Nestled between the pages of Selected Lectures And Essays I found this letter from J. G. Harbottle, a stock broker and mayor of Darlington. Regrettably this is the only half that made it into my book, so what he had the pleasure to enclose is left to the vagaries of time. Regardless, our Dr Hern does not appear to have made it far through his book, as this letter, dated the same year it was published, resided approximately a third of the way through.

As mayor, Harbottle appears to have presided over the election of the first woman, Clara Lucas, to Darlington Town Council in 19151, following the passing of the Qualification of Women Act in 1907. He also played a role in recruiting men for the Pals Brigades, having set up a recruitment office in Darlington2, and received a German gun on behalf of the Darlington Corporation in 19163.

For these efforts he was elevated as a Knight Bachelor in the 1918 birthday honours of King George V, under the auspices of ‘active leadership in local patriotic work’4. He died on the 18th of August 1920, not long after my letter was sent, leaving an estate of £58,885 7s 6d, equivalent to approximately £2.8 million today5.

Now, on to the recipient and previous owner of my book. One of the qualities that defines members of the medical profession is the need to see ones name in print. Couple this with the longevity of many medical publications, and this leaves a trail of breadcrumbs leading back to their owner.

To find which mysterious Dr Hern ours is, one only needs to turn to Google. It was straight forward to find references for a planning application in 1891 for a John Hern intending to modify Semmercote on Stanhope Street, Darlington6, and an article in The Northern Echo describing Darlington’s own ‘Harley Street’ of doctors' offices on Stanhope Street, including a Dr John Hern who lived in Semmercote7. This also yielded Old Ashburton, a site chronicling the history of the Devon town from which our doctor hailed.

Our Dr John Hern was born to another John Hern and Caroline Susanna Restalic in 1854. He went on to study at the University of Edinburgh, followed by a period in London, before becoming a senior house-surgeon in Darlington Hospital. He then set up his practice in Semmercote, serving as surgeon, opthalmic surgeon, and ear, nose, and throat surgeon to the hospital.

He contributed to the literature on a number of topics, including:

In his practice in Semmercote, he was regarded well enough for a successful ship owner take relief from his advice on his death bed17. A fellow doctor, Constance C. Robertson, practiced alongside him, and is listed as a physician and honorary anaesthetist to Darlington Hospital18. During her time as a student studying medicine in Durham, she was one of only 12 female students out of a body of 20019. When Dr Hern retired, Dr Robertson continued in half of Semmercote renamed as Waleric, where she is listed in Durham Trades20.

Not one to miss the opportunity for an announcement, our good doctor published his marriage to Martha ‘Minnie’ Brock in a 1890 issue of the Lancet21. Then there was the birth of a son on the 9th of April 1892, published in the British Medical Journal22. This was the first and last of his children I can find announcements for, although he and Minnie went on to have a total of 4 children.

The last trace of Dr John Hern is his own obituary, fittingly published in the 7th of November issue of the BMJ in 1936, detailing his career, contributions to Darlington, and his long association with the British Medical Association23. From the listing of his probate, his estate of £17,838 17s 3d was handled by two of his children, John Reginald Brock Hern and Margaret Leslie Hern, among it presumably my copy of Selected Lectures And Essays.


  1. https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/history/12954920.100-years-since-darlingtons-first-lady-councillor-elected/ ↩︎

  2. Sheen, J. (2007). Durham Pals: 18th, 19th, 20th and 22nd Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry in the Great War. United Kingdom: Pen & Sword Books. ↩︎

  3. http://dre.durham.gov.uk/Image/ByPerson/Aldermen/DRE5881 ↩︎

  4. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/30723/supplement/6526/data.pdf ↩︎

  5. “£58,885 in 1920 → 2022 | UK Inflation Calculator.” Official Inflation Data, Alioth Finance, 23 Jun. 2022, https://www.officialdata.org/uk/inflation/1920?amount=58885 ↩︎

  6. http://www.durhamrecordoffice.org.uk/article/11111?SearchType=Param&Variations=Y&Keywords=baptist&ImagesOnly=N&ItemID=166813 ↩︎

  7. https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/7127980.surgeons-built-towns-harley-street/ ↩︎

  8. Hern J. Notes of a Case of Sclerotitis, Apparently of Dental Origin Br Med J 1889; 2 :698 doi:10.1136/bmj.2.1500.698 ↩︎

  9. McGill, A. F., et al. “A Discussion On The Treatment Of Retention Of Urine From Prostatic Enlargement.” The British Medical Journal, vol. 2, no. 1503, 1889, pp. 863–72. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20221099. Accessed 23 Jun. 2022. ↩︎

  10. Hern J. On the Treatment of Certain Cases of Recent Hernia by Aspiration of the Protruded Gut Br Med J 1891; 1 :280 doi:10.1136/bmj.1.1571.280 ↩︎

  11. Hern, John. “The Eye Symptoms In So-Called ‘Hay Fever.’” The British Medical Journal, vol. 2, no. 2021, 1899, pp. 778–778. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20261867. Accessed 23 Jun. 2022. ↩︎

  12. Hern J. The Effect of Repeated Tappings on Hydrocephalus Br Med J 1893; 2 :1046 doi:10.1136/bmj.2.1715.1046 ↩︎

  13. Hern J. A Partial Amputation of the Foot Br Med J 1899; 1 :1151 doi:10.1136/bmj.1.2002.1151 ↩︎

  14. Jessop, Walter H., et al. “A Discussion On Intraocular Tuberculosis.” The British Medical Journal, vol. 2, no. 2330, 1905, pp. 430–33. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20286368. Accessed 23 Jun. 2022. ↩︎

  15. Collins, E. Treacher, et al. “A Discussion On Capsular Complications After Cataract Extraction.” The British Medical Journal, vol. 2, no. 2330, 1905, pp. 433–34. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20286369. Accessed 23 Jun. 2022. ↩︎

  16. Hern, John, and A. F. MacCallan. “Discussion On School Clinics In Relation To The Prevention Of Myopia.” The British Medical Journal, vol. 2, no. 2757, 1913, pp. 1139–42. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25307607. Accessed 23 Jun. 2022. ↩︎

  17. https://www.hhtandn.org/person/47/brewis,-robert ↩︎

  18. http://ww1countydurham.blogspot.com/2017/10/doctor-constance-roberts.html ↩︎

  19. https://reed.dur.ac.uk/xtf/view?docId=bookreader/DU_Calendars/1903-4/ducal1903METS.xml#page/1/mode/2up ↩︎

  20. http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/api/collection/p16445coll4/id/59089/download ↩︎

  21. Reviews and Notices of Books. The Lancet. 1890;135(3483):1183-1184. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(02)18683-1 ↩︎

  22. “Medical News.” The British Medical Journal, vol. 1, no. 1633, 1892, pp. 840–42. ↩︎

  23. Dr. John Hern Br Med J 1936; 2 :952 doi:10.1136/bmj.2.3957.952 ↩︎