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BARNES, Robert Sydenham Fancourt (1849-1908)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-BARNR
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: BARNES, Robert Sydenham Fancourt (1849-1908)
Date(s): 1884-1890
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 2 volumes
Name of creator(s): Barnes | Robert Sydenham Fancourt | 1849-1908 | physician


Administrative/Biographical history:

Robert Sydenham Fancourt Barnes was born in London in 1849, the son of Robert Barnes, obstetrician. He was educated first at Merchant Taylors' School, and then at a school in Honfleur, France, where he became proficient in French. Barnes attended Lincoln College, Oxford, for a time before studying clinical medicine at St Thomas's Hospital, and obstetrics in Dublin, at the Rotunda Hospital. Barnes then worked at Marischal College, Aberdeen, before graduating MD from Aberdeen University, in 1875.

Barnes returned to London and became closely associated with his father's practice. In 1877 he obtained membership of the Royal College of Physicians. Whilst waiting for an appointment to a hospital, Barnes undertook literary work, joining the editorial staff of the British Medical Journal, with whom he remained for many years. Barnes was the author of many works; the best known was his only book, A Manual of Midwifery for Midwives, which ran to nine editions, the last one in 1902. He jointly authored the ambitious System of Obstetric Medicine and Surgery, with his father.

His best work is considered to be his article, 'The Indications Afforded by the Sphygmograph in the Puerperal State', published in the Transactions of the Obstetrical Society of London (1875), and read before the Society in 1874. It has been said that Barnes may have had a more successful career had he 'undertaken more scientific clinical work of this kind' (BMJ, 1908, i, p.542). Barnes also wrote many articles and papers for medical societies and periodicals, including 'Ovariotomy in Aged People' and 'Fifty Consecutive Cases of Abdominal Section', published in the Provincial Medical Journal (1889 and 1893). It has been said that 'his literary powers were displayed at their best in journalism' (ibid).

Barnes became a member of the Board of Examination of Midwives, instituted by the Obstetrical Society of London. (He subsequently transferred himself from this Society to the British Gynaecology Society.) He was then elected as physician to the British Lying-in Hospital and the Great Northern Central Hospital, where he later became senior physician. He also held the appointment of physician to the St George's and St James's Dispensary, and was consulting physician at the Royal Maternity Charity and the Prudential Assurance Company.

By the middle of the 1880s however, Barnes had 'drifted into an unfavourable position' (ibid, p.541), due to doggedly backing his father, his mentor, and a once progressive medical figure. Unremittingly loyal, Barnes pitted himself against his father's opponents at every opportunity. Unfortunately,

'Fancourt Barnes had not the qualities which would have enabled him to stand by himself against able and rising men led by seniors who were entirely in disagreement with his father's views.' (ibid)

The result of this was Barnes' failure to secure the appointment of physician or lecturer to any medical school. He did become physician to the Chelsea Hospital for Women, where he excelled in plastic operations. It was as a result of his experience at this hospital that he wrote the impressive Perineorrhaphy by Flap Splitting, issued three times. In this, through his words and diagrams, he successfully taught operative manoeuvres with expert dexterity. However Barnes failed to be re-elected when changes were made to the management structure of the hospital, both Barnes and his father found themselves on the losing side of the restructuring. Barnes also failed to retain his position as medical officer to several lying-in hospitals and dispensaries.

Barnes paid attention to overseas development in the field of gynaecology. His linguistic capabilities enabled him to translate and edit Martin's Atlas of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. He also wrote a German English Dictionary of Medical Words. It has been said that this was not wholly successful, despite a demand for such a resource, as he was not ably seconded and the proofs were badly revised (ibid, p.542). Barnes was Honorary Corresponding Fellow of the Societe de Gynecologie de Paris, the Gynaecological Society of Boston, USA, and the Societe Imperiale de Medecine, Istanbul (then Constantinople).

By the mid-1890s Barnes had practically retired from hospital work, devoting himself entirely to private practice. He was honoured, for his scientific attainments, with fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Barnes retired from the medical profession several years before his death, due to ill health. He had married twice, but had no children. He died in February 1908, within a few months of his father.

A Manual of Midwifery for Midwives (9 eds., last 1902)
System of Obstetric Medicine and Surgery (jointly written with Robert Barnes)
'The Indications Afforded by the Sphygmograph in the Puerperal State', Transactions of the Obstetrical Society of London (1875)
Perineorrhaphy by Flap Splitting
Martin's Atlas of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (translated and edited)
German English Dictionary of Medical Words
Neugebauer on Spondylolisthesis (for the New Sydenham Society)


Scope and content/abstract:

Two volumes of medical case notes, 1884-90, apparently of the private practice of Robert Sydenham Fancourt Barnes or possibly of the practice of his father, Robert Barnes.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

A note (in 20th century hand) at the front of one of the notebooks reads: 'These two note-books were purchased at an old-book shop with other books from the library of Dr Fancourt Barnes. They are probably F.B.'s notes, but possibly those of his father, Robert Barnes FRCP. Herbert R. Spencer, MD'.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Presented by Dr Herbert R. Spencer, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, 6 January 1931

Allied Materials

Related material:

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: 'Obituary - Robert Sydenham Fancourt Barnes', British Medical Journal, i, 29 February 1908, pp.541-42 [BMJ, 1908, i]; 'Obituary - Robert Sydenham Fancourt Barnes', The Lancet, i, 29 February 1908, p.683
Compiled and modified by Geoffrey Yeo (July 1999). Modified by Katharine Williams (April 2003)

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Compiled 7 Jul 1999; Modified 15 Jul 1999; Modified 11 April 2003; Modified 19 S

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