge of patients. He thus became personally known to hundreds of local practitioners throughout the whole West Country, and their experience of his ripe wisdom and excellent judgment undoubtedly contributed to the subsequent enormous scale of his consultant practice. He was a most commanding personality. Tall, very handsome, with piercing eyes, and always faultlessly attired in a grey morning coat, he inspired complete confidence in doctor and patient alike and radiated competence.

As he was an exciting teacher many students held him in awe, but he was never unreasonable, and had a wonderful flair for diagnosis based upon an encyclopaedic knowledge of the medicine of his day. Although he published comparatively little he made some important contributions to contemporary knowledge.

His friendship was a precious gift, and he was the most faithful of friends. His greatest friendship till the tragedy of 1912, was with Dr Edward Wilson of the Antarctic, whose tragic death was a life-long loss to him. His hobbies were the study of religious philosophy and of architecture, gardening and farming. He was a good shot, a keen angler, and a first-class horseman, who, despite his professional cares, hunted regularly in his younger days with the Berkeley pack.

He married in 1899 Alice Mary, daughter of the Venerable Hodgson, Archdeacon of Lichfield, himself the descendant of an old Staffordshire family, and by her he had a daughter and two sons. She died in 1924, the daughter in 1927. He was survived by his second wife, née Mary Fisher, whom he married in 1925. Her family, descended from the Fitzurses, were lords of the manor of Bathampton, Somerset, till they sold the property in the mid-nineteenth century.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1962, 1, 1282; Lancet, 1962, 1, 870; Times, 10 Apr. 1962.]

(Volume V, page 69)

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