Barlow, Sir Thomas, first baronet, of Wimpole Street, London 1845-1945, physician, was born at Edgworth, Lancashire, 4 September 1845, the eldest son of James Barlow, of Greenthorne, Edgworth (who established the cotton mills of Barlow and Jones at Manchester and Bolton), by his wife, Alice, daughter of James Barnes, also of Edgworth. As a young man he worked for a time at his father's business, but his energetic mind turned towards medicine as his career. At that time (Sir) H. E. Roscoe [qv.] was exerting his great influence over the Owens College, Manchester, and here Barlow studied so successfully that at the age of twenty-two he graduated B.Sc. (London), his honours subjects being geology and palaeontology—an unusual choice for a medical student.
Barlow was brought up as a strict Wesleyan, and University College, London, may have been chosen because this college was recognized as being definitely nonconformist. Here he came into contact with (Sir) R. J. Godlee [qv.], with whom he made a warm and lifelong friendship. At Barlow's final examination he obtained a second class in surgery and a first class in medicine, but without the coveted gold medal. Both Godlee and Barlow were destined to obtain positions on the staff of University College Hospital, and later both were at the same time presidents respectively of the Royal College of Surgeons and of the Royal College of Physicians.
On becoming qualified, in 1871, Barlow was chosen as house-physician at University College Hospital to Sir William Jenner [qv.], a man of profound learning and very insistent upon the utmost accuracy in clinical work, and especially in the post-mortem room. Here may be traced the influence of Jenner's teaching in Barlow's life-work in the close similarity of their methods of investigation, concluded by meticulous post-mortem examination.
In 1874 Barlow was appointed medical registrar at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, being elected assistant physician the following year. In 1885 he was promoted full physician, retiring in 1899. He was also on the staff of the Charing Cross Hospital (1876-8) and the London Fever Hospital (1884-8) and on that of the London Hospital (1878-80) as assistant physician, finally returning to his old school at University College Hospital in 1880 as assistant physician, being full physician from 1885 to the time of his retirement in 1910, when he became consulting physician. He held the Holme chair of clinical medicine from 1895 to 1907.
Although Barlow was recognized as a brilliant general physician, he is best known for his original researches on scurvy in infants and young children. Until his time scurvy was a common disease amongst sailors and prisoners deprived of fresh food; but scurvy was not recognized in infants and children and was looked upon as a condition of acute rickets, and the isolation of scurvy from rickets as a definite and separate disease—although often concomitant in the same child—was a triumph of deductive reasoning. Abroad infantile scurvy still goes by the name of Barlow's disease. All this was long before the discovery of vitamins, and when an infant was unable to be breast-fed the artificial substitutes contained no essential vitamin for the prevention either of scurvy or of rickets, and in consequence infant mortality was very high.
In 1883 Barlow published his first findings in infantile scurvy and their post-mortem appearances in three fatal cases in the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions (March 1883) in a paper entitled Cases described as Acute Rickets — the Scurvy being an Essential and the Rickets a Variable Element. This is reprinted in the Archives of Disease in Childhood (vol. x, 1935) in a special number in commemoration of Barlow's ninetieth birthday. His Bradshaw lecture in 1894 is entitled Infantile Scurvy and its relation to Rickets and is reported in the Lancet of that year (vol. ii). In this lecture he added thirty-three more cases from his own personal experience. In other children's diseases he made important discoveries, notably on the distinction between tuberculous and simple meningitis. An account of the former may be seen in Allbutt's System of Medicine (1899, vol. vii) and also in Allbutt and Rolleston's System of Medicine (1910, vol. viii). He also published with D. B. Lees Simple Meningitis in Children in Allbutt's System of Medicine (1899, vol. vii). In 1878 Barlow in association with S. J. Gee [qv.] wrote in St. Bartholomew's Hospital Reports (vol. xiv, 1878) an article on Cervical Opisthotonos of Infants. With Francis Warner he published, in the Transactions of the International Medical Congress (1881), a paper on the subcutaneous tendinous nodules met with in acute rheumatism of childhood. His work on Rheumatism and its Allies in Childhood is printed in the British Medical Journal (1883, vol. ii). Barlow's Harveian oration entitled Harvey, the Man and the Physician is reported in the British Medical Journal (1916, vol. ii). During the time that he was president of the Royal College of Physicians (1910-15) he was chosen with universal approval to preside over the great International Medical Congress held in London in 1913.
Barlow was physician-extraordinary to Queen Victoria from 1899 to the date of her death in 1901, and continued to hold court appointments under King Edward VII and also under King George V. In 1901 he was created a baronet and he was appointed K.C.V.O. in 1901. He was elected F.R.C.P. (London) in 1880 and F.R.S. in 1909, and he received honorary degrees from eleven universities.
Barlow's Wesleyan upbringing influenced his whole life. Until middle age he was an active Methodist, and at King's Cross chapel was a leader in the weekly Bible class. Later, as the result of his friendship with the Rev. Page Roberts of St. Peter's church, Vere Street, whose teaching he admired, he attended the Church of England services. He never touched alcohol and took a large share in the work of temperance associations. He was president of the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund from 1920 until his death.
In 1880 Barlow married Ada Helen (died 1928), daughter of Patrick Dalmahoy, writer to the signet, of Edinburgh, and sister at the Great Ormond Street Hospital; they had three sons and two daughters, the younger of whom died in infancy. His eldest son, who succeeded his father as second baronet, is Sir (James) Alan (Noel) Barlow (born 1881), joint second secretary to the Treasury, 1938-48; the second is Sir Thomas Dalmahoy Barlow; the third, Patrick Basil, died at Rouen in 1917, while serving in the ranks of the Grenadier Guards. Barlow himself died in London 12 January 1945 in his hundredth year.
Barlow was of middle height, broad, and strongly built. He had a short and carefully trimmed beard, and always wore spectacles. He possessed the capacity of being able to sleep at any time, night or day—a merciful gift which enabled him to travel all over England without fatigue in his many journeys for consultations, for provincial schools were very few in his active days, and London consultants were in frequent request. Thus he was always able to be fresh and ready after travelling all night to take his work at the hospital or in his consulting room.
Barlow will ever be remembered by all who knew him for his wise and sane humanity. No sentimental views had he, and his patients, poor and rich, were treated exactly the same. The writer, who was his assistant, never saw him angry. Everyone loved him, not only for his consummate knowledge, but for something even higher, for he was an ideal physician. A portrait by (Sir) Oswald Birley hangs in the library of University College Hospital Medical School.
T. R. Elliott in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, No. 14, November 1945
British Medical Journal, 20 and 27 January 1945
Lancet, 27 January 1945
University College Hospital Magazine, March-April 1945
The Times, 15 January 1945
Contributor: E. A. Barton.