Charles Wilson Farran Gorrell

The taint of a hospital scandal led this doctor to suffer from functional paralysis. He went untreated and committed suicide one month later.

Charles Wilson Farran Gorrell, physician and army officer; b. 27 Oct. 1871 in Farran’s Point, Ont., son of George Taylor Gorrell and Catherine Fulton; d. unmarried 24 Jan. 1917 in London, England.

Charles Wilson Farran Gorrell was educated in Ontario at the Brockville Grammar School and Brockville Collegiate Institute. He received his MD from McGill University, Montreal, in 1894. While obtaining his education he served as assistant private secretary to Christopher Finlay Fraser, commissioner of public works for Ontario. Gorrell’s postgraduate medical training included a year as an intern at the Montreal General Hospital and one as medical superintendent at the Garrett Hospital for Children in Baltimore, Md. He then moved to Ottawa, where he was associated with St Luke’s Hospital.

While Gorrell was a student he had enlisted in the 41st (Brockville) Battalion of Rifles, and in 1890 he was made a lieutenant in the 42nd (Brockville) Battalion of Infantry. Between July 1901 and May 1904 he was captain and then major commanding No.2 (Ottawa) Bearer Company of the Army Medical Corps. In November 1906 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel. The following year he became principal medical officer of Military District No.4, where he served until February 1911.

After World War I began Gorrell enlisted on 26 Sept. 1914, becoming a major in the permanent force of the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He proceeded to the United Kingdom as a member of No.2 General Hospital and on 27 Jan. 1915 was appointed to command the Duchess of Connaught’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital at Taplow, west of London. The hospital was very large, with 1,040 beds. From April 1915, with fighting so heavy in Belgium and France, Canadian casualties flowed in. Gorrell, who had been promoted lieutenant-colonel on 2 Feb. 1915, was named temporary colonel on 8 Aug. 1916, the appointment backdated to the 3rd.

While much good undoubtedly was done for the patients in the hospital, a scandal occurred that rocked the establishment. A non-commissioned officer was convicted, apparently in 1916, of accepting bribes from tradesmen to favour their wares over those of competitors. Gorrell was under no suspicion himself, but he took his responsibility as commanding officer to be such that criticism should involve him. By 23 Dec. 1916 he had been admitted to Queen Alexandra Military Hospital in London with a diagnosis of “Paralysis Functional.” Had he been a woman, he might, in the terminological sexism of the time, have been categorized as having hysteria. For a high-ranking medical officer the term was functional paralysis, indicating that some portion or portions of his body were incapable of functioning normally, though no physical reason could be found. Certainly the diagnosis indicates the presence of a severe mental disturbance. He was nevertheless discharged after four days as fully recovered.

Whether Gorrell returned to the Duchess of Connaught’s hospital is unknown. On 25 Jan. 1917 he was found dead at a house in the Maida Vale district of London. A druggist stated at the coroner’s inquest that he had sold the doctor some hydrocyanic or prussic acid a short time before. The verdict was suicide due to temporary insanity; cause of death, prussic acid poisoning.

— Text by Charles G. Roland, “GORRELL, CHARLES WILSON FARRAN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 15, 2015. For this article's bibliography and other related information, visit Dictionary of Canadian Biography online.