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Frederick Treves was born in Dorset on February 15th 1853. His father was a furniture dealer and upholsterer making a comfortable amount of money. He was educated under Reverend William Barnes who he looked up to with great regard. Barnes a great writer was acknowledged by both Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Hardy, influencing their poetry.

Eventually at the age of 18 Treves was sent to Merchant Taylors School in London by his father. An undistinguished scholar he excelled only in sports with a talent for Football. He decided then to follow his elder brother and study medicine at the London Hospital. Of all the medical schools of the time the London Hospital was the least desirable to attend.

The London Hospital held 690 beds and was situated in one of the poorest sections of London surrounded by rat infested slums. The teachers at the school were in direct contrast to the surroundings many of them highly respected in various fields of medicine. Robert Louis Stevenson would travel from Edinburgh to consult Andrew Clark physician to the Royal family who taught at the Hospital.

The freedom afforded to the students of the London Hospital suited Treves, his practical approach and decisive action quickly helped him to become a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He worked at the London Hospital for a few years before accepting an offer from his brother and moved down to Kent. In 1877 he felt it was time to start his own practice. At this time he married Anne Elizabeth Mason. She was well off and brought enough money to the marriage to allow Treves to buy into a partnership in the Derbyshire vales. After a year he moved back down to London set up his own practice and accepted the offer to become a surgical registrar at the London Hospital.

His first book was published in 1882 Scrofula and Its Gland Diseases
this was the 1st of many. Treves was then able to purchase a home in Bloomsbury rising early each morning he would write for a while before spending the day lecturing and operating at the London Hospital. Life was going well for Treves still young and respected, it was at this time that DR Tuckett told him in passing about the 'Elephant Man' exhibit across the road from the London Hospital.



The London Hospital 1896. Joseph Merrick was being exhibited
across the road from the main entrance.

Treves visited the Freakshow soon after but found it closed. He ask around and found that the owner Mr. Tom Normon was in a local tavern drinking. Eventually Treves arranged a private viewing with Tom Normon and then for the 1st time laid eyes on The Elephant Man. Treves's own account of this meeting is reproduced in his book The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences and although it is well written it is not short on melodrama. The strange thing about the book is that Joseph Merrick is referred to as John throughout. This is put down to Merricks difficulty speaking leading Treves to at first mishear Joseph as John, or to Treves's old age at the time of writing. In any case it is a minor discrepancy of which there are many in the book.


The section of Treves manuscript that clearly shows he
first wrote Joseph and changed it to John.

When he finally laid eyes on Merrick his initial reaction was that Merrick was 'the most disgusting specimen of humanity, degraded and perverted in its twisted form'. At the time he was 31 and had seen many horrific injuries and deformities but the site of Merrick still alarmed. When his medical instincts kicked in Treves arranged for Merrick to be taken to the London Hospital for further examination. It was at this moment that Treves gave Merrick his card so the porterat the hospital would allow him in without delay. This event may seem insubstantial but it was this business card that would bring Treves and Merrick back together under unforeseen circumstances.

Over a short space of time Treves fully examined Merrick, documented his deformities with a series of photographs, etchings and texts. He also arranged a showing of Merrick in front of the Pathological Society of London inviting diagnosis. When none was reached Merrick was dismissed and an incurable and Treves lost contact with him. Many of the Freakshows were being closed down at this time and even though Tom Norman and Merrick had moved on Treves still campaigned for further study of this most interesting specimen.

Read more about Treves and Merricks relationship in the 'Merricks Life Section'