William Halse Rivers Rivers (1864-1922)

William Halse Rivers Rivers (1864-1922) was an English psychiatrist, neurologist, anthropologist and anthropologist.

WHR Rivers is best known for his work treating First World War officers who were suffering from shell shock and his work with the English neurologist Sir Henry Head (1861-1940)

  • Born on March 12, 1864, Chatham, England
  • Died on June 4, 1922, Cambridge, England

Medical Eponyms

Key Medical Attributions

Sir Henry Head (1861-1940) and James Sherren (1872-1945) had tried to determine the sensibility remaining after complete division of all cutaneous nerves without injury to the muscular branches. However accidents of this nature were exceedingly rare, and although ‘real patients’ were helpful it was deemed that “Introspection could be made fruitful by the personal experiences of a trained observer only“. The decision was therefore made to perform surgical transection on the left hand radial nerve of Head, with evaluation of results by Rivers…

At the time of the experiment, H. was nearly 42 years of age and in perfect health. Since boyhood he had suffered from no illnesses, excepting as the consequence of wounds in the post-mortem room….For two years before these experiments began he had given up smoking entirely. No alcohol was ever taken on the days during which he was under examination.

On April 25, 1903…an incision 6.5 in. (16.5 cm.) long was made in the outer bicipital fossa extending along the axial line of the left upper extremity…the radial nerve was divided at the point where it arises from the musculospiral (N. radialis). A small portion was excised, and the ends united with two fine silk sutures. The external cutaneous nerve (N. cutaneus antibrachii lateralis) was also divided…and sutured with fine silk

Rivers 1908

Following the surgical section and repair of Head’s superficial radial nerve, Sherren and Rivers commenced rigorous and meticulous observation through sensory testing and evaluating psycho-social responses during the period of recovery and for the following 5 years. This contributed greatly to the understanding of the sensory examination following nerve injury

Henry Head radial nerve transection experiments 1908
Rivers 1908: Post surgical evaluation day 3/577

Major Publications




Final year MBBS student at Curtin Medical School. Keen interest in internal medicine and neurology, medical education, and integrating specialist healthcare into rural medical practice.

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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