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TREVES, Sir Frederick (1853-1923)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-TREVF
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: TREVES, Sir Frederick (1853-1923)
Date(s): 1903-1904
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 5 volumes
Name of creator(s): Treves | Sir | Frederick | 1853-1923 | Knight | Surgeon


Administrative/Biographical history:

Frederick Treves was born on 15 February 1853, in Dorchester, Dorset, the youngest son of William Treves, upholsterer and furniture maker in Dorchester, and his wife Jane, daughter of John Knight of Honiton. In 1860, at the age of seven, Treves attended the school in Dorchester run by the Rev. William Barnes, poet. From 1867, until the age of eighteen, he was educated at the Merchant Taylors' School in the City of London. Treves left in 1871 to begin his study of medicine at University College London, and then at the Medical School of the London Hospital. In 1874 he became a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. He passed the membership examinations for the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1875 after four years of study, during which time he proved his `excellent manipulative ability' (DNB, 1937, p.856).

Treves held a house-surgeonship at the London Hospital in the early summer of 1876. In August of that year he became resident medical officer at the Royal National Hospital for Scrofula (later the Royal Sea-Bathing Hospital) at Margate, Kent, where his elder brother, William, was honorary surgeon. Treves soon left to take up practice, in order to provide a home for his fiancÚ Anne Elizabeth Mason, in Wirksworth, Derbyshire. He and Anne married in 1877. Treves continued to study for the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1878. In 1879, after two years, he gave up his practice in Derbyshire and returned to London, to become surgical registrar at the London Hospital. Almost immediately a vacancy on the surgical staff became available, and Treves was appointed assistant surgeon.

Meanwhile in order to ensure a livelihood, which was essential until he had built up a consulting practice, Treves became a demonstrator of anatomy to the Medical School of the Hospital. His reputation soon spread, it has been said that

`his clear, incisive style, his power of happy description, his racy humour, and the applicability of his teaching brought crowds of students to his daily demonstrations' (ibid, p.857).

He was also at this time clinical assistant to the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital.

Treves was in charge of the practical teaching of anatomy from 1881-1884. During this period he produced one of many successful textbooks, Surgical Applied Anatomy (1883). In 1884 Treves, at the age of thirty-one, became full surgeon at the London Hospital. Later in this year he met Joseph Merrick, known as the 'Elephant Man', who became Treves' `greatest pathological `success'', despite his inability to diagnose his condition (Trombley, 1989, p.36). Treves ultimately `rescued' Merrick from destitution, creating a home for him the attic of the London Hospital, until his death in 1890. Also in 1884, and for almost the next ten years, he became lecturer on anatomy, during which period he edited A Manual of Surgery (3 vols, 1886), A Manual of Operative Surgery (1891), and The Student's Handbook of Surgical Operations (1892). He gave this post up in 1893 to teach operative surgery, which he did for one year until he was appointed lecturer in surgery, 1894-1897. He edited A System of Surgery (2 vols, 1895), which, as with all his publications, offered a lively, clear style supported by many practical observations.

Treves also acquired renown as an investigator. His research into scrofula, instigated during his early experience in Margate, led to the publication of his research, Scrofula and its Gland Diseases (1882). He also became interested in the abdomen, at that time a field of advance in surgery. He made a survey of the anatomy of the abdomen, and in 1883 the Royal College of Surgeons awarded him the Jacksonian prize for his dissertation, Pathology, Diagnosis and Treatment of Obstruction of the Intestine (1884). (This was later revised as Intestinal Obstruction, its Varieties with their Pathology, Diagnosis and Treatment (1899).) His best original work however is considered to be his Hunterian lectures, delivered to the Royal College of Surgeons, on The Anatomy of the Intestinal Canal and Peritoneum (1885). Treves was one of the first surgeons to devote special attention to diseases of the appendix. With regard to appendicitis (then known as perityphlitis), he became convinced that it was the appendix and not the caecum, as had originally been believed, that was the site of the disease. He did great service to the advance of English surgery by advocating operative treatment for appendicitis, and was the first to advise that in chronic cases operating should be delayed until a quiescent interval had passed.

During these years Treves built up a reputation as a leading surgeon. It has been said that he was `a man of many-sided genius and widely varied achievement' (JRSM, 1992, p.565). His consulting room at No. 6 Wimpole Street became `one of the best known in England' (DNB, 1937, p.857). Indeed so extensive had it become by 1898 that he resigned his post as surgeon at the London Hospital, where for twenty years he had played an important role in the management of the medical school, and had been, for most of that time, a member of the College Board.

In 1899, on the outbreak of the Boer War, he was called to serve as consulting surgeon to the field forces. The following year he published an account of his experiences, in charge of No. 4 Field Hospital and being present at the relief of Ladysmith, in his Tale of a Field Hospital (1900). He was subsequently a member of the committee established to report on the re-organsiation of the Army Medical Service, after charges had been made in the public arena about the inadequate care of the sick and wounded during the early months of the War. His personal experiences contributed greatly to the recommendations made and accepted.

Upon his return to England from South Africa in 1900 he was appointed surgeon extraordinary to Queen Victoria. He was made CB and KCVO in 1901, and was subsequently awarded the GCVO in 1905. The summer of 1902 saw Treves' fame spread suddenly across the world when, on 24 June 1902, two days before his coronation, King Edward VII became acutely ill with perityphlitis. After consultation with Lord Lister and Sir Thomas Smith, Treves operated on the King, who made a good recovery and was crowned on 9 August. Treves was created a baronet in the same year. He was later made sergeant-surgeon to King George V in 1910, as he had been to King Edward VII.

After his retirement from professional work in 1908, Treves occupied himself as a member of the Territorial Forces Advisory Council, as Chairman of the Executive Committee of the British Red Cross Society, and as a member of the London Territorial Forces Association. He was an honorary colonel in the Royal Army Medical Corps Wessex Division and an honorary staff surgeon to the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. He also served as an examiner in anatomy or surgery for several years at the Royal College of Surgeons, and at the universities of Cambridge, Aberdeen and Durham. He received several honorary degrees, and was elected to the Rectorship of Aberdeen University, 1905-1908. He was also, throughout his life, a keen athlete and an accomplished sailor, holding his Master Mariner's ticket.

Treves was furthermore a successful travel writer, and wrote a series of books based on his travels and adventures. The Other Side of the Lantern (1905) was based on a tour around the world during 1903-4, undertaken with his wife. He wrote a guide to his native county, Highways and Byways of Dorset (1906). A voyage to the West Indies supplied the material for The Cradle of the Deep (1908), as did a trip to Uganda for Uganda for a Holiday (1910). He wrote about his experiences of Palestine in The Land that is Desolate (1912). He also went to Italy to investigate the topography of Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book, which provided the basis for The Country of `The Ring and the Book' (1913).

During the First World War Treves served at the War Office as President of the Headquarters Medical Board. At the end of the War his health made it advisable for him to live abroad. Upon his retirement Treves had been granted by King Edward VII the use of Thatched House Lodge, Richmond Park. In 1920 however he moved first to the South of France, and then to Vevey, on Lake Geneva. His experiences of this period were expressed in his publications, The Riviera of the Corniche Road (1921) and the Lake of Geneva (1922). Treves' last book was devoted to recollections of his medical experiences and was entitled The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences (1923). He had written a manuscript of his autobiography, however, having had second thoughts about its publication, ensured that it was eventually destroyed.

Treves died on 7 December 1923 at his home in Vevey, Switzerland, after a few days illness. He died of peritonitis, ironically the disease in which he was the expert. His ashes were buried in Dorchester Cemetery, at a service arranged by his lifelong friend Thomas Hardy, author and poet. He had had two daughters; the elder survived him, the younger having died of acute appendicitis in 1900.

Scrofula and its Gland Diseases (London, 1882)
Surgical Applied Anatomy (London, 1883)
Pathology, Diagnosis and Treatment of Obstruction of the Intestine (London, 1884) (later revised and published as Intestinal Obstruction, its Varieties with their Pathology, Diagnosis and Treatment (1899).)
The Anatomy of the Intestinal Canal and Peritoneum (London, 1885)
A Manual of Surgery (3 vols, 1886)
A Manual of Operative Surgery (1891)
The Student's Handbook of Surgical Operations (London, 1892)
A System of Surgery (edited by Treves) (2 vols, 1895)
Tale of a Field Hospital (London, 1900)
Highways and Byways of Dorset (1906)
The Cradle of the Deep (1908)
Uganda for a Holiday (1910)
The Land that is Desolate (1912)
The Country of `The Ring and the Book' (1913)
The Riviera of the Corniche Road (1921)
Lake of Geneva (1922)
The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences (1923)

Publications by others about Treves:
Sir Frederick Treves: The Extra-Ordinary Edwardian, Stephen Trombley (London, 1989)


Scope and content/abstract:

Images of Treves' world tour, 1903-1904, mainly of India, Burma, Ceylon, China, Japan, and Honolulu. Black and white reproductions taken from slides, with labels identifying the images, in five albums.

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:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Presented to the College by Alfred Ross, 18 September 1831

Allied Materials

Related material:

There are letters from Treves to Sir William Broadbent (1835-1907), 1886-1902, amongst Broadbent's papers (MS-BROAW/807/12), held at the College;

Treves' papers, 1918-c.1961, are held at the Royal College of Surgeons of England; Correspondence and material relating to Treves are to be found amongst the papers of the Clubs and Societies of the Royal London Hospital, 1875-1998, the papers of Eva Luckes, 1874-1918, the papers of the Pathological Museum of the London Hospital Medical College, 1890, and the Public Relations Department of the London Hospital, c.1965-c.1990, all held at the Royal London Hospital; Letters from Treves to Sir Edmund Gosse, 1917-1923, are held at Leeds University Library, Special Collections. See the National Register of Archives and the AIM25 Project for details.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Many of the images are used to illustrate the publication The Other Side of the Lantern: An Account of a Commonplace Tour Round the World, Sir Frederick Treves (London, 1905)

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography, 1922-1930, J.R.H. Weaver (ed.) (Oxford, 1937) [DNB, 1937, pp.856-58]; Sir Frederick Treves: The Extra-Ordinary Edwardian, Stephen Trombley (London, 1989); `Obituary - Sir Frederick Treves', British Medical Journal, 1923, vol. ii, pp.1185-87; `Sir Frederick Treves: Surgeon, Author and Medical Historian', D.D. Gibbs, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, vol. 85, September 1992, pp.565-69 [JRSM, 1992, pp.565-69]; `Surgeon Extraordinary', Gerald Keatinge, Modern Medicine, October 1972, pp.624-27; Historical Manuscripts Commission On-Line National Register of Archives.
Compiled by Katharine Williams

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 April 2003; Modified September 2003

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