Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Savory, Sir William Scovell (1826 - 1895)

Baronet, 1890 ; M.R.C.S., Dec. 3rd, 1847 ; F.R.C.S., Aug. 10th, 1852 ; M.B. Lond. (Gold Medallist), 1848 ; F.R.S., 1858.

30 November 1826
London, UK
4 March 1895
London, UK
General surgeon


Born in Monument Yard, London, on Nov. 30th, 1826. His father, William Henry Savory, a surgeon long resident at St. Mary-at-Hill, was churchwarden of the parish ; his mother was Mary Webb, the second wife. The younger son, Charles Tozer Savory (1829-1913), who was M.D. St. Andrews, practised in Canonbury. His father dying young, both children were brought up by their mother and appear to have been educated privately.

William entered St. Bartholomew's Hospital in 1844 and distinguished himself by winning the chief prizes. He served temporarily as House Surgeon to Edward Stanley (q.v.), and afterwards won the Scholarship and Gold Medal in Comparative Anatomy and Physiology in 1848 ; the Gold Medal in Surgery ; the Gold Medal in Midwifery, and honours in medicine at the London University.

At St. Bartholomew's Hospital he was appointed a Demonstrator of Anatomy and Teacher of Operative Surgery in 1849, posts he held until June 21st, 1859. It was resolved by the Committee of the Medical School on Sept. 21st, 1850, that a tutor should be appointed to supervise the studies of students reading for degrees in the University of London. Savory was chosen and retained office until 1859. In 1859 he was appointed Lecturer on General Anatomy and Physiology in succession to Sir James Paget (q.v.). The post carried with it the Curatorship of the Museum, to the enrichment of which he especially devoted himself, adding many pathological specimens and leaving everything in admirable order when he resigned it in 1869.

Eusebius Lloyd (q.v.) resigned the office of Surgeon of the Hospital in 1861. He was succeeded by Thomas Wormald (q.v.), and Savory was elected Assistant Surgeon, becoming Surgeon in 1867 on the retirement of Wormald. He followed Paget as Lecturer on Surgery in 1869, at first jointly with Holmes Coote (q.v.), then with George William Callender (q.v.) ; finally from 1879-1889, and at the special request of his colleagues, he remained the sole Lecturer, worthily maintaining and even enhancing the reputation made by his predecessors Abernathy, Lawrence, and Paget. The emoluments which he received for his clinical duties in the hospital and for his lectures in the medical school during the year 1881-1882 exceeded £2000 exclusive of 'dressers' fees', and was probably the largest income ever received for surgical teaching in London. He resigned all his appointments in 1891 on reaching the age limit of 65, when he was elected Consulting Surgeon and a Governor of the Hospital.

Early in his career he was Surgeon to the Royal General Dispensary, and for many years was Surgeon to the Foundling Hospital. At the Royal College of Surgeons Savory was Hunterian Professor of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology from 1859-1861, a Member of the Court of Examiners from 1870-1884, and of the Dental Board, 1873-1878. Elected a Member of the Council in 1877, he was Vice-President in 1883 and 1884 ; President for the years 1885, 1886, 1887, and 1888, a sequence which had never before occurred ; and a Trustee in 1893. He delivered the Bradshaw Lecture, "On the Pathology of Cancer", in 1884, and was Hunterian Orator in 1887. His oration was as unique in its style as in its substance. It was an admirable exposition of Hunter's work and character, delivered without a note, in faultless periods, in the presence of those who were themselves masters of oratory. He was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to Queen Victoria in 1887, and in 1890 he was created a baronet.

Savory wrote little. He read a paper at the Royal Society on Dec. 18th, 1851, on "The Valves of the Heart" (published 8vo, London, 1852), in which he explained thoroughly the structure, connections, and arrangements of the valves. He also contributed papers to the Proceedings of the Royal Society "On the Development of Striated Muscular Fibre in Mammalia" (1854-5, vii, 194), and in 1857 an account of experiments "On the Relative Temperature of Arterial and Venous Blood", and was elected F.R.S. in 1858. He published in 1863 (8vo, London) four lectures on Life and Death, which had been delivered before the Royal Institution.

He lived at first at 13 Charterhouse Square - a house on the east side - because the unwritten rule of the hospital required the Assistant Surgeons to live within a reasonable distance, which was interpreted as a mile. Most of his professional life was spent at 66 Brook Street, Grosvenor Square. Shortly before his death he bought Woodlands, Stoke Poges, Bucks, where he had intended to spend the evening of his life.

He married on Nov. 30th, 1854, Louisa Frances Borradaile (d. 1868), by whom he had one child, Borradaile (d. 1906), who became M.A. Cantab. and Rector of St. Bartholomew's-the-Great adjoining the hospital in West Smithfield. Savory died at 66 Brook Street on March 4th, 1895, of a cardiac attack associated with influenza, shortly after the death of his friend, J. Whitaker Hulke (q.v.), which had greatly affected him.

A marble bust of Savory was executed by Hope Pinker, R.A., in 1888. It was subscribed for by his thirty-five house surgeons, each of whom received a terra-cotta miniature. The original is in the possession of his grandson, Sir William Borradaile Savory, Bart., at Stoke Poges. A replica stands in the Council Room at the College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inn Fields and is a very striking likeness. A seated portrait by Walter Ouless, R.A., hangs in the Great Hall at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. It was painted for his colleagues and friends in 1891 and has been engraved. It is a fair likeness, but is wanting in the forceful character which was always expressed in Savory's face. He appears as a Vice-President in Jamyn Brookes's portrait group of the College Council in 1884.

Savory was an outstanding figure in the surgical world of his time. A clear thinker and a great orator, he dominated every assembly in which he took a part, and he did this by sheer force of character, for he never raised his voice nor did he lose his temper. At the College of Surgeons he was masterful, and as President guided its fortunes through several perilous years. As an examiner he was just, critical, and sufficiently sarcastic to be a terror to the idle and ignorant, though he honours candidate had nothing to fear. At St. Bartholomew's Hospital he upheld the great surgical traditions of the school, which taught that each should act to the best of his ability, be scrupulously honest in word and deed, fear no one, and act together for the good of the Institution. In the operating theatre he showed himself to be a great surgeon of the old anatomical school. He was ambidextrous, and performed the classic operations of amputation, lithotomy, and the ligature of arteries in their continuity with great skill and extraordinary rapidity ; but he struck out no new line, was averse to opening the sac in operations for strangulated hernia, and viewed interferences with the venous system with horror. These limitations led him to oppose the teaching of Lister in his celebrated address at the Cork Meeting of the British Medical Association in 1879, when he uttered the last formal pronouncement against Lister. The address is in perfect good taste, but shows that he was quite unable to follow advances which had been made in the science he had taught so long.

Savory was a born orator. He spoke without notes and without preparation, in full rounded periods and with slight but appropriate gesture to emphasize the point he was making. He thus differed entirely from Paget, after whom he usually spoke at hospital meetings. It was of the greatest interest to compare the two - the one suave, fluent with a cadence in his sentences which could be recalled ; Savory more rugged, with a deeper voice, arresting by the matter as well as the delivery, and without compromise - yet both great speakers and remarkably fluent.

As a man Savory was considerably above middle height, loosely built, somewhat shambling in gait - for he was flat-footed - clean-shaven, with sharp-cut features, and hair that curled slightly at the end. His face was expressive and marked him out at once as a man beyond the ordinary. He had various little mannerisms which betrayed his state of mind to those who knew him best - the working of his masseters when he was out of humour, the scratching of is right ear when he was pleased or puzzled. He never laughed, and rarely smiled. He made no pretence of clinical teaching, but he inspired all his house surgeons with respect, and they learnt from him the art of so treating patients after operation as to ensure a speedy convalescence.

In private life he was wholly different. He was a lover of home, and, belonging to a generation which played no games, he spent much of his life in his study. A lonely man, who felt keenly the loss of his wife, he was cared for at first by Miss Borradaile, his sister-in-law, and afterwards by his daughter-in-law, Florence Julia (d. 1902), the daughter of his old friend Dr. F. W. Pavy. To his friends, like Hulke (q.v.) and Henry Power (q.v.), he was as true as steel. Throughout his life he showed evidence of his Cockney upbringing, for he systematically failed to pronounce the aspirate h. He was conscious of the omission, but took no steps to amend it, and showed no feeling except that of amusement when his son used to go round the room with a hearth-broom and fire-shovel, saying, "Father, I am sweeping up the h's you have dropped."

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dict. Nat. Biog., sub nomine et auct. ibi cit. St. Bart's Hosp. Rep., 1895, xxxi, 1. Bibliography in Catalogue of Surgeon General's Library, series 1. Personal knowledge.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England