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St Clair Thomson (1859 - 1943)

Portrait of St Clair Thomson (11859-1943). Wellcome ImagesPortrait of St Clair Thomson (11859-1943). Wellcome Images Like William Watson Cheyne, St Clair Thomson was a great supporter of Lister’s antiseptic system. After leaving school, he was apprenticed to his eldest brother William, who had been a pupil of Lister’s at Edinburgh.

As Lister moved to London, St Clair was sent to King's College Hospital, entering as a student on the same day that Lister entered as Professor of Surgery, 1st October 1877. 

Handwritten notes by Thomson on Lister's lectures, 1879Thomson's notes on Lister's lectures, 20th October 1879. King's College Archives, KH/PP17Thomson served as house surgeon to Lister in 1883. The experience of training under Lister had a profound effect on Thomson and he adopted the strictest Listerian methods while resident medical officer at Queen Charlotte’s hospital a few years later.

While consultant laryngologist ten years later, he published research undertaken at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine on nasal bacteriology. 

In 1901, Thomson returned to King’s College Hospital and after recovering from tuberculosis, he threw himself into his work at the Hospital’s Throat Department. In 1924, he became a consulting physician and Emeritus Professor of Laryngology at King’s College, London where he remained until his death in 1943. 

A handwritten page of Thomson's lecture notes, 20th October 1879Thomson's notes on Lister's lectures, 20th October 1879. King's College Archives, KH/PP17Thomson had the reputation of being confident and forthright. As house surgeon at King’s College Hospital in 1883, he famously came into conflict with Amelia Perry, Sister Aimee of the Sisterhood of St John the Evangelist, which had been responsible for the nursing at King’s College Hospital since 1856.

Surgeons thought Sister Aimee a harsh and arrogant disciplinarian. Lister remarked “this cold machine-like system is intolerable.” Tensions between nurses and surgeons became so entrenched that many sisters resigned and others took part in a sit-in strike. Thomson refused to do his ward rounds until Sister Aimee left the hospital. 

His lifelong respect for Lister was well known and led him to write Lister 1827-1912: A House Surgeon’s Memories, published in 1937.

Historians now consider his book highly biased in Lister’s favour and one reason why Lister’s contributions to surgery have overshadowed those of other contributors to wound management. 

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