Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Dr. Thomas Barnardo

Avi Ohry
Tel Aviv, Israel

Thomas John Barnardo. Via Wikimedia.

The title of a short 1904 note in the journal Hospital was “Dr. Barnardo’s Homes.”1,2 Thomas John Barnardo (1845–1905) was described as “evangelical, entrepreneurial and philanthropic.”3 He helped vast numbers of children living in homelessness and poverty.

Barnardo was born in Dublin, Ireland. His father emigrated from Hamburg, Germany. His ancestors were likely Italian Jews who had fled from the Spanish Inquisition and converted to the Lutheran Church in the sixteenth century.

As a youth, Barnardo intended to become a medical missionary to China. But when he moved to London, he was shocked to see the vast number of poor orphan children living on the streets. He studied medicine in London, Paris, and Edinburgh and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, but it is not clear if he actually finished his medical studies. However, he was called “the doctor” by the press, the children he cared for, and those who donated to his charitable organization.4-6 In 1870, his “Homes” were established to assist children in need.

He married Sara Louise Elmslie in 1873 and they had seven children. One well-known daughter was Gwendoline Maud Syrie (1879–1955) who became a popular interior designer in London. Syrie married Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome, FRS (1853–1936), an American pharmaceutical entrepreneur who founded Burroughs, Wellcome & Co. in 1880. His collections of medical artifacts are displayed at the London Science Museum and the Wellcome Collection.7 Syrie later married the physician-spy-author William Somerset Maugham.8-9

Barnardo suffered from coronary artery disease and died in 1905. At that time, he had helped to establish 112 charitable homes for children in the UK.


  1. “Dr. Barnardo’s Homes.” Hospital 1904; 36(937):420.
  2. Gray C. “Dr. Thomas Barnardo’s orphans were shipped 500 km to save body and soul.” Can Med Assoc J. 1979;121(7):981-2, 986-7.
  3. “Thomas John Barnardo (‘the doctor’) and his work with children and young people. https://infed.org/mobi/thomas-john-barnardo-the-doctor/.
  4. Elliott J. “Dr. Barnardo’s—Balerno.” Nurs Times 1967 Nov 3;63(44):1482-4.
  5. “Dr. Barnardo and His Work.” Hospital 1903 ;33(853):309-310.
  6. Batt JH. “The beginning of Dr. Barnardo’s philanthropies.” Bull NY Acad Med. 1971; 47(2):210-2.
  7. Sir Henry Wellcome. Br Med J. 1953 Jul 18;2(4828):144.
  8. Ellis H. “William Somerset Maugham (1874-1966).” J Med Biogr. 2009;17(4):198.
  9. Carter R. “Medicine and W. Somerset Maugham.” Am J Surg. 1967; 113(5):713-6.

AVI OHRY, MD, is married with two daughters. He is Emeritus Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Tel Aviv University, the former director of Rehabilitation Medicine at Reuth Medical and Rehabilitation Center in Tel Aviv, and a member of The Lancet‘s Commission on Medicine & the Holocaust. He conducts award-winning research in neurological rehabilitation, bioethics, medical humanities and history, and on long-term effects of disability and captivity. He plays the drums with three jazz bands.

Summer 2023



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