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Biographical entry Anderson, William (1842 - 1900)

MRCS April 25th 1867; FRCS Dec 9th 1869; LRCP Lond 1868; LSA 1867.

18 December 1842
London, UK
27 October 1900
General surgeon


Born in London, Dec 18th, 1842, and educated at the City of London School. Studied for a time at Aberdeen and afterwards at the Lambeth School of Art, where he won a medal for artistic anatomy. Entered St Thomas's Hospital in 1864, when Sir John Simon (qv) and Le Gros Clark (qv) were surgeons. There he won the first College Prize, the Physical Society's Prize, and the Cheselden Medal. After acting as House Surgeon at the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary, he returned to St Thomas's Hospital on the opening of the new buildings in 1871, to fill the offices of Surgical Registrar and Assistant Demonstrator of Anatomy. In 1873 he was appointed Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at the Imperial Naval Medical College in Tokio, where he lectured on anatomy, surgery, medicine, and physiology. He remained in Japan until 1880, when he returned to London and was appointed Assistant Surgeon to St Thomas's Hospital and Senior Lecturer on Anatomy in the medical school. He became full Surgeon in 1891. At the Royal College of Surgeons he was elected a Member of the Board of Examiners in Anatomy and Physiology for the Fellowship in 1884, and served as a Member of the Court of Examiners from 1894-1900. In 1891 he was Hunterian Professor of Surgery and Pathology, and in the same year was elected Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Academy in succession to John Marshall (qv).

He died suddenly on Oct 27th, 1900, the result of the rupture of a cord of the mitral valve without any other morbid condition of the heart or other organs. He married: (1) In 1873, Margaret Hall, by whom he had a son and a daughter; (2) Louisa, daughter of F W Tetley, of Leeds, who survived him.

Anderson may be said to have been steeped in art; [1] form and colour appealed equally to him, and his residence in Japan, when the old world there was changing into the new, gave full scope to his love of art. It enabled him to form a superb collection of Japanese paintings and engravings, most of which are preserved in the British Museum. Between 1882 and 1886 Anderson prepared a Descriptive and Historical Account of a Collection of Japanese and Chinese Paintings in the British Museum (London, 1886), which contains a very complete account of the general history of the subject. In 1886 he also published in portfolios to make two volumes, Pictorial Arts of Japan, with some Account of the Development of the Allied Arts, and a Brief History and Criticism of Chinese Painting. Many of the plates are reproduced in colour. Anderson was Chairman of the Japan Society from its constitution in January, 1892, until his death eight years later. In 1880 he was decorated by the Emperor of Japan a Companion of the Order of the Rising Sun.

Anderson was a good surgeon and a competent operator, but except for a small book issued in 1897 (The Deformities of the Fingers and Toes) he published no surgical work. The book was based on his Hunterian Lectures given in 1891, and in it he advised excision in preference to notching of the fibrous bands in Dupuytren's contraction. He was an excellent teacher for art and medical students, his lectures being made especially attractive by the facility with which he sketched on the blackboard. Personally he was a handsome man of distinguished appearance, quiet in voice and manner, highly cultivated but very retiring. Dr Frank Payne says: "To speak of Anderson we must first observe that he was notable for the thoroughness of his work. He continued to give lectures and demonstrations on anatomy at a stage of his career when most surgeons prefer to reserve their mornings for the consulting-room. In operations he was indefatigable. He would go straight through a long list, and at the end of it was quite willing to take two or three cases from the medical ward in addition. All this would be done with unruffled composure and without any outward signs of fatigue. In his intercourse with colleagues, students, and nurses he showed the unaffected sweetness of his nature; it would be difficult to remember an instance of his being impatient or out of temper. Though his retiring disposition prevented him from becoming a prominent personality in the eyes of the public, no one was more highly esteemed or, by those who knew him well, more warmly loved, while all his abilities and attainments were recommended by the conciliatory grace of modesty." Portraits of him appear in the Transactions of the Japan Society, iv; in the Lancet, 1900, ii, 1869; and in the St Thomas's Hospital Gazette 1900, November.

[Amendments from the annotated edition of Plarr's Lives at the Royal College of Surgeons: [1] An outline of the history of art in its relation to medical science. Introductory address, Medical and physical society, St. Thomas's Hospital 1885- St. Thos. Hosp. Repts. 1886, 15, 151-181]

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dict. Nat. Biog., Supplement, i, et auct. ibi cit. St. Thomas's Hosp. Rep., 1901, N.S. xxx, 329. St. Thomas's Hosp. Gaz., 1900, x, 171. Personal knowledge].

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