Early RCH Surgeon Becomes BC’s Lieutenant Governor

In May of 1874, 38 year old Anthony Twentyman of Dog Creek in the Clinton-Lillooet district of British Columbia accidently shot himself in the knee, breaking several bones. Over the course of the next several days, he somehow managed to get to Yale, then took the steamer Onward, captained by Jack Deighton (later known as Gassy Jack), to New Westminster.

He was admitted to Royal Columbian Hospital immediately upon his arrival on May 22nd. The following article from the Mainland Guardian of May 30, 1874 picks up the story:

“Successful Operation at the R.C. Hospital –
On 26th inst., Dr. T.R. McInnes, assisted by his brother L.R. McInnes, removed the injured leg of Mr. Twentyman, who accidentally shot himself at Dog Creek. It was diseased, so that amputation was a simple necessity; the division, from the progress upward of the disease, required to be made at the union of the middle with the lower third of the femur. Dr. Trew was present and administered chloroform. We are happy to state that the greatest hopes are entertained of the safe recovery of the patient. This, we are told, is the first operation of the kind at our Hospital”.

There was some argument following this article about whether or not it was the “first operation of the kind”. In May of 1863, Dr. McNaughton-Jones had successfully performed a leg amputation with the assistance of only the steward, W.D. Ferris, who had no medical training. However, all earlier amputations were below the knee, while the Twentyman procedure was nine inches above the knee – a significantly different operation.

Mr. Twentyman recovered quickly and returned to the Clinton-Lillooet area and his occupation of miller, possibly unaware of just how many stars had to align for him not only to survive the accident and surgery, but also to be able to carry on a normal life. Given the severity of his wound, the length of time before it was treated, the lack of sanitation or awareness of its importance, infection was inevitable. But it was his timing that was the most fortuitous.

Thomas Robert McInnes, M.D., came to New Westminster to join his brother Loftus, also a medical doctor with a successful practice, only a few days before Mr. Twentyman. He attended Harvard University, and qualified as a doctor at Rush Medical College, but more importantly, he enlisted as a surgeon during the American Civil War.

Civil War Amputation Kit
Image courtesy of the Civil War Museum at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

During the course of the war, formal and informal surgical training programs were begun for newly enlisted surgeons, and special courses on treating gunshot wounds were given. Surgeons on both sides developed skills and knowledge that improved the treatment of wounds, and devised many new surgical procedures in desperate attempts to save lives in spite of working without knowledge of the nature of infection and without drugs to treat it.

Mr. Twentyman arrived at just the right time to be treated by T.R. McInnes, a highly skilled surgeon experienced in high-level amputation, with the assistance of Loftus McInnes and Dr. Trew, both skilled physicians and surgeons in their own right. If the accident had happened a few years earlier or later, the outcome would probably have been very different.

Thomas Robert McInnes was elected Mayor of New Westminster in 1876. In 1878, during his second term as mayor, he was elected to the House of Commons and left New Westminster. Although technically an independent, he openly supported Sir John A. MacDonald and advocated compulsory voting, a policy of reciprocity with the US, and the consolidation of Canada by means of the transcontinental railway. On December 24, 1881, he was appointed Senator. When Laurier came to power federally in 1896, T.R. McInnes was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia and served in that position from 1897 to 1900. His was a turbulent term to put it mildly. During his term, he twice dismissed premiers, appointing controversial successors and eventually was dismissed from office by Laurier. His is a story worth reading and easily found on line or in any library.

Thomas Robert McInnes M.D. in the uniform of Lietuenant Governor

Anthony Twentyman died September 13, 1891, six days after having been kicked by a horse, so he never knew McInnes as BC’s Lieutenant-Governor, but only as M.P. and Senator. But probably none of that mattered to him. For him, Thomas Robert McInnes was the man who saved his life at RCH and gave him 17 years more than he would have had if their paths had not crossed. A different world indeed from today where the BC Air Ambulance would whisk him to RCH’s trauma bay in a matter of hours and he would be just one of 10,000 trauma patients or 68,000 ER patients treated yearly.

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