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Biographical entry White, Sinclair (1858 - 1920)

CBE; MRCS June 12th 1884; FRCS June 12th 1884; MD (Gold Medal) MCh Royal University of Ireland 1879; DPH Cantab 1888.

8 August 1920
General surgeon


The youngest son of John White, of Moneymore, Co Londonderry; he studied at Queen's College, Galway, where he won prizes and scholarships, including the senior scholarship in medicine, and graduated with the highest honours.

In 1879 he was appointed Tutor in the Sheffield Medical School which became the Medical Faculty of the Sheffield University. The Medical School then consisted of a dismal building; the anatomical theatre and dissecting-room on the first floor, with sawdust on the floor, was compared to something between a stable and a dirty butcher's shop. On the ground floor was a musty old library in which the porter made anatomical preparations and the students spent much of their time sitting round the fire smoking. The tutor, paid £100 a year, was the salaried teacher; he had charge of the dissecting-room and held tutorial classes in anatomy and physiology.

Coming to Sheffield unknown, Sinclair White's success as a tutor led to his appointment as House Surgeon from 1882-1885. In 1885 he was appointed Medical Officer of Health for Sheffield and obtained the DPH Cambridge in 1888. There were a considerable number of cases of lead poisoning in various parts of the Borough, and White discovered that the water coming from the moors was rendered acid by peat and so dissolved the lead of the pipes furnishing drinking-water. He advised that the water should be treated at its source with alkali, first using Derbyshire limestone with success, but later replacing it with powdered chalk.

Attracted by clinical work and surgery, he had passed in June, 1884, the MRCS and FRCS examinations in succession, so that in 1887 he resigned his Public Health appointments. Becoming known as an able surgeon, he was appointed Surgeon to the Children's Hospital in 1889, and in 1892 Surgeon to the Royal Infirmary. He thus quickly reached a busy surgical practice, at the same time acting as Consulting Surgeon to the Hospitals at Mexborough, Worksop, and Retford, and was always ready to respond to a call for assistance. He took an active part in improving the Royal Infirmary by the addition of a surgical block with open-air galleries, and was especially influential in establishing the Radium Institute in Sheffield. In 1911 he was appointed Professor of Surgery, but, whilst successful as a tutor, he was not so as a lecturer and he disliked public speaking. He practised at Ranmoor, Sheffield. At the Sheffield Meeting of the British Medical Association in 1908 he acted as General Secretary and as President of the Section of Surgery. On the death of Simeon Snell, the President of the Association that year, he occupied the position for the remainder of the term, and inducted the succeeding President, Sir William Whitlaw, at the Belfast Meeting in 1909.

He had served as Commandant of the 3rd Northern Territorial General Hospital and was Surgeon à la suite when the European War commenced. He assisted his successor, Colonel A M Connell, to get the Hospital into working order and undertook much of the operating work there, as well as at the Infirmary while many of the Staff were away on military duty. In 1917 he became Commandant of the Hospital, but his health began to fail. He was obliged to retire altogether in June, 1919, removing to Bournemouth, where he died on Aug 8th, 1920. He bequeathed to Mrs Sinclair White his estate for life, then to pass to the Sheffield Royal Infirmary for a Home of Rest for the Nurses.

Report on the Section of the Sheffield Water on Lead Piping and its Effects on the Health of the Community.
Annual Report on the Health of the Borough of Sheffield by the Medical Officer of Health for the Year 1885, fol, Sheffield, 1886.
A number of papers on surgical cases.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1920, ii, 421. Brit Med Jour, 1920, ii, 296].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England