Sir Frederick Treves (1853-1923)


Sir Federick Treves penned the best loved of all guides to Dorset. In 1906, his Highways and Byways in Dorset was immediately the most popular book ever written on the county. It is still one of the most sought-after Dorset titles.

Treves was far from a parochial figure. He was the royal surgeon who postponed King Edward VII's coronation in 1902. The king desperately needed an appendicitis operation but strongly opposed going into hospital. 'I have a coronation on hand,' he protested. But Treves was adamant: 'It will be a funeral, if you don't have the operation.' Treves won, and the king lived. He did not remove the appendix but carried out an appendicectomy to drain an abscess. He was later to write a manuscript on events surrounding the operation on Edward VII but it was suppressed.

The surgeon's first love was for Dorset and he was a keen photographer. As president and founder of the Society of Dorset Men in London he encouraged other exiles to study their native county. He was born in Dorchester in 1853, and as a very small boy attended the school run by Dorset's greatest dialect poet, William Barnes, whom he was later to describe thus.

'My recollection of the poet and philologist is that of the gentlest and kindliest of men. During the school hours he was in the habit of pacing the room in a reverie, happily unconscious of his dull surroundings. I remember once that some forbidden fruit of which I was possessed rolled across the schoolroom floor, and that I crawled after it in the wake of the dreaming master. He turned suddenly in his walk and stumbled over me, to my intense alarm. When he had regained his balance he apologized very earnestly and resumed his walk unconscious that the object he had fallen over was a scholar. I have often wondered to which of his charming poems I owed my escape from punishment.'

Treves died at Lausanne on 7 December 1923. His funeral took place at St. Peter's church, Dorchester, on 2 January 1924 and the king and queen were represented by Lord Dawson. Thomas Hardy attended and chose the hymns. Hardy also wrote a poem for the occasion and had it published in The Times. It stated with the words: 'In the evening, when the world knew he was dead.' His ashes were buried in Dorchester (Fordington) cemetery.

It would by almost sixty years later that he returned to fame when his last book, The Elephant Man, was made into a successful Film in 1980. The subject of his book John Merrick was described as a delightful man with a unique style of humor. However, he suffered from a disfiguring physical disability called neurofibromatosis. This disorder is rare (about 1 in 3,000 people) and is characterized by tumors under the skin, around the nerves, and in the bones.

Merrick spent most of his life in the neighborhoods of South London where Bowie also grew up. Because of his physical appearance, Merrick performed for several years in carnival freak shows where he was eventually 'rescued' by a compassionate surgeon, Dr. Frederick Treves. When Dr. Treves saw Merrick for the first time, a sign in front of Merrick read "The Deadly Fruit of Original Sin." This disturbed Dr. Treves greatly; and he decided to move Merrick to London Hospital in White Chapel.

Merrick lived at London Hospital beginning April, 1890 before dying 4 years later at the age of 27. Dr. Treves wrote of Merrick's death:

"He was lying on his back as if asleep and had evidently died without a struggle, since not even the coverlet of the bed was disturbed."

 The cause of Merrick's death is not known, but it is thought that he tried to lay down to sleep in a normal manner and died of asphyxiation.

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