Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Jackson, William (1790 - 1867)

MRCS, Oct 16th, 1812; FRCS, Dec 11th, 1843, one of the original 300 Fellows.

Hawkshead, Lancashire
28 Sept 1867
Sheffield, UK
General surgeon


Studied in Dublin and London. He lectured on midwifery and surgery at the Sheffield Medical School, and died in retirement at Sheffield on Sept 28th, 1867.

See below for an amended version of the published obituary:

William Jackson was a general surgeon in Sheffield, and a co-founder of the Sheffield Medical School, where he was a lecturer and professor of anatomy. He was born on 16 July 1790 in Hawkshead, Lancashire. His family had farmed for generations in the Bradfield area of Yorkshire. His father, Abraham, spent a period in the Lake District and returned to farming in Yorkshire; some of the family land was later sold to provide part of the site of Middlewood Hospital. His mother was Martha Jackson née Shaw.

William attended Hawkshead Grammar School and, on arriving in Yorkshire, was apprenticed in 1805 to Charles Hawksley Webb, chief surgeon at the Sheffield General Infirmary. He later became a pupil at St George's Hospital, London, of Sir Everard Home, the King's Surgeon and fellow of the Royal Society.

In October 1810, he set off on a journey to Dublin to train at Trinity College, Dublin, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the Rotunda Hospital. He embarked on a ship from Liverpool but, in the course of the voyage, a severe storm developed and the ship was wrecked off the Welsh coast. Many lives were lost. William succeeded in swimming to shore and, undaunted, hired a post-chaise to take him to Holyhead, where he re-commenced his journey to Dublin. (A letter from William to his father describing this experience is in the possession of the family.)

By 1812, he had returned to Sheffield and in that year became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He practised as a surgeon in the Sheffield area for over half a century; his obituary in the Sheffield newspapers said: 'It is the opinion of those who knew him best during the zenith of his career that there perhaps never was a man who was in all the departments of his art as a whole his superior; as a medical practitioner in sickness, an operator in surgery; and an obstetrician in its most serious aspects.'

He was among the group of senior medical professionals who set up the Sheffield Medical School, initially known as the Sheffield Medical Institution. A meeting took place in Sheffield in February 1828, chaired by William Jackson, when a resolution (proposed by Arnold Knight) was agreed to establish the new Medical Institution with the purpose of 'the delivery of professional lectures, to be accompanied with scientific demonstrations and experiments on Surgery and Materia Medica'. William Jackson became one of the proprietors of this Institution from the beginning. These proprietors constituted the council, which governed the Institution, and the records of this council show that William Jackson often presided at meetings of the council.
He lectured for many years - from the inception of the School onwards - on anatomy, surgery, physiology, midwifery, the diseases of women and forensic medicine. He became joint professor of anatomy, and was one of the English surgeons to be granted the national 'Licence to practise anatomy' in the first two years after the Anatomy Act of 1832. He was also elected president of the Sheffield Medical School on a number of occasions, up to the age of 74 in 1864.

Another institution in which he played a role was the precursor of the Sheffield Royal Hospital - known initially as the Sheffield Dispensary - which William Jackson helped to found in 1832; he was a governor from the outset and a surgeon there.

At national level, the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association (which later became the British Medical Association) was formed on 19 July 1832. William Jackson was elected by the Yorkshire branch on to the national council and he remained on the national council for a number of years. He was a vigorous member, speaking at several of its national conferences, and contributing professional papers.

He published on subjects, including 'Cases of chickenpox', 'Foetal abnormalities', 'A difficult case of parturition', 'A case of malaena', 'A serious cyst in the pelvis', 'Rupture of the uterus', 'Cases illustrative of disease in the cerebellum', 'Cases of hydrophobia' and 'A case of abscess of the neck'.

In December 1843, the Royal College of Surgeons of England elected him one of the original 300 fellows.

William Jackson was the one of the main founders of the Sheffield General Cemetery; he was the chairman of the directors for many years. He indicated that the purpose had been 'that the town of Sheffield might be able to avoid the burial of the dead under such circumstances as to be frightfully injurious in its consequences to the health of the living in large towns'.

He placed importance on involvement in local professional groups, including the Sheffield Medical Society, the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society (of which he was a founder member in 1828, the museum's curator and the president of the Society for eight years), and the Yorkshire Geological Society.

He was described as having 'a large number of friends' and 'the esteem of a large number of his medical brethren'. It was said of him that 'strong bodily health, indomitable energy, and untiring industry, lent their substantial aid to success'. He showed compassion for the wretched conditions of many families in Sheffield at the time, and he wrote a series of strongly-argued letters to local newspapers about 'the miseries that I have witnessed and the severe impairment to the health of women caused by long-continued privations'.

He married Louisa Smith and they had ten children. (His third son Edward (1827 to 1888) was a founder and a main surgeon at the Sheffield Hospital for Women, established in 1864.)

William Jackson died on 28 September 1867 in Sheffield.

Anthony Jackson

Sources used to compile this entry: [Contemporary local and national documents and The Medical School in Sheffield by William Smith Porter, University of Sheffield, 1928].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England