The Age of Discovery
George James Guthrie 1785-1856
Born in London in 1785, he became an apprentice surgeon at the tender age of thirteen, and passed the membership examination of the College of Surgeons two years later, becoming a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England at the age of fifteen.
He served as a medical officer for his regiment in Canada for five years and then saw several years' active service, under Wellington, in the Peninsular War. 166
During the first peninsular war (1808-1811) Guthrie, a Staff Surgeon (a rank initiated by John Hunter ) distinguished himself well.
During the bloody battle of Talavera (May 1811) Guthrie was given charge of the entire army’s medical service he found himself treating the many wounds in which out of 6500 British 4159 fell; although the casualties were huge, the brave British soldiers won this battle. At Albuhera, in 1811, he operated in torrential rain for 18 hours at a stretch on 3000 casualties without his assistant, who had been killed in the battle. 167
Guthrie introduced the pony cart to transport wounded in the winter campaign which followed the taking of Ciudad Rodrigo to hospitals manned by regimental medical officers—so that wounded men were kept with their own comrades, and in contravention of the general order that sick and wounded be sent directly to general hospitals. He always where possible, operated on his men personally, because of this, some used to accuse him of neglecting others, but this was never proved and Guthrie always strongly denied the accusation.
Guthrie published a book in 1820, called :
“A treatise on gunshot wounds, on injuries of nerves, and on wounds, extremities, requiring the different operations of amputation: in which the various methods are performing these operations are shown, together with their after treatment”;
This book also contained an account of the author’s successful case of amputation at the hip joint. Now considering these were days before anaesthesia, a successful amputation at the hip joint seems remarkable.
On his return to civilian life he founded an eye hospital, was appointed to the Westminster Hospital and was three times President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He reformed the College Charter, attacked nepotism in the College, strove to improve the status of army surgeons and for twenty years gave regular lectures on the treatment of war wounds. 168
Guthrie was known as the English Larrey because of his originality.
At the Royal College of Surgeons Guthrie was a Member of Council from 1824-1856; a Member of the Court of Examiners from 1828-1856; Chairman of the Midwifery Board in 1853; Hunterian Orator in 1830; Vice-President five times; and President in 1833, 1841, and 1854. He was Hunterian Professor of Anatomy, Physiology, and Surgery from 1828-1832. He was elected FRS in 1827. He died in 1856. 169
Gordon "Good beans, Wellington!" Duke of Wellington "If there is anything in this world about which I know positively nothing, it is agriculture." 170