Discover the story of Leeds abdominal surgeon Lord Moynihan: who had ‘the heart of a lion and the hands of a lady’. 

”The perfect surgeon must have the heart of a lion and the hands of a lady, not the claws of a lion and the heart of a sheep”

These words were reportedly said by the renowned Leeds abdominal surgeon Berkley George Andrew Moynihan, 1st Baron Moynihan. His success as a surgeon would suggest that these things were true of Lord Moynihan and whether his hands were those ‘of a lady’ can be still be judged as in the stores of Leeds Museums there is a plaster cast of his hands. These were used a basis of a bronze sculpture (which is still on display in the Health Sciences Library at the University of Leeds).

Photo of the cast of the hands of Berkeley George Andrew Moynihan, the First Lord Moynihan. The cast is black and the photo was taken on a white background.

Cast of the hands of Berkeley George Andrew Moynihan, the First Lord Moynihan. Presented by L.R. Braithwaite, 1932.

Lord Moynihan was born in Malta in 1865. His mother moved the family to Leeds after the death of his father when he was two years old. He was raised and educated in Leeds and then London, but Moynihan practiced in Leeds for the majority of his career.

Photo of a book on a white background. The book is dark red with gold details and writing. You can read Abdominal operations, Moynihan on it's side.

Lord Moynihan published extensively in the field of medicine. His first book was on his specialism of abdominal surgery: ‘Abdominal Operations’ by B.G.A. Moynihan, Leeds, publ. W.B. Saunders & Company, Philadelphia & London 1906.

Moynihan had a successful surgery in Park Square – today a blue plaque marks the place of his former surgery. He also worked at Leeds General Infirmary and taught anatomy at Leeds Medical School. His reputation was such he could have set up a successful practice in London, where he did treat some patients, but his heart and practice remained in Leeds. Nevertheless he had strong links to the capital including undertaking some of his training there and becoming not only a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in England in 1890 but also their president 36 years later.

Photo of a red brick wall with a round blue plaque on it. The plaque has the name of Sir Berkeley Moynihan (1865-1936) on it. You can read on the plaque: Inspirational teacher and pioneer in abdominal surgery had his consulting rooms here from 1893-1930. He introduced the wearing of rubber gloves and prized'caressing the tissues' rather than speed in surgery. President of the Royal College of Surgeons 1926-31. Ennobled 1929.

Blue Plaque at Lord Moynihan’s former surgery, 33 Park Square, Leeds.

His service to his home city was rewarded in 1926 when he was awarded the freedom of the city. As part of this he was awarded a freedom casket. This richly decorated casket showed his links to Leeds and reflected his medical career.

Photo of a beautiful object on a white background. Freedom Casket presented to Sir Berkley Moynihan is gold on a dark wood based. There is the coat of arms of the city of Leeds on the front and writing on the wood base.

Freedom Casket presented to Sir Berkley Moynihan in 1926. Showing the coat of arms of the city of Leeds. Maker: Omar Ramsden. Produced: London, England.

On one side of the casket is the coats of arms of the city of Leeds and on the other those of Sir Moynihan (as he was styled at the time of production). The ends of the casket show Lord Moynihan’s links to the medical profession with the coat of arms of The Royal College of Surgeons on one end and on the other a representation of the William Hey Memorial Medal which was presented to the most distinguished graduate in medicine at the University of Leeds. This beautiful casket is currently on display at Lotherton Hall and can be found on the ground floor in the butler’s safe.

Photo of the same Freedom Casket as above but the photo was taken from a different angle showing the coat of arms of The Royal College of Surgeons.

Item as above. Showing the coat of arms of The Royal College of Surgeons on it’s side.

Lord Moynihan was not only recognised on a local level but also nationally. Among his many honours included being created a baronet in 1922 and seven years later he entered the House of Lords being styled as Baron Moynihan of Leeds.

After a long and distinguished career Lord Moynihan died in 1936, just 6 days after his wife of over 40 years Isabel with whom he had 3 children. An indication of his fame came soon after when his family were offered a burial in Westminster Abbey although this was declined for family reasons.


By Rebecca Fallas, Volunteer Blogger.

This post marks the first in a series celebrating Leeds General Infirmary, as they celebrate their 250th anniversary.

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