Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Williams, Caleb (1798 - 1871)

MRCS Dec 15th 1820; FRCS (by election) Aug 26th 1844; MD Marischal College Aberdeen 1855; Ext LRCP Lond 1855; MRCP 1859; LSA 1821.



Received his early professional education under William Travis, of Scarborough, remaining with him till he came of age. He afterwards attended the Medical Schools of Guy's and St Thomas's Hospitals, and spent a short period in those of Paris. He began to practise in York at the age of 25, and was soon chosen Visiting Medical Officer to the Friends' Retreat. Here he was assisted by James Hack Tuke (1819-1896), and was one of the earliest advocates of a more enlightened treatment of the insane, which should involve relaxation of the prevalent cruel system of restraint. He filled this appointment uninterruptedly for nearly fifty years, and resigned it on the ground of failing health in April, 1871.

He was Physician, and then Consulting Physician (1864), to the York County Asylum, and with a number of his colleagues in the City remained faithfully at his post during the terrible cholera epidemic which visited York in 1832. From 1838-1858 he occupied the Chair of Materia Medica in the York School of Medicine, an institution which was afterwards closed.

At the time of his death he was also visiting Medical Officer to two private asylums in York - namely, The Retreat and Lawrence House; to Terrace House Asylum, Osbaldwick; and to the York Penitentiary. Besides these he held other posts and was a member of the British Medical Association, the York Medical Society, and the Medico-Psychological Association. His large experience in the treatment of the insane gave him a widespread reputation, and his aid was sought from far and near.

In 1851 Williams appeared as the advocate for a wider range of the plea of insanity in criminal cases than judges, jurors, or public opinion were then prepared to admit. In 1851 he made known his opinions, the results of long and careful observation, in a work On the Criminal Responsibility of the Insane. His course as a practitioner was one of constantly increasing reputation.

Caleb Williams was a philanthropist, taking especial interest in the York Penitentiary, County Hospital, and Dispensary. He was for forty years a Preacher in the Society of Friends. His daughter, also of that Society, is the mother of Dr Caleb Williams Saleeby.

He practised at 73 Micklegate, where he died after a few days' illness, and was interred in the Friends' Burial Ground in Heslington Road. The large company was addressed by Mr Isaac Brown, of Kendal, an intimate friend of the deceased.

Observations on the Criminal Responsibility of the Insane, founded on the Trials of James Hill and of William Dove; to which are appended full Reports of the same, 8vo, London, 1851.
"Case of an Epileptic Maniac Charged with Murder, and Acquitted on the Ground of Insanity." - Lond Med Gaz, 1840, xxvii, 18.
"On the Present Type and Character of Disease." - Trans Prov Med Assoc, 1851, xviii (NS vi), 341.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England