Reference code: P57
Date(s): 1805-1987
Extent: 660 items
Location: NUI Galway
Biographical History

A good account of Sir Peter Freyer's life and career is given in an article by Dr C P MacLoughlin of Clifden in the Journal of the Clifden and Connemara Heritage Group Vol I No 1 (1993) entitled 'From Sellerna to Harley St'. Peter Freyer was born on 2 July 1851 and was baptized in the parish church at Ballinakill, Co Galway on 26 July. He was the eldest of the children of Samuel Freyer, a small landholder of Sellerna, near Cleggan and his wife Celia Burke. At the time of Griffith's Valuation c 1855, Samuel Freyer was in possession of 17 acres at Moorneen and a house, office and land in Knockbrack, both townlands in the parish of Omey (Clifden). In 1876, when the list of landowners of more than one acre was compiled, Samuel Freyer of Claghacurra, Clifden, was recorded as having 210 acres. Samuel Freyer's eldest son was named Peter Johnson after his paternal grandfather, a chief officer in the coastguard service. Although his mother was a Roman Catholic, Peter Freyer and his siblings were brought up as Protestants. The Irish Church Missions, who had a very strong affect in the Sellerna district during the 1850s, may have influenced the Freyer family. Samuel Freyer was a tenant of Sir Christopher Lighton, a clergyman and supporter of the ICM. Peter Freyer went to the Erasmus Smith School in Galway and won a scholarship to attend the Queen's College, Galway. He had a distinguished academic career at the College, obtaining in 1872 a first class honor degree in Arts and winning the gold medal. He studied medicine for another 2 years, including a period as resident pupil at Dr Steeven's Hospital in Dublin. He won another gold medal when conferred with a MD in 1874. He then spent a brief time working in Paris. On his return he came first in the competitive examination for a commission as a medical officer in the Indian Medical Service. He filled the post of acting civil surgeon at Azamgarh from April 1877 and from 1878 he began to publish articles in the Indian Medical Journal on his medical experiences [see P57/301]. Subsequent postings were at Moradabad, Bareilly, Allahabad, Mussouri, Benares and Mirzapur, all in the district known as the North West Provinces and Oudh. Freyer encountered all sorts of medical problems in India but he became particularly proficient in operating on cataracts and stone in the bladder. While based at Moradabad Freyer attended one of the native princes, the Nawab of Rampur, who was suffering from paralysis and also the Nawab's chief administrator, General Azim Uddin Khan. In gratitude for his services the Nawab gave Freyer a lakh of rupees, equivalent to 100,000 rupees or £10,000. His acceptance of this gift brought Freyer into conflict with the British administrative authority in India and a ban was put on his future promotion. The problem appeared to have been sorted out by 1894, when he represented the Indian Government at the International Surgical and Medical Conference in Rome in April of that year. Freyer returned to India in October 1894 after 18 months of leave, however in early 1895 he had a row with his superior J G Pilcher over his substitution at Benares and decided to leave the Indian Medical Service. He had by this time obtained the rank of lieutenant colonel and the Queen accepted his retirement in 1896 [see P57/158].On his return to London Freyer established a private practice at 46 Harley Street, Cavendish Square and in 1896 was appointed to the staff of St Peter's Hospital for Stone [see cutting from the Pioneer 19 July 1896 in P57/301]. He was appointed Examiner in Surgery at the University of Durham in 1902. From 1904-1909 he was a member of the honorary medical staff of King Edward VII's Hospital for Officers and from 1909 he was a consulting surgeon to the Queen Alexander Hospital, Millbank, London, which was established as the main post graduate training hospital of the Army under the reforms of Sir Alfred Keogh, who was Director General of the Army Medical Services from 1905-1910. Keogh was also a graduate of QCG [see P57/133 and /137].In London Freyer rapidly established a reputation as a surgeon specializing in the treatment of urinary problems. In particular he became renowned for his treatment of stone in the bladder or kidney by the operative procedures known as lithotomy and litholapaxy and for his treatment of an enlarged prostate by a suprapubic operation known as total enucleation of the prostate. He first performed a total extirpation of the prostate in December 1900 and soon afterwards he began to write about his successful cases [see P57/243 and /248-249], which led to some controversy with colleagues but Freyer is today accredited world wide for pioneering the operation now known as a prostatectomy. Professor Sean O'Beirn, Professor of Surgery at UCG 1957-1979 had a great interest in Freyer and was instrumental in the inauguration of the Sir Peter Freyer lecture held annually by the Department of Surgery of UCG/NUIG since 1976. It was under the auspices of Professor O'Beirn that this collection was presented to the Department of Surgery in 1980 by Sir Peter Freyer's grandsons. Some additional material has been added to the main deposit, including papers and photographs from the Australian urologist Graeme Heap in 1987 [see P57/327-328 and /369-370].The medical records in this collection show the growth in the number of prostatectomies performed by Freyer in the first two decades of the 20th century. In 1904 he was awarded the Arnott Memorial Medal in recognition of his contribution to surgery. He rejoined the medical service of the British Army during World War I, acting as consulting surgeon to the Indian soldiers in the various hospitals under the control of the Brighton Military Hospital. On the evacuation of the Indian troops he became consulting surgeon to the military hospitals in the Brighton area and subsequently for all of Sussex, part of the Eastern Command. He was awarded the honor of Commander of the Bath (CB) in February 1917 and six months later became a Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB). In Oct 1919 the National University of Ireland conferred on him an honorary degree of Doctor of Law [see P57/39]. MacLoughlin writes that Freyer was considered to have radical political opinions and was a staunch Home Ruler, befriending many Irish Nationalist members of Parliament, in particular T P O'Connor. These papers show he was also friendly with the Redmond brothers, John and William and that John actually died in March 1918 following an operation by Freyer [see P57/216].Freyer married Isabella McVittie, [see P57/353] daughter of Robert McVittie of Dublin. Her funeral costs are recorded in her husband's account book in March 1914 [see P57/220]. They had two children, Dermot born in 1883 and Kathleen born in 1884 [see P57/295-296]. Some of the costs of educating his children are also recorded in Freyer's account books, which are the best sources in this collection for gathering information about aspects of Freyer's personal life. Dermot Freyer had three sons Michael, Grattan and Patrick and Kathleen had two children from her marriage to John Duncan Grant, a soldier, who was awarded the VC in 1904. Sir Peter Freyer died on 9 September 1921, aged 70 and is buried beside his father in the Church of Ireland cemetery at Clifden, Co Galway. Only two of Freyer's siblings are mentioned in this collection, his brother Samuel Forster Freyer [see P57/327 and /365], a doctor in the Army Medical Corps, who also merits an entry in Who Was Who and his sister Kate, who married Thomas Griffin, the doctor on Inishboffin Island [see P57/220]. Freyer made provision for both his parents and other family members in his will of 1907 [see P57/327] and his account books show that he was still paying his mother an allowance in 1920 [see P57/220]. His assets when valued after his death were worth more than £130,000. This collection has obviously been preserved by Peter Freyer's family to record his medical career as a pioneer in the field of urological surgery. It gives some indication of the type of man Freyer was, shrewd, forthright, meticulous, hardworking and tenacious. His portrait, painted by Alice Grant in 1919, hangs in the boardroom of St Peter's Hospital for Stone [see P57/364] and photographs from Ireland, India and England, give a visual picture of the different periods in his life.

Immediate Source of Acquisition or Transfer

Acquired by the James Hardiman Library, NUI, Galway, in 2002 from the Department of Surgery, NUI, Galway. Acquired by the Department of Surgery in 1980 from the sons of Dermot Freyer. Additional material sent to Professor Given in 1985 by Michael Freyer [see P57/340], photographs of the symposium in honor of Freyer at UCG [see P57/368] and photographs taken in 1987 by Graeme Heap, an urologist from Australia [see P57/369-370], have been added to the original deposit.

Scope and Content

A collection of medical and personal papers relating to the adult life and career of Sir Peter Freyer (1851-1921), covering a period of 50 years, with a few additional items. The collection accumulated and was preserved by Peter Freyer during his lifetime and by his family thereafter. It is made up of medical and official records, letters, newspaper cuttings, photographs, memorabilia and copies of Freyer's published writings. The collection contains approximately 660 items.The collection is in a good physical condition.

System of arrangement

Some groups of correspondence were readily identified within the collection, as were the medical records and published writings. However the rest of the collection was rather mixed up, possibly due to being searched for suitable material for exhibition purposes. Arrangement has therefore largely been imposed. The list is structured in 9 main parts (A-I), under the following headings: official papers, correspondence, medical records, financial records, printed books and reprints, journal and newspaper cuttings, other papers, photographs and memorabilia. Within each part there are a number of sections (1, 2, 3, etc), sometimes comprised of subsections (1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc). Occasionally a subsection has been further divided as follows (3.1.1, 3.1.2, 3.1.3, etc). In general the papers have been arranged chronologically within each part and section. An index has been appended and cross references have been inserted in the text.

Conditions governing access

The material in this collection is available to all bone fide researchers and subject to the conditions of access governing the consultation of archival material at the James Hardiman Library. No material may be reproduced from this collection without the written permission of the archivist and reproductions are subject to the conditions of access. The most appropriate form of reference is title of item: date of item: reference number (P57/?), James Hardiman Archives, NUI, Galway.

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