William Bousfield Page (1817-1886)

William Bousfield Page

Written by Kevin Grice

Occupation: Surgeon

This bio also includes HERBERT WILLIAM PAGE F.R.C.S. (1845-1926)

Early life of William Bousfield Page and his family

William Bousfield Page was born in Ashford in Kent on 5th March 1817 into the non-conformist family of James Page (1790-1862), a gentleman from Bow in London and Ann Bousfield (1791-1857). On 27th June 1844 at St Mary’s Church in Carlisle, William Page married Anne Ferguson Nanson. She was the daughter of William Nanson (1791-1868), a soldier who had served in the Napoleonic Wars in 1813 and who later became Town Clerk of Carlisle, and Elizabeth Ferguson (1793-1867). Anne had been born in Carlisle on 15th November 1821 and baptised at the same church twenty-two years earlier on 3rd December 1821.

William and Anne had eight children, firstly four sons Herbert [a.k.a. Robert] William (1845-1926), Ernest (1848-1930), Arnold Henry (1851-1943) and Laurence Bernard (1854-1946) and then four daughters Ethel Gertrude (1858-1934), Beatrice Lucy (1860-1889), Mabel Constance (1862-1918) and Lilian Louisa (1864-1954). Herbert’s life is detailed below. Ernest became a barrister and judge (q.v). Arnold was also first a barrister, being called to the Bar in 1878, and then a clergyman, ordained in 1883 and rising to be Dean of Peterborough Cathedral before retiring in 1928. Laurence also entered the law and rose to be the solicitor to the Great Western Railway Company. Ethel married firstly a local Cumberland landowner William Caton Thompson, then secondly George Moore, also a surgeon, and stayed in Cumberland before moving to Maidenhead. In 1890 both her youngest sisters married soldiers in the Border Regiment, Mabel to Major John Wardlaw and who then moved to Scotland and Lilian to Colonel John Pelly and who moved to Devon. Beatrice remained a spinster living at home in Carlisle with her family until her early death.

William Page and his family lived throughout in Carlisle after 1842, initially at 24, Devonshire Street in 1842 and 1844 and then at 4, Lowther Street in 1848. By 1851 they had moved to 30, Devonshire Street with three domestic servants as well as a nurse and a groom. They then successively lived at 30, Lowther Street (1855, 1861 and 1868), 78, Lowther Street (1871 and 1873) before finally moving to the more rural St Ann’s in Stanwix (1881, 1886 and 1891), always attended by not less than four servants including a governess as the children grew up.

Medical Career of William Bousfield Page

William Page practised as a general surgeon. He began his training in London as a pupil of John Scott (1798-1846) Surgeon to the London Hospital and qualified as M.R.C.S. and M.S.A. on 29th October 1841. This early association was one from which the young William derived incalculable benefit, for under Scott a large consulting city practice and the practice of one of the largest hospitals in London were both open to him as he searched for experience and William Page was an exceptionally receptive learner. The influence of these early years upon his character as well as his career more than anything else made him the man he was. He became in time Scott’s confidential assistant and it was Scott who in the autumn of 1841 recommended his protégé to the Governors of the Cumberland Infirmary who had been asked by Bishop Percy of Carlisle to nominate an Acting Surgeon. The Infirmary had been built in 1830-1832 but because of a lengthy legal dispute over the estimate, it had only received patients for the first time in August 1841. The post was offered to three men, afterwards all well known. The first was Thomas Blizard Curling (1811-1888) later a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1850, Council member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1864 then its President in 1873. There was clearly no ill-feeling between himself and William Page as the latter proposed the former to that Council membership. The second was George Critchett (1817-1882) later also a Council member of the Royal College of Surgeons. The third was William Page. The first two were reluctant to leave London but on 15th November 1841 William Page accepted the appointment. He also had been under some inducement to stay in the capital and his agreement to take the Carlisle post lost him the chance of rising to eminence in London as one of the leading hospital surgeons of his day, a loss which his eldest son Herbert was in due course to correct. William Page was only 24 years of age when he made the long journey north from London to Carlisle, by carriage as this was well before the coming of the railway in 1846.

William Page thus entered Carlisle on the winter’s afternoon of New Year’s Day 1842, almost frozen, having travelled in a biting frost outside the coach from Preston. He recalled that: “All sensation in my lower limbs was gone by the time I got over Shap fells; and when I had taken off my boots, I had to look to see if my toes were still in them”. He knew no one in Carlisle and his position was at first rendered awkward owing to his not being aware of the controversies that had attended his nomination and appointment. However by dint of tact, energy and skill in surgery, he soon made friends. In a very short time he took the leading place as Surgeon at the Infirmary but was also consulted by most of the county families and by the dignitaries of the cathedral clergy, all of whom placed implicit confidence in him to the end. He is constantly mentioned as a trusted friend and medical adviser in both the memoirs of Catherine and Crauford Tait, respectively the wife and son of Archibald Campbell Tait (1811-1882), Dean of Carlisle Cathedral then Archbishop of Canterbury and in the biography of the Archbishop himself. Sir James Graham (1792-1861), 7th Baronet of Netherby, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty and MP for Carlisle 1852-1861 (and after whom Graham Land in Antarctica is named), was also his long term patient and William Page was to describe this statesman’s deathbed at Netherby on 25th October 1861 as one of the grandest scenes of simple fortitude and almost sublime faith in the unseen which he had ever witnessed.

A lighter note is struck by an amusing anecdote which is also instructive of the relationship between William Page and his patients. A lady of title was in the neighbourhood of Carlisle, and was far advanced in pregnancy, but expecting in time to be delivered of her first born child in London. Owing to some miscalculation however, William Page had to be sent for and found her ladyship, very much to her own surprise, already suffering labour pains, of which of course she had no previous experience. When confronted with the facts, she was actually distressed, as she said that it was of the utmost importance that the child, and possible heir to the title, should be born in London. “In that case,” said Page at once, “you have no time to lose; you must go to London by the very next train, and I must go with you. The train leaves at----“, naming a very brief interval. Page then went off to make the necessary arrangements personally. The lady at once consented to place herself in his hands and to run the risk of being delivered in the course of the journey. She was, however, safely carried to London as she desired and her son was safely born there, later indeed to inherit the title as anticipated. Prompt adaptation to any circumstances and the skill to deal with emergencies was the hallmark of a fine doctor.

William Page held the post of Surgeon at the Cumberland Infirmary until 1877 as well as being Surgeon to the County Gaol, the Cumberland Lunatic Asylum and to three of the great railway companies whose lines passed through Carlisle. From the range of experience thus afforded, he came also to be consulted by other railway companies in difficult cases. An obituarist stated:

His influence was always, if possible, exerted so as to avoid litigation; and his great tact and knowledge of human nature, as well as the confidence reposed in him alike by the railway companies and the public, gave him a power to resist extravagant claims while conceding what was just and even generous. In consequence he was rarely unsuccessful in attaining the end in view.

In time he qualified as F.R.C.S. on 11th December 1856 and then F.R.M.C.S. the following year. He became Consulting Surgeon to the Infirmary from 1877 until his death nine years later, serving the hospital in total for no less than 44 years. A surgical ward there is named after him in recognition. William Page was also a pioneer ovariotomist and performed a successful operation as early as 5th April 1845. He carried out excision of the knee with great success, attaining perfect results in 1846 at a time when the operation was still in discredit. He also wrote, in his early years in Carlisle up to 1850, articles for learned journals dealing with subjects as diverse as lithotomy, of which he had many successful cases; acupressure in the arrest of haemorrhage; the treatment of ununited fractures; excision of the os calcis; and the successful treatment of tetanus by the administration of aconite. His busy practice however prevented him making further contributions to the journals thereafter, a fact upon which regret was expressed, since it was thought that there was no department of pathology, medicine or surgery upon which it was possible to apply to him without some lucid and instructive remark in response and his conversation bore witness to stores of information of exceptional value.

Later life of William Bousfield Page

William Page was also a JP for Cumberland and Carlisle where his quick eye for facts and lack of prejudice or sentiment will have made him an excellent tribunal, if one who rarely allowed himself to hesitate in delivering a judgment. He was in addition always attached to the Church of England though entirely free from bigotry and narrowness in religious matters. His family and personal interest in railways led to him being a Director of both the Port Carlisle Dock and Railway Company (1864) and the Carlisle and Silloth Railway Company (1873) as well as the County Hotel and Wine Company (1861)

William Page continued in active practice until 1885 without interval for illness or even for a holiday of any length. However in that year he found he had to use some extra exertion in ascending a hill to meet a professional engagement and he became conscious of something like cardiac failure and also of an unwonted weakness in the lower extremities, suggestive of paralysis. At the same time his general health, previously so robust, underwent a notable change and he became relatively, though not perhaps at first absolutely, emaciated and anaemic. He also became depressed and anxious, in stark contrast to his previous energy and cheerfulness. Sadly he slowly declined into a condition closely resembling progressive pernicious anaemia. Nothing seemed to help him and he died at the family home in Stanwix on 5th January 1886 aged 68. His funeral was remarkable in that he was interred at the same time as his brother James, who had died 48 hours later in the same house. It was recorded that this was the first time that two brothers had been buried simultaneously in the long history of Carlisle Cathedral save as casualties of war. Bishop Harvey Goodwin (1818-1891) presided over this perhaps unique service. William Page left a net estate of £92,515 (or in excess of £12 million at today’s values). His private practice and society connections had clearly been extremely lucrative. His wife Anne survived him as did all his children but then Anne also died at Stanwix on 20th April 1891 leaving a net estate £2,088.

On the Sunday after his funeral, Archdeacon Eustace Prescott (1832-1920) paid tribute to William Bousfield Page in the service at Carlisle Cathedral. He said that he was: “A man of great ability, of large experience and of wide sympathies, a man with a good head, a good hand and a good heart.” Cumberland had truly adopted this man of Kent as one of its own.

Medical career of Herbert William Page

Herbert William Page was born in Carlisle on 24th December 1845, the eldest son of William and Anne. He was educated at Carlisle Grammar School then Rossall School. He entered Edinburgh University in 1863 and subsequently went to Christ’s College Cambridge in October 1864 where he graduated B.A. in 1868, M.B. in 1870 and M.A. in 1872. He became M.R.C.S. in 1869, F.R.C.S. in 1871, L.S.A in 1872 and M.Chir. in 1873. He was initially a student at the London Hospital and was House-Surgeon to the rather remarkable Sir Jonathan Hutchinson (1828-1913), surgeon, ophthalmologist, dermatologist, venereologist and pathologist. Amongst his teachers were James Sutton and John Hughlings Jackson (1835-1911), a pioneer of the study of epilepsy from whom Herbert Page derived his interest in neurology. He also studied in Vienna.

On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Herbert Page volunteered and joined the Prussian Army as Assistant Surgeon in the Hessian Division, serving at the Princess Alice Hospital in Darmstadt. When he returned to England in 1871 in order to study for his Fellowship in London, he lodged with his brother Ernest at 74, Margaret Street in Marylebone before joining his father for a short time in practice in Carlisle. In 1875 however he returned to London where he was appointed House Surgeon then Surgical Registrar at the London Hospital and in the following year he became Assistant Surgeon to St Mary’s Hospital before becoming Consultant Surgeon there in 1878, a post he held until his retirement in 1912 after a total of 37 years’ service. His surgery was said to be marked by meticulous attention to detail, and he was the first surgeon at St Mary’s to rely on instruments and dressings sterilised by heat rather than by antiseptics.

In 1881 Herbert Page won the Boylston Medical Prize at Harvard University for his essay on “Injuries of the back, without apparent mechanical lesions, in their surgical and medico-legal aspects”. A second edition was published in 1883 under the title “Injuries of the spine and spinal cord, without apparent mechanical lesions, and nervous shock in their surgical and medico-legal aspects”. From 1899 to 1907 Herbert Page served as a member of the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons and he was for eight years a member of its Court of Examiners. He was also an examiner in surgery at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Birmingham. In addition he served a term as President of the Neurological Society of London, a highly unusual honour for a surgeon.

Herbert Page however chiefly distinguished himself as an expert in conditions arising from injuries sustained in railway accidents. It will be remembered that his father had acted as surgeon to several railway companies in Carlisle and his brother Laurence became Secretary of the Great Western Railway, so Herbert’s interest in the subject is unsurprising. He was appointed surgeon to the London and North-Western and Great Western Railways and devoted much time to the investigation of symptoms produced by railway injuries. He frequently appeared as an expert witness on behalf of these companies, being reported as displaying great logical power and knowledge of medicine. Herbert Page was a straightforward witness, forming his opinions carefully and then adhering to them strongly and firmly. Moreover his tact and courtesy when called upon to meet the medical men appearing for the other side and discuss the cases will frequently have saved his companies from unnecessary appearances in court.

Herbert Page devoted much attention to the condition known as ‘railway spine’ and with a certain eye could recognise the cases in which cure was likely to be effected speedily by the payment of compensation. It was in such cases that he employed his powers of persuasion in trying to prevent opposing medical experts from lowering the prestige of the profession in open court. This was important because his views on ‘railway spine’ gave rise to great controversy in the medical profession. They were however clearly embodied in his Boylston Prize Essay at Harvard and were elaborated upon in his book ‘Railway Injuries’ (1886). It was as a direct result of this work that traumatic neurasthenia came to be better recognised and his views on the curative power of the early payment of legal damages in the right case foreshadows the modern approach to personal injury litigation where interim payments on account of the final award are used to fund rehabilitation and similar treatments before the claim is concluded.

 An article in 2013 also credits Herbert Page with being the first person to diagnose and report tabetic neuropathic osteo-arthropathy of the foot and ankle, doing so in a paper presented to the International Medical Congress in London in 1881. This was attended by luminaries including Sir William Jenner Bt, Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur and was held in the Museum of Living Specimens, with living subjects being used for illustrative purposes. In the same paper he was also the first to propose a link between the tabetic foot and disease of the peripheral nerves, as opposed to the central nervous system. The Report on the Congress recognised his presentation with distinction. Further, Herbert Page’s surgical work on head injuries has been described as unequalled among his contemporaries. On 25th July 1882 he was made a Freeman of the City of London through the Company of Apothecaries (to which he had been elected in 1872) in recognition of his achievements both at St Mary’s Hospital and generally.

Herbert Page was also a Lecturer in Surgery at St Mary’s Hospital and his lectures were clearly reasoned and scholarly, if not as dramatic as those of some. He raised the medical school at St Mary’s to the highest position and was a pioneer in the medico-legal work for which the institution became famous, a field in which he was years ahead of his peers. It was fitting therefore that the Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association in 1896 was held in Carlisle as Herbert Page was then Vice-President of the Section of Surgery.

Herbert Page outside medicine

Herbert Page married twice. His first wife was Alice Mary Parker (1856-1886), the youngest daughter of the Rev. Christopher Parker of Skirwith Abbey in Cumberland whom he married at Great Orton Church on 30th March 1876. They had two daughters, Violet (born 2nd February 1877) and Ida Penelope (born 4th February 1879) when the family lived at 28, New Cavendish Street in Marylebone. They then moved to 146, Harley Street where they lived in 1881-1905, by which date Herbert Page was a widower, so employed in 1891 a governess for his daughters alongside his four servants. In 1903 he became involved in a most unusual court case in Marylebone Magistrates Court. He and three others complained about a thrush kept by a neighbour in Harley Street being a nuisance by reason of the noise it made. He complained that it had a shrill and rasping, raucous tone and that he had never heard a thrush like it before. His coachman and two others agreed but other residents differed, describing the bird as singing beautifully. The claim was dismissed.

On 27th May 1905 Herbert Page re-married to Kathleen Lane Houghton (1875-1963), daughter of Canon Edward James Houghton of Blockley in Gloucestershire, an honorary canon of Worcester Cathedral, with the ceremony taking place in her father’s parish church. At the time of the 1911 Census they were living at Hinton Blewett Manor near Bristol with Ida and four servants. Herbert Page finally retired in 1912, was a JP for Surrey and lived latterly at Sedgecumbe House in Farnham in that county where he died on 9th September 1926 after a long illness, aged 80. His Probate was granted out of the London Registry on 5th November 1926 to a fellow surgeon Vincent Warren Low. He left an estate of £20,696 net. His second wife and both his daughters survived him.


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