Intended for healthcare professionals


Arthur Hollman

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 30 September 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5796
  1. Martin Brown,
  2. Sue Brown, London
  1. martin.brown{at}

Cardiologist, medical historian, and plantsman

Arthur Hollman had three distinguished vocations—as a cardiologist, medical historian, and plantsman. His biography of Thomas Lewis, who had been his teacher at University College Hospital in the 1940s, won the Society of Authors’ prize for the best medical history book in 1997, and is perhaps his greatest legacy.1 He wanted his epitaph, however, to be “the man who saved the millimetre of mercury.”

Few doctors will realise that their routine recording of blood pressure in mm Hg owes everything to Hollman. In 1971 the European Economic Community (EEC) directed that blood pressure should be measured in the SI unit, kilopascals. Hollman pointed out that this was a dangerous and illogical change—the millimetre was already an SI unit and reflected the way in which blood pressure was measured as the height of a column of mercury.11 He founded a campaign that received such widespread international support that the EEC directive was withdrawn.

Hollman was born in Daventry above his father’s stationery shop. It was a scholarship from his father’s firm, W H Smith, that allowed him to go to University College London and University College London Medical School. Here he …

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