Friday, 20 December 2013

Herbert William Allingham, Kensal Green

The interesting detail on Herbert William Allingham’s memorial is the figure of his German wife, Fraülein Alexandrina Von der Osten,  reclining on a large cushion, clutching a bunch of lilies in her right arm, a loyal lap dog laying on her left, apparently on her death bed. She died in January 1904 after being an invalid for several years. Her husband died barely ten months later in November, committing suicide in a hotel room in Marseille at the age of 42.

Allingham was a talented surgeon and teacher who trained at St George’s Hospital (long before it moved to Tooting, when it was still at Hyde Park), went on to work at St Marks and the Great Northern Hospitals before returning to St George’s as Elected Assistant Surgeon. He was also Surgeon to the Household of King Edward VII and Surgeon in Ordinary to the Prince of Wales (later King George V).  As well as practicing and teaching he wrote several well regarded books and articles on surgical procedures. In its obituary the British Medical Journal said that “he had, in an exceptional degree, the qualities most important for a successful operator. He was always perfectly cool, quick to decide, and extraordinarily quick to carry out.” In 1903 he was operating on a ‘puzzling rectal condition’ when he gashed open his thumb. The mysteriousness rectal condition soon explained itself when the patient developed the unmistakable symptoms of syphilis. Much to Allingham’s disgust he developed the same symptoms a few days later.

When his beloved wife died early the following year Allingham’s grief gradually froze  into apparently incurable depression. In November, heartbroken and syphilitic the doctor set off on a long holiday to Egypt in a forlorn attempt to cheer himself up. In Marseille he succumbed to despair after an evening of enforced jollity dining with friends at the Hotel du Louvre. Alone he returned to his room to compose a letter of apology to the hotel manager for any inconvenience caused by using his establishment as a place to die before injecting himself with a fatal overdose of morphine. His body was found next morning by the hotel staff.


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