Henry Naunton Davies: A Rhondda Colliery Doctor by Ceri Thompson

Thu 25th Oct


Ceri Thompson.jpg

Henry Naunton Davies: a Rhondda colliery doctor / Henry Naunton Davies: meddyg glofaol yn y Rhondda

Ceri Thompson (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales)

Henry Naunton Davies: a Rhondda colliery doctor:‘Our Renowned and beloved Physician’

Dr Henry Naunton Davies (1828-1899) was one of a family of doctors. He strove tirelessly throughout his life to improve the health of the mining community in 19th century Rhondda.  He was also a highly respected Justice of the Peace, a Liberal and a devout Christian.

Dr Davies’ work, dedication and achievements above and beyond the ordinary course of duty were the subject of Ceri Thompson’s highly informative talk in Swansea Museum.  Ceri, or ‘Mr Coal’ is curator at Big Pit Coal Museum in Blaenavon, responsible for the Museum’s coal mining collections.

With his first-hand experience as a miner for 16 years, along with his evident passion and academic background in Welsh History and Industrial Heritage, Ceri not only shared a wealth of interesting facts with his audience but brought to life the context in which Dr Davies practised.  Ceri created a vivid image in listeners’ minds of the undoubtedly harsh physical conditions of working life for miners and the very real risks of serious injury or death they faced daily at work. Yet it would seem that a mid-19th century mine owner could see more value in ponies than in men. The devastating explosion in Cymmer Colliery in July 1856 killed 114 men of whom many were still boys, some as young as 10. Fires and flooding as well as explosions were common amongst the numerous examples of horrendous mining accidents and tragic loss of life.  

We learnt of the poor ventilation in the mines, the generally brutal impact of the miners’ jobs on their health and how a once green rural idyll, the Rhondda, became scarred by the relentless growth of the burgeoning coal industry. The local countryside, once ‘one of the prettiest places’, as depicted in one of the speaker’s illustrative slides, showing a delightful painting of pre-industrial Porth, was disfigured beyond recognition. Also highlighted was the dramatic growth of the Rhondda’s population. In Dr Davies’ own lifetime, this rose from 900 to 130,000.

Folk medicine, as evidenced by the records of the then ubiquitous adverts for such remedies, was still relied on by many throughout the 19th century, due to the often unaffordably high cost to the sick of qualified doctors’ fees. 

Dr Davies was studying Medicine by 1850 in Guy’s Hospital, London. His medical practice as a general practitioner and surgeon in the Rhondda covered 11 collieries.  Common operations he would so often need to perform included amputations which, as ambulances were rare, would have to be conducted at the disaster site in extremely difficult conditions.  He also attended other industrial works in the area. 

Dr Davies set up ‘The Hut’ as there was no hospital for the rescued miners who had been trapped in the flooded Ty Newydd Colliery in April 1877. His actions at the Tynewydd Inundation led the British Medical Association to award Dr Davies the honour of becoming the first to receive the BMA Gold Medal for Distinguished Merit. He was also awarded 100 gold sovereigns and a gold watch and chain in 1861.

Much public sympathy, recognition and expressions of great fondness followed the news in 1899 of Dr Davies’ sudden death in Mumbles, at the Caswell Bay Hotel. A Cardiff Hospital ward is named after Dr Davies still today.

Our warmest thanks to Ceri Thompson for his highly informative talk – a fond tribute to this ‘beloved physician’ and the community he served. 

H. Johns


Thursday 25 October / Iau 25 Hydref    7:30pm

In Swansea Museum / Yn Amgueddfa Abertawe

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