Thursday, 11 March 2010

Sir Rickman Godlee and the first brain tumour operation

Paul Tucker, another descendent of the incredible Barton family (John Barton, 1789-1852, was a founder member of what is now Birkbeck College, Bloomsbury), has highlighted a further Bloomsbury link between John and his second wife, Fanny Rickman. They were married in 1828 and had nine children before Fanny died of scarlet fever in 1842, along with their 4-year-old daughter, Sarah.

Fanny’s aunt, Mary Rickman (1770-1851), married John Godlee (1762-1841). The firm of Rickman and Godlee were ship builders and built the first sea-going vessel to sail out of Lewes Harbour in Sussex. It was named the Lewes Castle and its keel was laid on Queen Victoria’s Coronation day, 28 June 1838.

John and Mary Godlee had a son, Rickman Godlee (1804-1871, who became an eminent barrister at Middle Temple, just over the Bloomsbury border. Rickman married Mary Lister who was the daughter of Joseph Jackson Lister (1786-1869), a wine merchant but also a very competent optical engineer. He built the first achromatic microscope lenses and thereby revolutionised microscopy in the mid-19th century. Joseph Jackson Lister was not only the father of Mary but also of Sir Joseph Lister (1827-1912), the surgeon whose antiseptic techniques using carbolic acid, helped reduce the surgical death rate from infection. The top photograph shows Sir Joseph Lister (centre) with his family.

Rickman and Mary Godlee’s son, also named Rickman (1849-1925), became a well known surgeon who performed the first operation to remove a brain tumour in 1884 at was is now the Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, Bloomsbury. He was knighted for his services to medicine and also wrote a biography of his uncle, Lord Lister. Sir Rickman Godlee was also surgeon to the household of Queen Victoria, and a Fellow of University College. The middle photograph shows Godlee operating on a child at University College Hospital, and the bottom picture is a portait.