Obituary - Dr Richard Penn (Jock) Harbord

Dr Richard Penn (Jock) Harbord

1911 to 2005

My reason for writing this obituary for Jock Harbord is our mutual connection with the Leeds Academic Department of Anaesthesia which I joined as an MRC Research Fellow in 1966. Jock Harbord had been Reader in the Department leaving to go to the USA in 1962, so I never had the privilege of working with him.

He was born in Hull in 1911, son of Commander Arthur Edward and Gladys (Penn) Harbord, and died at St Rita’s Medical Center in Lima in January 2005 aged 93. At that time he was living in New Knoxville, Ohio, with a close friend and companion Marcella Katterheinrich. He is survived by three children, Christopher living in Tampa Fla., Jonathan in Frederick Md. and Heather in BC Canada. He married Mollie (Mary Isabel) Johnston in Liverpool December 26, 1937. 

Jock was a Liverpool University graduate qualifying MB ChB in 1936. After graduating he became a House Surgeon at the Stanley Hospital in Liverpool during which time he was obliged to give anaesthetics. His only ‘formal’ training as an anaesthetist was giving 20 anaesthetics under supervision as an undergraduate. In 1939 he became a part-time Demonstrator in the Liverpool Department of Anaesthetics, and the same year he obtained his doctorate (MD Liverpool); the title of his thesis was ‘A study of the variations in blood pressure and pulse rate associated with anaesthesia and surgery.’ At that time he was the only Visiting Anaesthetist at the Smithdown Road City Hospital (pre-NHS consultant equivalent), and was one of the first doctors to specialize in anaesthesia in Liverpool, being anteceded by DR R J Minnitt. He was contemporaneous with Dr (later Professor) T Cecil Gray.

In 1942 Jock joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) giving anaesthetics initially in Bangor in Northern Ireland, and later in Oxford, where he joined No 4 Mobile Neurosurgical Unit (4MNSU) led by Major Kenneth Eden FRCS, who was until then a neurosurgeon at UCH.

On the 26th August 1942 the 4MNSU embarked on the 23,000 ton ‘SS Orcades’, a converted P & O liner, and arrived in Durban 34 days later. Sadly the ‘Orcades’ was sunk on her return journey 287 miles northwest of Capetown. She was torpedoed by a German U-boat, and it apparently required 7 torpedoes to sink her. Many of the crew and passengers were rescued by a passing Polish ship and were taken to Capetown. From Durban the Unit flew to Cairo, and after El Alamein, they sailed from Alexandria to Benghazi where they were attached to the Eighth Army under Generals Alexander and Montgomery. The 4MNSU advanced westward, attached to New Zealand and Highland Divisions, to Tunis, and thence to Sicily where they established the 11th General Hospital. In October 1943 Major Eden died of bulbar poliomyelitis, and for a short time, Jock, now Major Harbord, was ‘Commanding Officer’. However he contracted infective hepatitis and was hospitalized in Bari. The 4MNSU made important contributions to the treatment of open head injury, and was one of the first surgical teams to dust open brain wounds with the new drug penicillin.

Later Jock joined an MRC Trauma Shock Research Unit under Dr R T Grant FRS, based in Casino, Italy. There he worked with John Goligher, (who arrived by parachute) who later became Professor of Surgery in Leeds.

After the war, in 1947, he became Reader in the University of Leeds and first full-time Head of the Anaesthetic Department - succeeding Dr Rowling who had left in 1939. During his tenure he developed the University Department establishing research facilities with a mechanical workshop and a biochemical laboratory. He appointed a full-time lecturer, and workshop and biochemical technicians. These were halcyon days for the development of a new specialty such as anaesthesia, and Jock succeeded in obtaining generous accommodation both in the Teaching Hospital (Leeds General Infirmary) and also a University owned house, 24 Hyde Terrace which was the home of the University Department of Anaesthesia (UDA), until it had to be closed in 1992 when I was appointed Professor.

In 1962 he emigrated to the USA working initially in Boston with Professor Henry K Beecher in the Massachusetts General Hospital. At the MGH he met Peter Bosomworth who, in 1964 was appointed to the foundation chair at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, and Jock became Associate Professor and Medical Director of Respiratory Therapy there.

In 1968 he left Kentucky and joined the Department of Anesthesia at the Northwestern University in Chicago, and served as Director of Anesthetic Services at the Veterans Administration Research Hospital in Chicago. Around two years later he entered private practice in Illinois. He ended his career as an anaesthetist in 1976, aged 65, when he entered general medical practice in New Knoxville Ohio, until 1988, when he was 77.

In 1962 when he left England he was a well respected academic anaesthetist in charge of one of the few university departments in the UK. He was a member of the Board of the Faculty of Anaesthesia of the Royal College of Surgeons, and a member of the Editorial Board of the British Journal of Anaesthesia; he edited the educational issues. It may be considered an irony that his main research interest was applied respiratory physiology, a subject which became so prominent in Leeds during John Nunn’s tenure of the Chair.

Jock Harbord’s contribution to academic anaesthesia can be seen by his contributions to the literature. Soon after his arrival in Leeds he began writing papers on monitoring respiratory parameters during anaesthesia such as measurement of tidal volume, and levels of CO2. In the twelve years that followed he wrote 17 papers which were published mainly in the B J A, but also in Anaesthesia, Proc Roy Soc Med, the Practitioner, and Can Anaesth Soc J. During that time he also wrote papers about undergraduate instruction in anaesthesia, an article on his predecessor Dr S T Rowling, and several on steroid anaesthesia. He published with Professor R Woolmer the transcripts of a symposium on Pulmonary Ventilation held in Leeds in 1958.

After arriving in the USA his research output seems to have plummeted. He wrote a paper on the treatment of atalectasis with Bosomworth in 1966. It seems his last paper was published in the N Eng J Med and entitled ‘Impenetrable Journal Articles’!

However in 1998 he wrote a most entertaining and instructive ‘Personal View’ in the May issue of the Royal College of Anaesthetists Newsletter. It was entitled ‘Not the English Patient’, and in it he describes his amazing experiences during WWII and his time with Albert Schweitzer in the Gabon jungle hospital and leper colony.

Although I never met him, everyone to whom I’ve spoken who knew him say what a decent, helpful, kind and pleasant person he was, - he is described by Major Eden in his diary as ‘something of a character’.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Jock Harbord was a prominent figure in UK academic anaesthesia. Together with Dr J F Nunn and Dr J P Payne, he founded the Anaesthesia Research Group (ARG), which later became the successful and influential Anaesthetic Research Society (ARS). It is interesting to note that the ARG was immediately well supported by both University and NHS researchers but, for a time, there was a notable lack of interest by the established Professors!

In view of his role as researcher and teacher, and his contributions to the Board of the Faculty of Anaesthetist, and to the Editorial Board of the BJA, it is fitting we pay an overdue tribute to him, and our respects to his surviving family and friends.

F Richard Ellis, Emeritus Professor of Anaesthesia, University of Leeds
Shadwell, Leeds (April 2011)

I would like to acknowledge and thank Mr Tom Eden (son of Major Kenneth Eden) and Dr John Nunn for their very helpful contributions and comments. I am greatly indebted to his daughter Heather who allowed me to read some chapters from his unpublished autobiography.