Heath, Professor George Yeoman
1820 – 1892
Surgeon and President of Medical School
George Yeoman Heath was Professor of Surgery at Newcastle Medical School. He was born in South Shields, the son of a ship-owner, and educated at Newcastle College and University College, London, becoming a member of the college of surgeons in 1843. He returned to Newcastle in 1845 to work at the Newcastle upon Tyne School of Medicine and Surgery where he lectured on surgery. In 1854, Dr Heath was elected surgeon to the Newcastle Infirmary, serving in that capacity until 1880, when he became consulting surgeon. His range of practice at the infirmary was extensive, becoming well known as a lithotriptist (a surgeon who treats gallstones) and helping establish a specialist eye service. His distinction as a surgeon was recognized in 1886 when he was made an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, a special bond was forged between the Newcastle Medical School and the Newcastle Royal Infirmary, with many medical professionals also engaged in medical education. George Yeoman Heath was foremost among them. The Medical School, founded through a private initiative in 1834, had grown in stature through its early association with Durham University, becoming known as the Durham University College of Medicine at Newcastle in 1870. Heath was the fourth president of the College and first Professor of Surgery on appointment in 1889. At Heath’s initiative, the Medical School embarked on an ambitious programme of expansion, erecting a fine building in red brick and terracotta on College Street begun in 1887. Heath’s name is on prominent on the foundation stone of what is now known as the Sutherland Building of Northumbria University. The University of Durham in recognition of his outstanding contribution to medical education conferred upon him an honorary doctorate in civil law.
George Yeoman Heath died in 1892. He bequeathed £6,000 to complete the medical school building programme, the Heath Wing opening in 1895. His gift helped create one of the UK’s leading centres for medical education and research with first-class laboratories, lectures rooms, library and social areas for staff and students. In his will, Heath left a further £4,000 to endow a scholarship in surgery. He also bequeathed £5,000 to the Royal Kepier Grammar School in Houghton-le-Spring.
Dr Heath's name is still remembered today in the form of The Heath Award, a prize awarded annually to the best students graduating from Northumbria University’s nursing and midwifery programmes.
Bettenson, E.M. (1971). The University of Newcastle upon Tyne: A historical introduction, 1834-1971. Newcastle upon Tyne: The University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Jesmond Old Cemetery. (2018). George Yeoman Heath (1820 - 1892). Available here (Accessed: 06/06/2018).
Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows. (2012). Biographical entry: Heath, George Yeoman (1820 - 1892), Available here (Accessed: 06/06/2018).
Turner, G.G. & Arnison, W.D. (1934). The Newcastle upon Tyne School of Medicine 1834 – 1934. Newcastle upon Tyne: Andrew Reid.