David Smith : Beatson – More than a Building
In a well researched talk, David Smith, former consultant surgeon at the Victoria, gave an outstanding picture of the life of Sir George Thomas Beatson. David started his talk with a slide of the first Beatson Hospital, 163 Hill Street, Garnethill (1890). It was first founded in 1886 as the Glasgow Cancer and Skin Institution. (David enjoyed the fact that Glasgow had the first CSI !!) In 1952, in homage, it was renamed the Royal Beatson Memorial Hospital. From the 1950s photo, with a twinkle in his eye, David could recollect an early colleague’s Vauxhall Wyvern parked on Hill Street, not to mention the consultant’s Armstrong Siddley tucked in the hospital grounds!
From the outset, well ahead of his time, Beatson recognized the need for research and established a department in Hill Street. This facility grew and grew and a new building was built in Garscube Estate in 1977. Such is the rate of change, the Beatson Institute relocated to new laboratories in 2008.
Over time the Beatson Oncology Centre spread out over four hospitals (the Western, Gartnavel, the Royal and Stobhill). These were brought together in 2007 in the new Beatson Cancer Centre at Gartnavel. David observed that this beneficially ended unintentional competition between the centres!
David then shifted to Beatson, the person. He was born in Tricomalee, Ceylon in 1848, the son of George Stewart Beatson, Surgeon General , Indian Army. After an exemplary secondary education in King William College, Isle of Man, Beatson went to Clare College, Cambridge University where he graduated with a general degree. Here David‘s research produced striking information. Members were surprised to hear that Beatson was in the rowing eight, at 6 foot three, yet weighing only 10 stones 7 pounds. Moreover, none of his crew mates weighed more than 10 stones 12 pounds! Wow!!
Beatson did his medicine at Edinburgh. Remarkably he did this in 4 rather than 5 years and graduated in 1874. For a while Beatson became invisible. David finally established that he became the personal physician to a man ‘who’s mind was affected’. Although still unknown, it was clearly someone of substance as he owned estates in the West of Scotland. It was on one of these estates that Beatson observed that ovarian secretions influenced the growth of the mammary glands – the basis of his ovariectomy treatment of breast cancer. This was the start of endocrine therapy, now a life saver.
When he returned to mainstream medicine, he was not short of people of influence including Joseph Lister and Sir George Macleod, and found himself at the then new Western Infirmary. There he progressed up the greasy pole eventually to take over from Dr Hugh Murray, the first cancer specialist. There was a battle over whether cancer should be treated topically or by surgery. Beatson’s research and more effective treatments advocating surgery won the day. From this time on Beatson’s career prospered.
Beatson also had a significant career in the Voluntary Army, now the Territorials. In addition, he was a founder member of the St Andrew’s Ambulance Association and helped establish the Scottish Red Cross. He received a number of honours including two knighthoods and the Legion of Honour. A remarkable man and eloquently told to us by David Smith.