|Ernest Harnack was an early pioneer in the use of X-rays - and because the dangers were not understood, he eventually had to have both hands amputated.
He was born in the East End of London but spent his later years on Mersea Island.
Ernest Henry Harnack was born in 1868, son of Ernest Henry Harnack and Mary Ann Harnack née Walter. He was born at 73 Alma Street, Hoxton Old Town (Shoreditch area).
- his father Ernest was a Warfinger's Clerk. He had a sister Maud born c1871 and brothers Fred (c1875) and Alfred (c1876).
The 1881 Census records Ernest as "Lithographic Printer Office Boy", 1891 as a "Hospital Clerk", and 1901 "X Ray Specialist Operator".
By 1911 he is listed as "Pensioner London Hospital X Ray operator".
In 1896 Ernest Harnack became Britain's first radiographer at the London Hospital in Whitechapel. This was only one year after X-Rays were
discovered by Roentgen. He was working as a Clerk at the hospital, but he was very interested in photography and electricity, and he quickly
became interested in radiography.
Ernest Henry built his own portable X ray equipment.
Ernest Harnack with the mobile X-ray equipment. The accumulators to power it are underneath - they could not be charged
at the hospital, which had no electricity at the time
Ernest used to take his portable machine home at the weekend for X-ray parties.
The highlight, apparently, was to X-ray the ladies so that their whalebone corsets became visible. At that time nobody knew the dangers of X-rays
and Ernest Henry used to test his machine every morning by X-raying his own hands. Eventually they both had to be amputated and one of them is
preserved in a glass jar in the hospital's museum (now the Royal London).
In 1909 Ernest had to retire from practical work, but he continued to teach Radiography to others. 1922 Ernest, Fanny and family moved to
West Mersea. With help from the London Hospital, they bought Lilac Cottage at the top end of High Street North, which they renamed Greenwood. It
was to be the family home for many years.
Ernest Harnack 1924
Retirement at Mersea - Gus Harnack on left and Ernest Harnack on right, sailing on the River Blackwater c1930
Ernest's wife Fanny died in 1936. At this time his son Fid and daughter Nellie Maud with her family were living at Greenwood. Ernest was
knocked down by a car about 1940 and spent some time in hospital. He died in 1942.
Ernest is commemorated by a plaque at the Royal London, unveilled in 1944, and also on a monument to X-ray martyrs in Hamburg, Germany.
The basis of this article was a set of notes from Graham Maslin who is related to Ernest. Photographs and additional information from papers
that are now in Mersea Museum archives.
"Who was Ernest Harnack?"
Journal of British Society for History of Radiology 2011
Fid Harnack RSMA - Marine Artist