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Biographical entry Wormald, Thomas (1802 - 1873)

M.R.C.S., March 5th, 1824; F.R.C.S., Dec. 11th, 1843, one of the original 300 Fellows.

January 1802
Pentonville, London, UK
28 December 1873
Gomersal, Yorkshire, UK
General surgeon


Born at Pentonville in January, 1802, the son of John Wormald, who came of a Yorkshire family, a partner in Child's Bank, and Fanny, his wife. He was educated at the Grammar School of Batley in Yorkshire, and afterwards by the Rev. W. Heald, Vicar of Bristol in the came county. He was apprenticed to John Abernethy in 1818, lived in his house and became a friend. Abernethy used him as a prosector, caused him to teach the junior students, and made him assist Edward Stanley (q.v.) in his duties as Curator of the Hospital Museum. During his apprenticeship he visited the schools in Paris and saw something of the surgical practice of Dupuytren, Roux, Larrey, Cloquet, Cruveilhier, and Velpeau. When Abernethy resigned his lectureship Edward Stanley was appointed in his place, and it was arranged that Wormald should become a Demonstrator. But when the time arrived Frederic Carpenter Skey (q.v.), an earlier apprentice of Abernethy, was chosen, and 'Tommy', as he was known to everyone, was disappointed. He therefore became House Surgeon to William Lawrence, who was of the opposite faction, in October, 1824. It was not until 1826 that Wormald became Demonstrator of Anatomy conjointly with Skey, and when Skey seceded from the medical school to join the Aldersgate School of Medicine, Wormald remained as sole Demonstrator, and held the post for fifteen years.

He was elected Assistant Surgeon to St. Bartholomew's Hospital on Feb. 13th, 1838, on the death of Henry Earle, and spent the next twenty-three years teaching in the out-patient department without charge of beds. He became full Surgeon on April 3rd, 1861, on the resignation of Eusebius Arthur Lloyd (q.v.), and was obliged to resign under the age rule on April 9th, 1867, when he was elected Consulting Surgeon. He was Consulting Surgeon to the Foundling Hospital from 1843-1864, where his kindness to the children was so highly appreciated that he received the special thanks of the Court of Management and was complimented by being elected a Governor.

At the Royal College of Surgeons he was a Member of Council from 1840-1867, Hunterian Orator in 1857, a Member of the Court of Examiners from 1858-1868, and Chairman of the Midwifery Board in 1864. He served as Vice-President in 1863 and 1864, and was elected President in 1865.

He married Frances Meacock in September, 1828, and by her had eight children. He died of cerebral haemorrhage after a few hours' illness whilst on a visit to the sick-bed of his brother at Gomersal, in Yorkshire, on Dec. 28th, 1873, and was buried in Highgate Cemetery. A pencil sketch by Sir William Ross (1846) is in the Conservators' Room at the Royal College of Surgeons, and a photograph taken later in life hangs by its side.

Wormald was the last pupil of John Abernethy, and his death snapped the link connecting St. Bartholomew's Hospital with Hunterian surgery; but it is as a teacher of clinical surgery and not as a surgeon that Wormald is remembered. The long years first as a Demonstrator of Anatomy and afterwards in the out-patient room made him a teacher of the highest class. He was so perfect an assistant that it was said in jest he ought never to have been promoted. He is reported to have been cool, cautious, and safe as an operator, and in diagnosis remarkably correct, particularly in diseases and injuries of joints. He had some mechanical skill, for he invented a soft metal ring which was passed over the scrotum for the relief of varicocele, known as 'Wormald's ring', and would forge his own instruments. He read but little and trusted almost entirely to observation and experience. He exercised a great influence over students and put a permanent and effective stop to smoking and drinking in the dissecting-room. His manner was brusque but not offensive, and was modelled upon that of his master, John Abernethy, whose gestures and eccentricities he often mimicked. He drew well, and illustrated his demonstrations and lectures with freehand sketches on the blackboard. His style of speaking was easy, clear, and forcible. There was no hurry or waste of words, and he had the art of arresting and keeping the attention of his class, partly by his quaintness and originality, partly by his frequent reference to surgical points in the anatomy he was discussing, and partly by his inexhaustible fund of humour and of anecdotes, many of which were not quite proper. In person he was of a ruddy countenance, with light-brown hair lying thin and lank over his broad forehead, his eyes twinkling and roguish; his coat and waistcoat were 'farmer-like', his trousers tight-fitting, with pockets in which he usually kept his hands deeply plunged; his boots were thick and laced. He looked, indeed, more a farmer than a surgeon.

A Series of Anatomical Sketches and Diagrams with Descriptions and References (with A. M. MCWHINNIE, q.v.), 4to, London, 1838; re-issued in 1843. These sketches from one of the best series of anatomical plates made for the use of students. They are true to nature and not overloaded with detail.

Sources used to compile this entry: [St. Bart.'s Hosp. Rep., 1874, x, p.xxiii. Dict. Nat. Biog., sub nomine et auct. ibi cit. MacCormac's Address of Welcome, 1900, 135. Norman Moore's History of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, ii, 667.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England