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Thomas Porter McMurray (1887 - 1949):

Thomas Porter McMurray was born on 5 December 1887 at 34, Lincoln Avenue, Antrim Road, Belfast, the youngest of the five sons (and one daughter) of Samuel McMurray, school-teacher from the townland of Ballyheifer, near Magherafelt, County Londonderry, but latterly (from 1901) Principal of St. Enoch’s National School, Carlisle Circus in Belfast, and Eliza (nee Boden) also from farming stock in Magherafelt and who Samuel had married in First Presbyterian Church, Magherafelt on 19 November 1875.  Thomas was educated at Belfast Royal Academy (BRA) before enrolling at Queen’s College Belfast (QCB) graduating, in 1910, MB, BCh, BAO of Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) which was the ‘constitutionally up-graded’ to independent status (in 1909) of the former QCB which had been a “recognised College” of the former Royal University of Ireland (RUI) which had at that time been the degree-awarding body.  For reasons now obscure but probably an early genuine interest in orthopaedics, Thomas was appointed house-surgeon to the then doyen of the specialty, Sir Robert Jones, at the Royal Southern Hospital, Liverpool, later becoming surgical tutor and then surgical registrar.  By 1913 he was fully committed to becoming an orthopaedic surgeon, and though he had no higher diploma or degree he was appointed honorary orthopaedic surgeon to the David Lewis Northern Hospital in Liverpool and also, in 1914, Honorary Surgeon to the Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital (RLCH) and including the Open-Air Children’s Hospital at Haswell, Cheshire.  On the outbreak of the Great War he joined the then Royal Army Medical Corps and was commissioned in the rank of captain; but after a brief period in France he was recalled, in 1915, and spent most of the war at the Military Orthopaedic Centre at Alder Hey where his former chief, Sir Robert Jones, not only treated cases but trained English, Canadian and, later, American surgeons as well.  In 1919 his honorary consultancy at the RLCH was, more specifically, designated as ‘honorary orthopaedic surgeon’, and that same year he obtained his Master of Surgery (MCh) degree from QUB for a thesis entitled ‘Tendon transplantation and tendon fixation in irreparable injury to peripheral nerves’.  In 1920 he was appointed a consultant to the Ministry of Pensions; in 1923 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (FRCSEd.); and in 1948 he was elected a Fellow by the Royal College of Surgeons, London on merit alone.  In 1933 he was appointed orthopaedic consultant to the Lancashire County Council and CBE in 1946 in recognition of his work in the public interest.

In 1924 McMurray was appointed lecturer in orthopaedic surgery at the University of Liverpool and in 1933 succeeded Sir Robert Jones as Director of the Department of Orthopaedic Studies which included formal university teaching on a recognised syllabus.  His work was now well-known and he was appointed to the Foundation Chair in Orthopaedics at the university in 1938.  Furthermore, his growing reputation had also much to do with the creation by the university of the new, post-graduate degree of Master of Orthopaedic Surgery (MChOrth) to support the further building-up of the importance of the subject.  He was President of the British Orthopaedic Association in 1940-41, President of the Liverpool Medical Institution in 1948 and also that year was President of the Section of Orthopaedics at the British Medical Association (BMA) Annual Representative Meeting (ARM) at Cambridge, and was President-Elect of the BMA for 1950-51 at the time of his death.  Sir Henry (later Lord) Cohen was elected in his place and duly installed at the BMA meeting in Liverpool in 1950.  During World War II he added, to his existing appointments, responsibilities in the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) of orthopaedic consultant in the North and the running of special courses in traumatic surgery.  He suffered professional loss in May 1941 when his rooms at 11, Nelson Street, once occupied by his mentor, Sir Robert Jones (and before him by the Hugh Owen Thomas, another orthopaedic surgery pioneer) and which housed clinical records, favoured instruments, mementos and other paraphernalia of the consultant, were destroyed  in the blitz.

On 16 November 1949 while staying with his married daughter in London en route to South Africa to visit his son, Samuel, who was also an orthopaedic surgeon, he collapsed at Ealing Broadway station and was pronounced dead on arrival at the King Edward Hospital in Ealing.  In 1947, aged 60, he had formally retired to the comparative peace of Ystral Cottage in Denbighshire where he found some leisure from his continuing professional commitments, and greatly enjoyed his garden and the peace of his surroundings with his second wife. Winifred Nora nee Evershed, daughter of a provision merchant from Brighton whom he had married in December 1944, his first wife, Dorothy nee Hill, daughter of Squire Hill of Jordanstown, County Antrim (though formerly of Rochdale) whom he had married on 2ndSeptember 1915 in St.Thomas’s Church, Belfast but who had died in 1936 leaving a son, Samuel, and a daughter.

McMurray was a tall, handsome man of unparalleled operating skills but with few words most of which he used to preach relentlessly the conservative doctrines of his pioneer Liverpool mentors, Sir Robert Jones and, before him, Hugh Owen Thomas (who was married to Elizabeth Jones, Sir Robert’s aunt).  His own abilities have been well eulogised by, among others, four distinguished colleagues (Sir Harry Platt, Sir Reginald Watson-Jones, Professor Bryan McFarland – who succeeded McMurray in the Liverpool University Chair - and Lord Cohen) in an extensive Obituary to McMurray published in the British Medical Journal for 26 November 1949.  The present writer has also contributed elsewhere, as follows.  “McMurray ranks with Robert Jones, Hugh Owen Thomas and MacCrea Aitken in the quartet of great orthopaedic surgeons which made Liverpool the leading British and an internationally highly rated unit. A superb diagnostician and operative technician, he was conservative rather than innovative and his fame rests on his inspiring example and teaching ability during the years he was the leader of the Liverpool school.  But there was a paradox: he was shy among students, wrote comparatively little (probably no more than 20 or so articles and other short communications and four or five books) rarely spoke at meetings and shunned publicity – as Lord Cohen has written “he favoured the dogmatic, and [he] was somewhat impatient of the Socratic” – and he became an uncritical and uncompromising proselytiser of the views and doctrines of H. O. Thomas [Hugh Owen Thomas] even to the point of opposing true surgical advance.  Despite this, he stood at the highest peak of his profession and helped to train generations of orthopaedic surgeons who took their skills to all corners of the world.  When he did speak he could be wise if outspoken because there was no dissembling in his forthright character, and his bluntness could be taken amiss, but there lurked beneath it all a sense of humour. No-one doubted his pre-eminence, sincerity, skill and total commitment to the patients’ welfare, and he could be delightful and warm-hearted. Honours and praise were received with modesty, even seeming disinterest, and although colleagues could remark on the antimonies in his character, to those familiar with Ulster he was a very recognisable type, almost a prototype in fact.” 

In a presentation volume many of his former students ‘from the four quarters of the world’ inscribed the following: “This book is signed and presented by your old students as a symbol of their respect and affection and to record forever the debt they and their country owe to you.  By your skill and by your teaching you have enhanced a great tradition: this is now our treasured heritage and by our deeds we will preserve it”.

Born: 5 December 1887
Died: 16 November 1949
Peter Froggatt

The writer is indebted to his colleague Maud Hamill on the Ulster History Circle for researching the McMurray pedigree


Obituaries of McMurray are in British Medical Journal, 26 November, 1949, pp.1236-9, in The Lancet for the same day, p.1017,  and in Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 31B, (No.4), pp.618-9, Nov. 1949.  An entrée to further reading is JA Weaver & P Froggatt, “The Wild Geese”, in: Ulster Medical Journal, 56, Supplement, pp.S43 – S44. August 1987.  Some 20 articles to McMurray’s name are indexed by the PUB Med Central ID (USA National Library of Medicine) between 1916 and November 1949 and a further one “Footballer’s Ankle”, is in Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, vol. 32B pp.68-69, February 1950.  His most successful, if brief, professional book of the four he  authored was probably  A Practice of Orthopaedic Surgery (London: Arnold, 1937).