Dr Henry Barnes (1842-1921)

Dr Henry Barnes

Written by Kevin Grice

Occupation: Physician

Early Life, Education and Family

Henry Barnes OBE, LLD, MD, FRS Ed, MRCS, JP was born at Aikton House in Aikton, near Wigton, on 20 July 1842 and baptised there at St. Andrew’s Church on 18 September that year. He came from an agricultural background in West Cumberland and his paternal grandfather Thomas Barnes (1760-1831) and his father Joseph Barnes (1799-1851) were both farmers in Aikton. At the time of the 1851 census Joseph Barnes was farming 130 acres and employing several farm hands. He was described in retrospect by his son in 1873 as a yeoman farmer. 

On 10 January 1828 at All Saints church, Boltongate (Cumberland) (‘one of the architectural sensations of Cumbria’ according to Pevsner), Joseph Barnes married Dinah Stamper (1809-1871), daughter of Thomas Stamper (1770-1827), a farmer of nearby Bolton Hall and they had eight children, of whom Henry was the seventh in line. His siblings were Jane (1828), Dinah Jane (1830), Mary (1832), Thomas (1834), Joseph (1837), Sarah (1840) and William (1847). The family lived at Aikton House on Wampool Road in Aikton with several servants as well as the agricultural labourers on the farm. Both Joseph and Dinah died there and were buried in Wigton; neither lived to see Henry’s career flourish nor his marriage. For many years his brothers Thomas and William ran a successful drapery business in Wigton. However, Joseph Barnes had an elder brother Dr Thomas Barnes (1793-1872) and it was his uncle’s path which Henry was to follow. 

Thomas Barnes was born in Wigton and served for three years (1812-1815) in the 2nd Foot Soldiers and was present at the Battle of Waterloo. He initially studied medicine on the Continent before graduating as MD at Edinburgh University in 1818 and he then settled in Carlisle where he became well known as a doctor. He was appointed physician to Carlisle Dispensary in Abbey Street in 1818 (established by Dr John Heysham (qv) to treat the poor) and he founded himself Carlisle Fever Hospital (the House of Recovery) in 1820. The latter institution was close to his heart and he defended it and his work as physician there in strong terms. One critic was told in 1842 that he ‘may live to regret the publication of his malignant opinions and aspersions’ (Carlisle Journal 26 February 1842). Thomas Barnes was also the first physician appointed at Cumberland Infirmary when it fully opened in August 1841. He became a JP, wrote an account of the Helm Wind on Cross Fell, the only named wind in the British Isles, and lived with his large family and numerous servants for over thirty years at Bunker’s Hill, two and a half miles west of Carlisle. Clearly interested in meteorological phenomena, he also recorded rainfall there over many years, a study which the Royal Society of Edinburgh published in 1872. Thomas Barnes died at his home on 31 March 1872 and is buried in Carlisle cemetery. His effects were valued at just under £90,000 according to his probate. One of his daughters Mary (1830-1898) in 1868 married Sir John Dunne (1825-1906), the Chief Constable of the Cumberland and Westmorland Joint Constabulary (qv).

Henry Barnes was educated at St. Bees School and then in 1860 he went to study medicine at Edinburgh University, where he lodged with Mrs Bartie, a boarding house keeper, at 5, Salisbury Street according to the 1861 census. In 1864 he graduated as MD with first class honours in his final examination.  In 1866 he settled in Carlisle, where he was to live the rest of his life.  Many years later in 1910 he presented the University with a fine bust of the English physician William Harvey (1578-1657) by Peter Scheemakers II (1691-1781) to record his thanks for his medical education. 

Medical Career

In 1868 Henry Barnes followed his uncle by being appointed physician to the Carlisle Dispensary, which was effectively the first city hospital. In 1871 he was living at 45, Lowther Street in the city with just a housekeeper, in line with his bachelor status. In 1873 he was elected consultant physician to the Cumberland Infirmary, a position he held for thirty years, during which tenure that institution flourished greatly owing much to Henry Barnes’ outstanding administrative abilities as well as his medical expertise. His share in creating its prosperity was recognised by attaching his name to a wing of its new buildings erected in 1908-1913 and by his election to the presidency. At the Border Counties Home for Incurables (Strathclyde House) on Wigton Road in Carlisle, which opened in 1885, Henry Barnes was successively the first consulting physician and then its president and at the Cumberland and Westmorland Convalescent Institution at Silloth, established in 1862 and providing sea bathing, he was consulting physician and vice-president. 

His responsibilities were not limited to the living. Henry Barnes performed the post mortem examination in several high profile criminal cases including the murder of a child in Wreay by its step-mother in 1871 and the murder of his wife by William Hunter in Carlisle in 1887. In both cases the killers were hanged. He also gave emergency first aid to the injured passengers after the Caledonian Railway disaster at Lockerbie in 1883; he had been travelling in a first class compartment on one of the trains involved but was unhurt. He was to give a graphic account of the incident to the later inquiry, recalling the dreadful sound of the crash and then seeing ‘the overturned engine blazing on the platform’ at Lockerbie station. Eight people died and many were injured but the death toll might have been much higher without Henry Barnes’ swift and skilful intervention.

Henry Barnes served on the Central Council of the British Medical Association (BMA) for thirty-two years and in 1895 was elected its vice-president, becoming its president the following year. In consequence, the 64th annual meeting of the BMA was held in Carlisle in July 1896, including a cathedral service, with a grand dinner at the County Hotel, when Henry Barnes delivered the presidential address. His topic was ‘The Medical History of Carlisle’ and in it he reviewed the lives and work of the local citizens who had attained a distinguished position in the medical world. The address was very well-received and reported at length in the Lancet for that week and a copy of it is preserved in the Carlisle Archive Centre. In time Henry Barnes expanded upon the subject to produce a book ‘The Medical Worthies of Cumberland’ in 1905.  He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and Wales and when he visited Montreal, to attend a Canadian meeting of the BMA in 1897, McGill University conferred the honorary degree of LLD upon him.

Other public service

Henry Barnes was also one of the founders of the Carlisle Hospital Sunday and Saturday Fund and he served on its committee from 1870 until his death, a period of just over fifty years. In 1907 he took part in establishing the Cumberland branch of the Red Cross Society, of which he was honorary secretary and treasurer throughout the First World War. It was for this work that he was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1919. He also served on the Local Advisory Committee of the Central Carlisle Control Board (Liquor Traffic) and was a passionate supporter of the prohibition on the sale of spirits in the city during the Great War. In 1917 a Dr Simpson of Plymouth wrote to the British Medical Journal with a strong critique of the scheme and Henry Barnes responded in kind. He accused Dr Simpson of being taken in by prohibition propaganda concerning ‘The Refreshment House Experiment’ and asserted that his article was full of misleading information and ill-researched. Henry Barnes then set out a series of eight statements of principle about the scheme and its success, noting in particular that it had led to a marked decline in lawlessness in Carlisle at weekends ‘save for that weekend which included St Patrick’s Day, when such might perhaps not be avoided.’ (Br Med J 1917; 1:785). He was not contradicted further. 

Henry Barnes served on the City of Carlisle Local Tribunal and was a magistrate in the city from 1887 and in Cumberland from 1889, again holding both these judicial offices until his death. In 1904 he was appointed chairman of the Cumberland Ward Justices. From 1873 to 1900 he was vicar’s warden of St. Cuthbert’s church, Carlisle; from 1903 to 1918 a governor of the Grammar School and in his later years his passion for history led to him becoming a member of the committee for the Carlisle library and museum. He made many donations in the course of his life to worthy causes in and around Carlisle including the construction of the George Moore memorial hall in Mealsgate in 1879. Henry Barnes’ philanthropy was not however restricted to local causes alone: in 1870 he contributed to the fund for the sick and wounded of both sides in the Franco-Prussian War.

Marriage and own family

On 20 November 1873 at St Mary’s church, Deane near Lancaster, Henry Barnes married Emily Mary Barnes (1849-1938). She was the daughter of Thomas Barnes, a manufacturer of Bolton-le-Moors in Lancashire, and his wife Elizabeth and was a distant relative. Henry Barnes purchased 6, Portland Square in Carlisle in 1873 and there the couple had two children, Emily and Henry. Emily Barnes (1875-1963) never married, lived at home with her parents in Carlisle and then in Wigton before returning to live in Carlton Gardens in Stanwix where she died. She lived on her private means and her estate was valued at £39,344. She is buried alongside her parents in Carlisle Cemetery. Henry Howard Barnes (born 1878) was educated at Giggleswick, then Uppingham, before studying medicine at Trinity College, Cambridge from September 1897. He registered as a medical student in England in January 1898 but then emigrated to Quebec in Canada in 1901 and settled in Alberta, where he became a rancher.  Henry Barnes lived with his family at 6, Portland Square for the rest of his life, attended by as many as five servants, including a nurse in 1881 when his two children were small. He always described himself on census returns simply as ‘physician’ or ‘consulting physician’, although he did add ‘magistrate’ in 1901. 

Later life and CWAAS 

Notwithstanding his professional and public commitments, Henry Barnes found time for frequent travel, to North America to see his son and to the Continent. Like many professional border men of the age, he was also an historian and antiquarian of some distinction. He became a member of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (CWAAS) in 1875 and remained a member until his death 45 years later. He was with others a subscriber to the Society’s ‘Test Karl’ in 1893, a member of its Council in 1894 and he was made a vice-president of the Society in 1909. Henry Barnes made time also for considerable studies, particularly in local medical history, a subject for which he held a lifelong passion and about which he wrote in various publications. In addition to the articles and books referred to above, Henry Barnes contributed to the Transactions of CWAAS papers on ‘Leprosy and Local Leper Hospitals’ (1889), ‘Visitations of the Plague in Cumberland and Westmorland’ (1891), ‘Touching for the King’s Evil’ (1895) (about the alleged power of the monarch in Restoration England to cure scrofula by touch), ‘The proposed Ethnographical Survey’ (1897), ‘Roman Medicine and Medical Practitioners’ and ‘Bones from the Grayson-Lands Tumulus’ (1901), ‘The Bishop’s Licence to practise medicine, etc.’ (1903), ‘Stone Coffin and Chalice found at St. Nicholas, Carlisle’ (1906), ‘The Kirkoswald Coffin Chalice and Paten, and others’ (1907), ‘The Battle of Ardderyd’ (1908), ‘Bankers’ Scales’ (1912), ‘Aikton Church’ (1913) and ‘The McMechan Chapbooks in the Jackson Library’ (1917). He also wrote ‘The Carlisle Scientific and Literary Society and Field Naturalists Club’ in 1899 and contributed a transcription of the rolls of St. Nicholas Hospital (a twelfth century leper hospital in Botchergate in Carlisle which was destroyed in the 1645 siege) to the Victoria County History of Cumberland (1905). He was made a vice-president of the History of Medicine Section of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in recognition of this expertise.

Henry Barnes was unusually absent from the Spring Meeting of CWAAS on 6 April 1921 but was understood to be suffering only from a cold. However a short but severe bronchial illness followed and he died after suffering a heart attack at his house in Portland Square on 12 April 1921, being then in his 79th year. He was buried in Carlisle Cemetery. His probate was granted on 13 June 1921 to his widow and daughter (his son then being overseas) and his effects were valued at £17,313. The bulk of his estate was left to his wife and two children. His widow Emily continued to live in Carlisle until she died there on 3 February 1938. She is buried alongside her husband. 

Henry Barnes’ CWAAS obituary noted that with his death, the Society had lost one of its oldest and most valued members and that the services he rendered to it were very inadequately represented by the number of papers he contributed to and the mentions of his name in its Transactions. His continued care of the Society’s interests, his unremitting attention to the details of its work and his ungrudging support in all its aims had made him, for many years, it was said the real leader of the Society at its headquarters in Carlisle. The British Medical Association marked his time on its Council by reference to his wide expertise and geniality. Henry Barnes was well respected by all and contributed significantly to the life of Carlisle and Cumberland beyond in many diverse ways.


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  • England & Wales Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915
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