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Biographical entry Tuckwell, William (1784 - 1845)

MRCS, April 3rd, 1807; FRCS, Dec 11th, 1843, one of the original 300 Fellows.

General surgeon


Was born of yeoman stock at Aynho, Oxfordshire, and was educated at the local grammar school under Mr Leonard, known for his scholarship and his addiction to green tea. He was apprenticed to a surgeon at Woodstock, and afterwards became a pupil of John Abernethy at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he formed friendships with Frederic Carpenter Skey (q.v.) and Sir George Burrows.

He came to Oxford without introductions, friends, or money, and was made ‘Chirurgus Privilegiatus’ by the University on Nov 10th, 1808. He took lodgings in ‘The High’ and soon acquired a practice, for he had ability, engaging manners, and was not lacking in self-esteem. He was elected Surgeon to the Radcliffe Infirmary on March 15th, 1809, succeeding Edward Metcalfe Wardle, Surgeon from 1781-1808, and held the post until 1836, when he was made a Life Governor. He was also Consulting Surgeon to the Warneford Hospital, Oxford. His wife Margaret (d. 1842) bore him four children, of whom the eldest son, the Rev W Tuckwell (b. 1830), the head master of the Collegiate School at Taunton, wrote Reminiscences of Oxford, and Henry Matthew Tuckwell, MD (b. 1835), the second son, long had the chief medical practice in the City and University. Lewis Stacey (b. 1840), the fourth son, became Vicar of Northmoor, Oxon.

Tuckwell practised in High Street, Oxford, in the somewhat gloomy stone house facing Magdalen College School, but died at Cowley House, where he had retired, on Sept 20th, 1845. He was well adapted for University practice: his professional knowledge was of so high an order that there was some talk of his coming to London when John Abernethy retired. He was also a good classic and acquainted with French, Italian, and Spanish. He dined often at high tables, and his own dinner-parties were noted for conviviality and wit. He was, too, a skilled player at piquet, whist, and chess. In costume and behaviour he was a survival from more picturesque times. His son says:

“He paraded Oxford in a claret-coloured tail-coat with a velvet collar, canary waistcoat with gilt buttons, light brown trousers, two immense white cravats propping and partly covering the chin, a massive well-brushed beaver hat. His manner and address appear to have been extraordinarily winning: he overflowed with anecdote and quotation, yet knew how to listen as well as talk.”

He preserved, too, the charitable spirit of practitioners before the introduction of out-patient departments by throwing open his surgery in the early morning to necessitous patients, to whom he gave the same quality of service as to those who were able to pay him adequate fees.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Tuckwell, Reminiscences of Oxford, London, 1901, 63, with portrait dated 1833. Gibson’s The Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, 1926, 162].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England