Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor

18 March 1878 - 3 September 1960

Anatomist, surgeon, expert in the surgery of malignant disease affecting breast, mouth and pharynx.  A leading surgeon of his time, he was famed as a lecturer and educator and helped train hundreds of young surgeons from all over the world.

William Gordon Taylor was born at Streatham Hill, London, the elder of two children of John Taylor, wine merchant, and his wife, Alice Miller, daughter of William Gordon, stockbroker, of Aberdeen. In 1885 John Taylor died and his widow moved with her son and daughter to Aberdeen where Taylor gained a scholarship at Robert Gordon's College. He held a bursary at Aberdeen University, where he obtained third-class honours in classics (1898). Entering the Middlesex Hospital with a scholarship, he took the gold medal in anatomy in the intermediate MB examination and qualified MRCS, LRCP on 29 October 1903. An intensive course of anatomical study was rewarded with first-class honours (1904) in the newly instituted BSc in anatomy of the University of London. He obtained his FRCS in 1906, and a year later at the early age of twenty-nine he was appointed assistant surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital. He was consulting surgeon to the Fourth Army in France during the First World War, after making a name for himself as a casualty clearing surgeon.

In 1920, he changed his name to Gordon Gordon-Taylor and married Florence Mary (d. 1949), daughter of John Pegrume; there were no children. In the same year, he became full surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital and in the next twenty years he built up a great reputation as a fearless, but obsessively careful surgeon, whose results were excellent. His approach to surgery was characterized by a fierce desire to help his patients, an unquenchable optimism, and a superb knowledge of anatomy. This allowed him to perform massive resections of tissue, such as in hindquarter amputations (lower limb plus half the pelvic bone) which most of his colleagues could not contemplate. He was equally at home operating everywhere in the body, except perhaps within the skull. He was also more aware of the importance of physiology than many of his contemporaries: his understanding of the importance of replacing lost blood stemmed from his First World War experiences and he was a strong advocate and practitioner of blood transfusion.

Gordon-Taylor was consultant to the Royal Navy in the Second World War, with the rank of surgeon rear-admiral, and travelled to Russia, America, and India in the course of his duties. He was appointed CB in 1942, and KBE and commander of the United States Legion of Merit in 1946.

At the Royal College of Surgeons, Gordon-Taylor served on the council (1932–48) and was vice-president (1941–3). He was a Hunterian professor on several occasions; delivered the Bradshaw lecture in 1942 on the abdominal injuries resulting from modern warfare and twice gave the Thomas Vicary lecture.

Gordon-Taylor made substantial contributions to the surgery of malignancy and gastric surgery for upper gastrointestinal bleeding. He was an honorary fellow of the Irish, Australasian, Canadian, and American colleges of surgeons; an honorary foreign member of the Académie de Chirurgie in Paris; and the recipient of honorary degrees from Cambridge, Toronto, Melbourne, and Athens. His links with Australasian surgery were particularly strong. Young Australians visiting the UK to further their surgical education found in him a willing and enthusiastic mentor. Gordon-Taylor was president of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland, of the Medical Society of London (1941–2), and of the Royal Society of Medicine (1944–6), which also awarded him in 1956 its rarely bestowed gold medal. The many ceremonial addresses which he was invited to deliver and the other honours he was awarded are listed in the Journal of Medical Biography (Hobsley, Biography, 83–9). He was a frequent contributor to medical and surgical journals and his books included The Dramatic in Surgery (1930) and The Abdominal Injuries of Warfare (1939).

Examiner in surgery to the universities of Cambridge, London, Leeds, Belfast, Durham and Edinburgh, member of the council of Royal College of Surgeons of England 1932 vice president 1941-43.

Consultant surgeon to the Alfred and Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne; an honorary member of the surgical societies in Belgium, Norway, Greece, France and Germany. Exchange Professor Peter Bent Brigham Hospital Boston 1941.

Gordon-Taylor died in his beloved Middlesex Hospital: he had been knocked down by a vehicle as he left Lord's cricket ground. He left the bulk of his fortune to the Royal College of Surgeons for its library and to the Middlesex Hospital for its nurses.


  • OBE 1915
  • CB 1942
  • KBE 1946
  • President Medical Society of London 1941
  • President Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland 1944
  • President Royal Society of Medicine 1944
  • FRCSEng 1906
  • Honorary Fellowships:-FACS, FRCS Ed, FRCSI, FRCSEd, FFA RCS, Honorary LL.D. Melbourne 1947 Honorary LLD Toronto 1941
  • Gold Medallist Royal Society of Medicine 1956
  • Eponymous Prize for the Primary Examination of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons

Image by Walter Stoneman; bromide print, August 1947; NPG x167882; © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Biography prepared from the nomination made to the University of Aberdeen 525 Alumni project.