Monday, 17 August 2015

Sir Lambert; Robert Ormsby's Knighted Nephew

Sir Lambert William Hepenstal Ormsby
                                                              Written by David Bell

I  can' believe it! I never knew we had such an illustrious Ormsby ancestor. Obviously others in our extended family, especially those on his direct family line, would be familiar with him, but I never heard him mentioned throughout my entire life. I discovered him while reading about his father, George Owen Ormsby.

Lambert William was born in Onehunga, Auckland, to George Owen Ormsby and Selina Hepenstal 19th July 1849 and baptized in St. Peters Anglican Church, 2nd September of the same year. He was only twelve years old when his father died.

His life story is a great example of someone from a humble colonial settlement making it big in the world through the determination and will to excel and succeed. He also was incredibly intelligent with a most impressive list of accomplishments as can be seen from the following death notice. 

SIR LAMBERT HEPENSTAL ORMSBY, M.D., F.R.C.S.I., Senior Surgeon, Meath Hospital, Dublin. 

WE regret to announce that Sir Lambert Ormsby died at his residence in Dublin on December 21st. He had been in failing health for some time, but, notwithstanding this, had been out of doors as recently as a week before his death. Lambert Hepenstal Ormsby was born at Onehunga Lodge, Auckland, New Zealand, in 1849, the only son of Mr. George Owen Ormsby, C.E.; his mother was a daughter of the Rev. Lambert Hepenstal, of Altadon, Delgany, County Wicklow. 

In his boyhood it was his ambition to enter the Royal Navy. Indeed, after an early education at the Commercial School, Auckland, the Lyceum, and the Grammar School, he left Auckland for London in 1864 with that end in view, but instead he went to the Royal School, Dungannon. He studied medicine, was apprenticed to Mr. George Porter, later Sir George Porter, and at the age of 19 was a surgeon and physician. He had put in three years as a student at the Royal College and the Meath Hospital, where he was resident surgical pupil. 

He began to read for the Army Medical Service in 1869, but at this stage an accident determined his career. In a casual conversation with the late Dr. John Morgan, professor of anatomy in the Royal College of Surgeons, he was offered the position of Anatomical Demonstrator at that institution, and, accepting it, in two years became a skilled practical teacher. In 1872 he became surgeon to the Meath Hospital. He entered Trinity College, Dublin, and graduated in arts in 1875; in the same year he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, and in 1879 took the degree of M.D. 

Especially interested from an early period of his career in orthopedic surgery and in the diseases of children requiring surgical treatment, he published two important volumes, the result of much study and practical experience: The Deformities of the Human Body and Diseases Peculiar to Children. In 1876 he founded the National Orthopedic and Children's Hospital (now the National Children's Hospital), a humane and much needed enterprise with the energetic promotion of which his memory will always be associated. This was by no means the only philanthropic movement which Surgeon Ormsby instituted and in which he took a lifelong interest. He acted as chairman of the Association for the Housing of the Very Poor in Dublin, and the occasions were many upon which his broad-minded sympathies found practical expression. 

From the year 1880 until his death, Sir Lambert Ormsby devoted himself exclusively to surgical practice. He founded in 1885 the Dublin Red Cross Nursing Sisters' Home and Training School for Nurses, and watched over its development with assiduous care. He acted as senior surgeon to the National Children's Hospital, consulting surgeon to the Drummond Military School, Chapelizod, and Honorary Consulting Surgeon to the Dublin branch of the Institute of Journalists. He was, besides, a member of the Board of Superintendence of Dublin Hospitals and Governor of the Lock Government Hospital. He was a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Medicine, Ireland, and a Fellow of the Royal Medico-Liturgical Society of London. From 1902 to 1904 he was President of the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland, and it was during that term in 1903 that the honour of knighthood was conferred upon him. 

Another announcement gives a few additional bits of information on his many accomplishments:

Following is a list of Sir Lambert's various posts and achievements as mentioned in the above two articles: 

  • Educated at the Auckland Commercial School, the Lyceum, Auckland Grammar, Royal School Dungannon (Ireland), Royal College, Meath Hospital and trinity Hospital.
  • Anatomical Demonstrator, Royal College of Surgeons.
  • Qualified physician and surgeon at 19 years old.
  • Surgeon at Meath Hospital.
  • Appointed as a Fellow on at least three medical institutions.
  • M.D. degree 1879.
  • Published three acclaimed medical books: Deformities of the Human Body, Lectures on the Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Varicose Veins, and Diseases Peculiar to Children.
  • Founded a children's hospital in Dublin.
  • Chairman of a housing organisation for Dublin's poor.
  • Founded the Dublin Red Cross Nursing Home.
  • Founded a training school for nurses.
  • Senior Surgeon at the National Children's Hospital.
  • Surgeon to the  Royal Longford Rifles. 
  • Served on several hospital boards.
  • President of the Royal College of Surgeons.
  • Knighthood, 1903.
  • 1915 Colonel and honorary surgeon to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
  • Honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
  • Invented the Ormsby Ether Inhaler, a pile clamp, aseptic glass, an improved drainage tube and a new type of chest bandage.
As can be seen from the above list, Sir Lambert was dedicated to his work and to his fellow humans; especially the poor, the children and the soldiers. I see in him a tireless worker for all who suffer and well deserving of the knighthood bestowed upon him. I for one feel quite proud that such a caring person is part of my family history.

I am not alone in such sentiments. The Evening Post, 22 June 1918, wrote: Returned officers and men who have come in contact with Sir Lambert Ormsby in the Old Country and in Ireland, speak in the highest terms of his hospitality and consideration of each and every case which comes under his notice. 

Sir Lambert Ormsby was twice married, and had four children (two sons and two daughters) by his first wife. His second wife was Geraldine Matthews, R.R.C. (Royal Red Cross), O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire), whom he married in 1921.

His first wife was named Anastia Tatto who died 20 January 1911 when Sir Lambert was sixty two and is buried in plot 1601 at the Mount Jerome cemetery in Ireland. At seventy two years old he married Geraldine Matthews in 1921, just two years before he passed away on 21 December 1923 aged seventy four. Geraldine was also a woman of great interest, having both R.R.C. and O.B.E. honours to her name. She died 28 October, 1932, nine years after Sir Lambert.

The wedding announcement in the British Journal of  Nursing, February 1921

Sources used:
1. Papers Past: Evening Post Personal Matters vol. xcv, issue 148, 22 June 1918, p.8.
2. Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin (Part XI family plots 1599-1601)
3. Papers Past: The Dominion, vol 8, issue 2458, 11 May 1915, p.7.
4. NZ-Auckland-L Archives.
5. Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 25 December 1923, p.7.
6. British Journal of Nursing, February 12, 1921, volume 66, page 94.



  1. Lambert William Hepenstal Ormsby was born July 19th 1849 and baptised at St Peters Anglican Church Onehunga on Sep 2 1849.
    Happy to provide verification.

    1. Thank you Sue for this information..much appreciated

  2. Hi... I've just come across your page as I was researching Sir Lambert. We are antique watch specialists and we have a watch with the Ormsby family crest to the back and I think it might have belonged to Sir Lambert. If you would like to see it, I am very happy to send you photos. Our email address is