An Illustrated History of The Royal Northern Hospital 1856 - 1992

By Dr Albert Rinsler

Sherard Statham entered University College, London, to study medicine. In 1846 he went on to win a Silver Medal for Medicine and in the following year he gained the University Gold Medal in the final MB, achieving a first in Medicine. In 1851 he passed the London FRCS and in the same year was appointed assistant surgeon to University College Hospital, London. However, an early promising career came to an abrupt end because of a scandal, which involved some very foolish behaviour in the operating theatre.  Statham had taken an active interest in the training of junior medical staff and medical students in the administration of chloroform. His manner however, was regarded as brusque and even uncouth at times. On 21 May 1856, a special meeting of the Medical Committee at University College Hospital took place, to consider a complaint against his conduct. This took the form of a letter to the Chairman of the Medical Committee from Mr John Erichsen, a surgeon at University College Hospital.

      “To Professor Ellis, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine 15 May 1856

      I am deeply pained at being compelled to direct your attention to the conduct of a colleague…the behaviour of Mr Statham, the Junior Assistant Surgeon, in the Theatre of the hospital during the performance of some operations by me on Wednesday last, the 14th instant. 

      Whilst assisting Mr Footman the Assistant Medical Officer in administrating chloroform to a patient on whom I was about performing a dangerous capital operation, and who showed some reluctance to inhaling the Vapour, (chloroform) Mr Statham striking the patient in the side said to him” fill your bloody chest” and afterwards during the same or other operation used the same expression “bloody” in a similar sense. 

      On the same day, as I was about operating for fistula-in-ano, as the patient, a man, lay naked on the table, Mr Statham gave his bare buttocks a slap with the palm of his hand in an unseemly manner, exciting a laugh from the class.

      Such language and such behaviour is in my opinion strongly to be deprecated when employed by an officer connected with an Educational Establishment as it sets a bad example to the Students. But it is especially objectionable. on so serious an occasion during the performance of important Surgical operations in public when in addition to the bad effects that the employment that the coarse expressions and vulgar behaviour must necessarily have upon the class, they must excite painful feeing in the minds of the strangers present, not infrequently consisting of friends of the patient and are, to say the least, disturbing to me who as the operator bears the whole responsibility of the case.

…I feel that I have now no alternative but to bring the matter before the proper authorities of the College and to request that you will adopt the necessary means to prevent a repetition of such conduct which is prejudicial to the dignity of the College and the interest of the School as it is disagreeable to myself.  

      I am etc (signed) John Erichsen” 

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