Following a diagnosis of osteoarthritis a few years back, my doctor referred me to the Dorset musculoskeletal services which were based at Frederick Treves House in Dorchester. I recognised the name Treves as there is a Treves Road in the town, so I began researching who this gentleman was.

Frederick was born in 1853 in Dorchester at no 8 Cornhill.

His parents were furniture makers and he attended school at a building in South Street which was run by the poet William Barnes until he was about 13 years old. As a teenager, he went to Merchant Tailors School in London. After his father died, his mother moved the family to London. Frederick then went to University College where he studied medicine.

Reading about his medical achievements it became clear why his name has been honoured for the name of the modern medical centre on the Poundbury where I had to go for an appointment. I remember watching a film when I was much younger called ‘The Elephant Man’. You may have seen it? The film recounts the sad life of a man who suffered from a severe physical deformity. Frederick Treves provided the man that the film was based on, ‘Joseph Merrick’, with safe accommodation in an attic of a London hospital until he died.  Joseph died without a confirmed diagnosis of his extremely disfiguring condition.

Frederick Treves was also responsible for the correct treatment for appendicitis. He was the first to perform an operation to surgically remove an appendix in England. I am grateful to him for this important advancement in surgery for the condition, as my niece was extremely ill with appendicitis at the age of 11 and her younger brother also had his removed at the same age.

It is very humbling to find the memorial to this obviously very talented medical surgeon in my local graveyard. Frederick married Elizabeth Mason in 1877 when he was aged 24, a brewers daughter. They had 2 daughters Enid and Hetty. He became the royal surgeon to both Queen Victoria and then King Edward VII, whom he operated on, removing his appendix before his coronation. Frederick Treves received a knighthood for his innovative work, that we now consider routine. Very sadly his younger daughter Hetty died at the age of 18 from appendicitis. It must have been extremely harrowing for Frederick to operate on his own daughter, without being able to save her life.

Frederick was given the opportunity of early retirement around the age of 55. He returned to Dorset, and his book ‘Highways and Byways in Dorset’ was published in1935. He travelled the world as he was now a very wealthy man and could afford to do so. He moved to Lausanne in Switzerland in 1918 where he later died in 1923 ironically of peritonitis! His body was cremated. Frederick’s ashes were later returned to Dorchester and a memorial service was held at St Peter’s Church and his friend Thomas Hardy the author chose the hymns, I have yet to find out which ones they were.

My appointments at Frederick Treves House now seem extremely more meaningful, now that I understand how Frederick Treves made such a huge contribution to medical history.

A modern explanation of the condition that Joseph Merrick suffered from.

Link to Dorset Ancestors page

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