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Sir Victor Horsley (1857-1916)

Victor Horsley was born in Kensington, London in 1857.  His father, John Callcot Horsley, was a renowned London artist and member of the Royal Academy.  Part of his father's success resulted from him being an opponent of the pre-Raphaelites. He was able to achieve significant favour amongst the prudish middle-class Victorians for strongly opposing the use of nude models in his artistic work. Victor was bought up at his father's counVictor Horsleytry house near Cranbrook in Kent and attended the Elizabethan school in the same town.  On leaving school he entered University College, London from where he qualified in 1881.  Highly successful undergraduate studies were rewarded by him being presented the Gold Medal in Surgery.  On completion of his undergraduate studies he remained at his alma mater and was eventually elected as a consultant to University College Hospital and the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptics, Queen Square.

Victor Horsley is regarded by many as one of the founders of British neurosurgery.  In the late 19th century neurosurgery was in its infancy and cranial surgery had advanced little since the work of Ambroise Pare in the mid-16th century.  The only operation regularly performed at that time was trephining which had been known about since the Stone Ages.  In 1884, Horsley was appointed to the Brown Institution of the University of London where he performed extensive experiments on the localisation of brain function.  In 1884, he was able to demonstrate that thyroidectomy caused myxoedema.  He studied pituitary function and in 1886 performed the first successful experimental hypophysectomy.  He also worked extensively on the microbiology of rabies.  In 1887, he was the first to remove an extradural tumour from the spinal column with complete recovery of the paraplegic patient.  In 1891, he described an operation for the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia in which the trigeminal ganglion was removed through a temporal approach.  A significant technical problem in neurosurgery at that time was bleeding from the cranial vault.  In animal experiments he was able to show that ordinary modeling wax reduced the blood loss.  In clinical practice he used a preparation made up of 7 parts beeswax and one part almond oil, today still known as Horsley's Wax.

Apart from his professional activities he was keenly interested in sociology and politics and strongly supported women's suffrage.  He retired early from surgical practice to pursue his political ambitions.  He was a fierce opponent of the use of tobacco and alcohol.  He believed that ingestion of alcohol rather than the sun per se caused heat-stroke.  This was to be his eventual downfall as he died from head-stroke whilst serving during the First World War in the Royal Army Medical Corps in Mesopotamia and was buried with full military honours at Amara.

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