Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Skey, Frederic Carpenter

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SKEY, FREDERIC CARPENTER (1798–1872), surgeon, second of six children of George Skey, a Russia merchant in London, was born at Upton-on-Severn on 1 Dec. 1798, and was educated chiefly at the private school of Michael Maurice, father of Frederick Denison Maurice [q. v.], whose friendship he retained until his death. After a short stay at Plymouth with his cousin, Dr. Joseph Skey, then inspector-general of army hospitals, Skey commenced his medical education at Edinburgh, and afterwards spent a few months in Paris. He was apprenticed to John Abernethy [q. v.] on 15 April 1816, paying the ordinary premium of 500l., and, after studying at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, he was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 5 April 1822. Abernethy had so high an opinion of his pupil's capacities that, even while he was an apprentice, Skey was entrusted with the care of some of his master's private patients. By Abernethy's interest he was appointed demonstrator of anatomy at St. Bartholomew's Hospital about 1826, an office he resigned after Abernethy's death in 1831, in consequence of a dispute with (Sir) William Lawrence [q. v.] The direct outcome of Skey's separation from the teaching staff of St. Bartholomew's Hospital was the revival of the Aldersgate Street school of medicine, which, in the hands of Hope, Todd, Marshall Hall, Pereira, and Kiernan, soon became famous as a private teaching establishment, and was for many years a thorn in the side of the neighbouring school of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. Skey taught surgery in the Aldersgate Street school for ten years, though he was elected an assistant-surgeon to St. Bartholomew's Hospital on 29 Aug. 1827, and consulting surgeon to the Charterhouse in the same year.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1837, and he was appointed to lecture upon anatomy in the medical school of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in 1843, an office he resigned in 1865. He became full surgeon to the hospital in May 1854, but in consequence of a new rule calling upon the various members of the staff to retire on attaining the age of sixty-five, he relinquished the post on 18 Jan. 1864. He was then elected consulting surgeon, and was presented with a handsome testimonial.

He filled many important positions at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Elected a member of the council in 1848, he was appointed Hunterian orator in 1850, and in 1852 was made professor of human anatomy and surgery. He was elected a member of the court of examiners in 1855, and in 1863 he was chosen president. In 1859 he served the office of president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, and in 1864, at the instigation of his friend and patient, B. Disraeli, afterwards Earl of Beaconsfield, he was appointed chairman at the admiralty of the first parliamentary committee to inquire into the best mode of treating venereal disease in the army and navy. He received a C.B. for his services in this capacity, and the direct outcome of the committee's report was the framing of the Contagious Diseases Act, which has since been repealed. His health failed during the last two or three years of his life, and he died at his rooms in Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, on 15 Aug. 1872.

Skey was a good writer, a clear lecturer, and an excellent teacher. He concerned himself with the broad principles of his subject rather than with details. As a surgeon he was an able operator, and his great ability was conspicuously shown in his treatment of exceptional cases, for he was skilful to ingenuity in diagnosis, and in the face of unusual difficulties fertile in resource. There is a bust (No. 440) of Skey in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, and a copy of it in the rooms of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, No. 20 Hanover Square, London. There is also a three-quarter length lithograph, by T. H. Maguire, in Stone's ‘Medical Portrait Gallery.’

Skey published, besides several pamphlets and a series of letters to the ‘Times’ on the mischievous effects of severe training for athletic sports: 1. ‘Operative Surgery,’ 8vo, London, 1851; 2nd edit. 1858; a work of considerable merit, which is influenced throughout by the author's energetic protest against the use of the knife except as a last resource. 2. ‘Hysteria,’ &c., London, 8vo, 1867; 2nd edit. 1867; 3rd edit. 1870; a series of lectures in which the advantages of the ‘tonic’ plan of treatment over the use of depleting measures are strongly maintained.

[Times, 16 Aug. 1872, p. 8 f.; Medical Times and Gazette, 1872, ii. 210; St. Bartholomew's Hospital Reports, 1873, vol. ix. pp. xxi–xxxix; additional information kindly given to the writer by the Rev. Frederic Charles Skey, M.A., Weare Vicarage, Axbridge.]

D’A. P.