Discover the story of Leeds abdominal surgeon Lord Moynihan: who had ‘the heart of a lion and the hands of a lady’.
”The perfect surgeon must have the heart of a lion and the hands of a lady, not the claws of a lion and the heart of a sheep”
These words were reportedly said by the renowned Leeds abdominal surgeon Berkley George Andrew Moynihan, 1st Baron Moynihan. His success as a surgeon would suggest that these things were true of Lord Moynihan and whether his hands were those ‘of a lady’ can be still be judged as in the stores of Leeds Museums there is a plaster cast of his hands. These were used a basis of a bronze sculpture (which is still on display in the Health Sciences Library at the University of Leeds).
Lord Moynihan was born in Malta in 1865. His mother moved the family to Leeds after the death of his father when he was two years old. He was raised and educated in Leeds and then London, but Moynihan practiced in Leeds for the majority of his career.
Moynihan had a successful surgery in Park Square – today a blue plaque marks the place of his former surgery. He also worked at Leeds General Infirmary and taught anatomy at Leeds Medical School. His reputation was such he could have set up a successful practice in London, where he did treat some patients, but his heart and practice remained in Leeds. Nevertheless he had strong links to the capital including undertaking some of his training there and becoming not only a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in England in 1890 but also their president 36 years later.
His service to his home city was rewarded in 1926 when he was awarded the freedom of the city. As part of this he was awarded a freedom casket. This richly decorated casket showed his links to Leeds and reflected his medical career.
On one side of the casket is the coats of arms of the city of Leeds and on the other those of Sir Moynihan (as he was styled at the time of production). The ends of the casket show Lord Moynihan’s links to the medical profession with the coat of arms of The Royal College of Surgeons on one end and on the other a representation of the William Hey Memorial Medal which was presented to the most distinguished graduate in medicine at the University of Leeds. This beautiful casket is currently on display at Lotherton Hall and can be found on the ground floor in the butler’s safe.
Lord Moynihan was not only recognised on a local level but also nationally. Among his many honours included being created a baronet in 1922 and seven years later he entered the House of Lords being styled as Baron Moynihan of Leeds.
After a long and distinguished career Lord Moynihan died in 1936, just 6 days after his wife of over 40 years Isabel with whom he had 3 children. An indication of his fame came soon after when his family were offered a burial in Westminster Abbey although this was declined for family reasons.
By Rebecca Fallas, Volunteer Blogger (@rebecca_fallas)
This post marks the first in a series celebrating Leeds General Infirmary, as they celebrate their 250th anniversary.
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