Arthur Burgess

Scope and Content

Manuscript notebooks belonging to Arthur Burgess recording the private operations he undertook between 1902 and 1939. The 10 manuscripts were donated in 1968 by Burgess' son John.

Each notebook follows a similar pattern with basic patient details given in nearly all cases, including name, age, and address or home town. Burgess then details the time and date on which they were seen by him, a brief medical history, their suspected diagnosis and an account of the operation. Some patient descriptions, particularly the medical histories, are much briefer than others but it is always clear what the patient was diagnosed with and what operation has been performed.

Burgess was a general surgeon and the notebooks showcase a number of different conditions and procedures, many of which are listed in the index (MMM/13/10). Some of the later volumes include cases in which radium was used to treat cancerous growths.

Administrative / Biographical History

Arthur Henry Burgess (1874-1948) was born at Stretford, Greater Manchester, on 2 February 1874 the son of John Henry Burgess, a merchant. He attended Rose Hill School in Bowden, Cheshire before going on to study at Owens College, Manchester gaining a BSc in zoology in 1892. In the following years he gained an MSc in physiology (1895) and qualified in medicine and surgery with an MB BCh (1896). He excelled throughout his university education winning the Dalton natural history prize as an undergraduate and at medical school becoming Dauntsey scholar, 1892, the junior Platt physiology exhibitioner in 1893 and senior in 1894, university scholar in 1894, Turner scholar and Dumville surgical prizeman in 1896. He registered as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons following his qualification in 1896 and became a fellow in 1899.

By 1897, soon after qualification, he is known to have been working as House Surgeon to the Manchester Children's Hospital, Pendelbury and by 1900 was Resident Surgical Officer to the Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI). In conjunction with his role at the MRI Burgess also held roles at the Manchester Union Hospital, Crumpsall and the Christie Cancer Hospital as Visiting Surgeon and Surgical Officer respectively. His position at the MRI soon developed and in 1905 he was appointed Honorary Assistant Surgeon, joined the senior staff in 1910 when he became a full surgeon, and finally in 1934 became Consulting Surgeon. Burgess also lectured in surgery at the Victoria University of Manchester from as early as 1907, and having been noted for his careful and precise teaching, was elected to the position of Professor of Clinical Surgery in 1921, a post he retained until 1934.

In 1908 Burgess had joined the newly formed territorial RAMC and with the outbreak of war in 1914 was attached to the 2nd Western General Hospital with charge of the Officers' Wards. He later joined the 33rd General Hospital which went to Mesopotamia where he remained consulting surgeon to the Expeditionary Force for 12 months. During the World War, 1939-1945, he was consultant in surgery to the Ministry of Health emergency medical service.

During the early years of his career at both Crumpsall and the MRI Burgess is remembered for being instrumental in introducing aseptic surgical practice to operating theatres in both institutions, as opposed to purely antiseptic techniques. Whilst in Crumpsall he also endeavoured to become an expert in the use of the newly invented catheterising cystoscope thus establishing himself as a very capable and respected urological surgeon, although technically he remained a general surgeon throughout his career. Whilst conscientiously fulfilling his commitments to both the MRI and the University, Burgess succeeded in building up an extremely large private practice at 17 St John Street, Manchester and arguably took in some of the best urological work in the North West in addition to attracting work through his reputation as a renowned abdominal surgeon. His publications and public addresses demonstrate his professional interest in urology and abdominal surgery but also show him to have had additional interests in electro-surgery and diathermy as well as showing an appreciation for the ancillary sciences.

Burgess participated keenly in professional societies and associations and was elected president of the British Medical Association in 1929 when it met in Manchester. This in turn led to him being elected an honorary Doctor of Manitoba University in the following year when he travelled there to hand over the presidency to his successor. He was also president of the Association of Surgeons in 1933 and within the Royal College of Surgeons was a member of Council from 1925, vice-president in 1934-36, Bradshaw lecturer in 1933, and Hunterian orator in 1941. More locally he was a member of the Manchester Medical Society for which he served as president in the year 1925-26 and was the driving force behind the establishment of the Manchester Surgical Society in 1922 and became their first president. He was elected a member of the committee of the Manchester Pathological Society in 1930 and was also an original member of the Moynihan Chirurgical Club and later its president in 1927-28.

Burgess married Elspeth Robinson in 1901, had 5 children with her and lived at Ashlea, Cheadle, Cheshire. He died suddenly at the age of 74 on 6 May 1948 in Edinburgh where he had travelled to attend the annual meeting of the Association of Surgeons. By all accounts he was well respected amongst students and colleagues alike for his respectable manner and great surgical skill.


Elwood & Tuxford Some Manchester Doctors Manchester 1984. W. Brockbank The Honorary Medical Staff of the Manchester Royal Infirmary, 1830-1948 Manchester 1965. P.H. Schurr So That Was Life: A Biography of Geoffrey Jefferson, Master of the Neurosciences and Man of Letters London 1997. The Royal College of Surgeons of England 'Burgess, Arthur Henry (1874-1948)' Plarr's Lives of the Fellows Online 2013.