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Biographical entry Ormerod, William Piers (1818 - 1860)

MRCS July 17th 1840; FRCS Dec 11th 1845.

14 May 1818
10 June 1860
Canterbury, Kent
General surgeon


Born in London on May 14th, 1818, the fifth son of George Ormerod, DCL, FRS (1785-1873), the historian of Cheshire, and Sarah, daughter of John Latham, MD, President of the Royal College of Physicians from 1813-1819. William Ormerod's younger brother was Edward Latham Ormerod, FRS (1819-1873), Physician to the Sussex County Hospital, a well-known entomologist.

William Ormerod was educated at Laleham under the Rev John Buckland, where he was treated harshly, and afterwards at Rugby under Arnold, where he was neglected. He entered the school in 1832, and in 1835 became a medical student at St Bartholomew's Hospital, where he was articled to Edward Stanley (qv), distinguished himself as a prize-winner in 1839, and was appointed House Surgeon to Sir William Lawrence for the year 1840-1841. He won the Jacksonian Prize at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1842 with an essay "On the Comparative Merits of Mercury and Iodine in the Treatment of Syphilis". In 1843 he was appointed Demonstrator of Anatomy in the Medical School of St Bartholomew's Hospital, and published for the use of the students a collection of Questions in Practical Anatomy. His health began to fail in 1844 and he retired to his father's house, Sodbury Park, Gloucestershire. He employed himself in arranging the surgical material that he had collected in the hospital during the years 1835-1844, and published the results in 1846 under the title, Clinical Collections and Observations in Surgery made during an Attendance on the Surgical Practice of St Bartholomew's Hospital. Included in the volume are six chapters dealing with the employment of mercury and iodine in venereal disease, an epitome of his Jacksonian Prize Essay. It is a record of great interest as showing what knowledge of surgery a student may get without recourse to books if he were conscientiously to follow the daily clinical practice of a large general hospital.

At this time Ormerod showed no signs of active disease, but suffered loss of weight and strength, and Sir James Paget wrote suggesting that he might become a candidate for the Assistant Surgeoncy at St Bartholomew's Hospital. Ormerod declined the suggestion and settled in practice at Oxford. He was admitted 'privilegiatus' by the University on Oct 19th, 1846, and was elected Surgeon to the Radcliffe Infirmary on Dec 4th in the same year, retaining office until June, 1850. In 1847 he acted as local Secretary of the Oxford Meeting of the British Medical Association.

He lived happily and usefully in Oxford until December, 1848, when "after a period of great hurry and anxiety" he had an epileptic fit and was obliged to retire wholly from practice. He left Oxford in 1849 and settled finally at Canterbury in 1850. Here he began to collect facts about structure and disease in the Medical Museums of London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Glasgow, and entertained hopes of becoming a medical missionary. His mind failed gradually, and he died at Canterbury on June 10th, 1860, from a fracture of the skull caused by a fall in one of the epileptic fits, and was buried in St Martin's Churchyard. The tomb is the first on the left after passing the lich-gate. It is easily overlooked in the presence of more conspicuous and elaborate memorials.

Ormerod won golden opinions. His moral character was evidence for good in the dissecting-room, and he was one of those in whose presence few men would have done or spoken a wrong thing. He was a surgeon equally learned, scientific, and practical; he was both cautious and bold in all he said. He was far-sighted enough to grasp at principles through punctilious attention to detail. Sympathetic and gentle, he was made to be the friend of all, the bosom friend of some. It is noteworthy that ill health deprived St Bartholomew's Hospital of the services of two brilliant brothers - William and Edward Ormerod - the one as a surgeon, the other as a physician.

Ormerod published in 1848, under the auspices of the Ashmolean Society, an essay "On the Sanatory Condition of Oxford", directing special attention to the insanitary state of the different parts of the city where there had been outbreaks of zymotic disease.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dict Nat Biog sub nomine et auct ibi cit. Gibson's Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, 1926, 169. A very beautiful account of him by his friend Sir James Paget is enshrined in the St Bart's Hosp Rep, 1873, ix, pp. vii-xxi].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England