Born in Wiltshire, Sir Frederic Hewitt graduated in medicine from the University of Cambridge and St George’s Hospital Medical School, London, in 1883. As a young practitioner in London he was reputed to have “a remarkable all-round knowledge of clinical medicine” and became a popular tutor for undergraduate and postgraduate examination candidates.
In the 1880s anaesthetics were often administered by practitioners who had little training in the subject and fatalities were frequent. Hewitt believed that many of these deaths were avoidable and took up and improved the clinical administration of anaesthetics. He saw the need for, and politically promoted, structured training in anaesthesia and advocated careful selection of anaesthetic agents.
Hewitt became the leading physician anaesthetist in the UK. However, he was afflicted with a degenerative condition of the eyes soon after he qualified in medicine and so his famous anaesthetic textbook Anaesthetics and Their Administration, which ran to seven editions, had to be dictated.
He anaesthetised King Edward VIII for an operation for appendicitis in 1902 and was made a member of the Victorian Order in acknowledgement. He was knighted for services to medicine in 1911 and was in great demand as a lecturer until his death.