Rickman Godlee

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Rickman Godlee

Portrait of Sir Rickman John Godlee Wellcome M0005606.jpg
Portrait of Sir Rickman John Godlee Wellcome
Born15 February 1849
Upton, Essex, England
Died18 April 1925
Known forFirst to surgically remove a brain tumour
Signature Rickman Godlee 1877, Royal Medical Chirurgical Society Obligation Book 1805.jpg
Rickman Godlee

Sir Rickman John Godlee, 1st Baronet KCVO (15 February 1849 – 18 April 1925) was an English surgeon.[1] In 1884 he became one of the first doctors to surgically remove a brain tumor, founding modern brain surgery.

Early life[edit]

Godlee was born in Upton, Essex, to a Quaker family, the second son of Rickman Godlee (1804–1871), a barrister at Middle Temple, and Mary Godlee (née Lister), daughter of Joseph Jackson Lister. He was thus a nephew of Joseph Lister — whose biography he later wrote.

He was educated at a school in Tottenham and took his B.A. at University College, London before he began his medical education.

An expert draughtsman, and whilst still at University College, London, he was employed to make the original plates for Richard Quain's Anatomy — which in 1920 he presented to the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Medical career[edit]

He was admitted a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1872 and four years later was elected to the fellowship, having in the meantime won gold medal at both his Bachelor and Master of Surgery examinations at the University of London.

After periods as house surgeon then house physician at University College Hospital, London, he moved to Edinburgh to practise the new surgical techniques being developed there by his uncle, Joseph Lister. On his return to London he was appointed assistant surgeon at Charing Cross Hospital and to a similar position at the North Eastern Hospital for Children. After a period as assistant surgeon at University College Hospital, he became surgeon at Brompton Hospital, London, where he made advances in surgery of the chest.

At the Epileptic Hospital, Regent's Park, on 25 November 1884 he became the first to perform a surgical primary (exposed) removal of a brain tumor after physician Alexander Hughes Bennett (1848-1901)[2] had diagnosed the location using neurological findings alone.[3]

In 1885 he was appointed surgeon at University College Hospital and Emeritus Professor of Clinical Surgery there in 1892. He served as President of the Royal College of Surgeons from 1911 to 1913 and of the Royal Society of Medicine from 1916 to 1918.

He was appointed Surgeon to the Household of Queen Victoria and Surgeon Ordinary to Edward VII and to George V, created a baronet 'of Whitchurch in the County of Oxford' on 6 July 1912[4] and appointed a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) in the 1914 New Year Honours.[5]

Family life[edit]

He married Juliet Mary Seebohm, a daughter of Frederic Seebohm, in 1891. After his retirement in 1920 they moved from London to Coombe End, Whitchurch-on-Thames, Berkshire, where he died at the age of 76 on 18 April 1925.

A tribute in The Times[edit]

The author of his obituary in The Times wrote:

"Rickman Godlee was a remarkable man. His Quaker upbringing and ancestry left their marks upon him. Scrupulously honest in thought and conscientious in detail, he took nothing for granted that he had not himself investigated. Quiet in manner, reserved in character, and rather sarcastic, he was apt to be under-estimated in early life by those who only knew him superficially. His sterling worth came to be recognised later, and he showed himself a firm but dignified and courteous ruler during his term of office as President of the Royal College of Surgeons. He was not only a good surgeon and a fine artist, but he was a linguist, a carpenter, a poet, a botanist, an ornithologist, and an oarsman, while his great knowledge of books made him an admirable honorary librarian at the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society of Medicine. … Lister's Life could only have been written by Godlee, whose veneration for his uncle was unbounded. He alone knew the minute details of his life and practice, for as a young man he was usually left in charge of the patients on whom Lister had operated in private. With access to his papers and letters, and from personal recollections, he could remember the simple life led by members of the Society of Friends, which is so charming a feature of his Life of Lord Lister."


  1. ^ "Godlee, Sir Rickman John (1849 - 1925)". Plarr's Lives of the Fellows. The Royal College of Surgeons of England. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  2. ^ "Alexander Hughes Bennett, M.D., F.R.C.P.Lond". BMJ. 2 (2132): 1444. 1901. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.2132.1444-a. PMC 2507080.
  3. ^ "Alexander Hughes Bennett (1848-1901): Rickman John Godlee (1849-1925)". CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 24 (3): 169–170. 1974. doi:10.3322/canjclin.24.3.169. PMID 4210862.
  4. ^ "No. 28637". The London Gazette. 20 August 1912. p. 6188.
  5. ^ "No. 28788". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 1914. p. 4.
  • Godlee, Rickman J. (1926). A Village on the Thames: Whitchurch, Yesterday and To-day. London: George Allen & Unwin.


  • 'The Past Present and Future of the School for Advanced Medical Studies of University College London', John Bale Sons and Danielsson, London, 1907
  • 'Lord Lister', Macmillan & Co, London, 1917
  • 'A Village on the Thames: Whitchurch, Yesterday and To-day', George Allen & Unwin, London, 1926


Obituary in The Times (Tue 21 April 1925 — p.19, column 2)

External links[edit]

Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Coombe End)