Campaigners want to restore a memorial to a prominent surgeon who saved the life of a king and showed humanity to John Merrick, otherwise known as the 'Elephant Man.'

The Dorchester Association hopes to repair the memorial, a Celtic cross, to Sir Frederick Treves in Weymouth Avenue Cemetery. 

Dorset Echo:

Frederick Treves was born in Cornhill, Dorchester, and was one of six children. His father, William, was an upholsterer and furniture maker, and he passed away when Treves was 14.

Despite having a passion for medicine, Treves found the world to be class riddled, meaning that it was harder for him to earn an apprenticeship with a merchant’s family background.

In 1875, Treves passed his Royal College of Surgeons exam, before he married Anne Elisabeth Mason, who lived in Durngate Street in Dorchester. At the age of 24, the couple moved to Wirksworth in Derbyshire where Treves joined a GP practice.

It is reported that whilst in Derbyshire, Treves was presented with a 25-year-old patient who had two weeks to live, and he attempted one of the first ever blood transfusions on her. Medical practices in the late nineteenth century were not like they are today and lacked some of the fundamentals that are taken for granted now.

Despite his colleague, Dr Milligan, supporting Treves in the process, the patient lost her life after 15 minutes. Soon after, blood types were discovered.

Dorset Echo: Sir Frederick TrevesSuch was the quality of medical care in the Victorian era that Treves’ coat was reportedly so congealed with blood that when he took it off, it would stand up right. It wasn’t until a few years later in the 1890s where the standards of medicine changed and Treves would make sure that all his equipment was washed, fresh and sterile.

In 1884, Treves moved to London and worked closely with John Merrick, who was otherwise known as the Elephant Man, and had severe physical deformities. Treves was unhappy with Merrick’s treatment and took him to a London hospital in 1886 where he was looked after, despite being seen as an incurable, until his death in 1890.

Treves was played by Anthony Hopkins in the 1980 film, The Elephant Man, about the life of John Merrick.

Treves was sent to South Africa for the Second Boer War in 1899 and took a surgical team with two women, which was seen as unusual at the time.

He then returned to Britain, and was surgeon to Edward VII, performing an appendicitis operation on the soon-to-be king before his coronation. Despite being a rare procedure at the time, the operation, performed in Buckingham Palace, was a success. Treves was given a baronet title by Edward VII. 

Treves moved to Switzerland in 1920 where he lived out the rest of his life, until his death from peritonitis three years later.

Before his death, he wrote to his publishers about longing for the beauty of Dorset and how he would have liked to return to the county one day.

He was cremated in Lucerne before a service was held at Weymouth Avenue Cemetery.

The then 84-year-old Thomas Hardy arranged the service. The wake was held at Max Gate, and Hardy’s friendship with Treves inspired the poem, In the Evening.

A memorial was erected in Weymouth Avenue Cemetery, but over the years much of it has worn away. There have been attempts from the 1990s onwards to restore the monument to its former glory.

Jan Tollerfield, of the Dorchester Association, is also a volunteer at Max Gate and a history enthusiast. She has been researching Treves' life and was disappointed that the memorial has fallen into a poor state.

She said: “You can’t read the inscription as it has been tarnished over the years.

“It needs a good scrub and a bleach. We want tourists to think 'here it is' and show people why it is so important."

Dorset Echo:

Jan said that she has been quoted a price of £1,000 by local firm Grassby to see the reparations made and to re-inscribe it.

If you would like to help out with the association’s efforts in restoring the monument, call Jan on 01305 266023.

Jan will be giving a talk titled Frederick Treves, Surgeon: A True Son Of Dorchester, at the Dorford Centre on Thursday, February 29 at 7.30pm.