Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Willis, William (1837 - 1894)

MRCS July 30th 1858; FRCS June 9th 1881; MRCP Lond 1881; LSA 1859; DPH Cantab 1893.

14 February 1894
County Fermanagh
General surgeon and Physician


The youngest son of George Willis, of Florence Court, Co Fermanagh; distinguished himself as a student at Middlesex Hospital, and after acting there as House Physician, went out to Japan with Colonel St John Neil's Mission. Willis became well known to Sir Henry S Parkes, KCB, throughout some sixteen years, and was appointed Medical Officer to HM Legation in Japan in 1861. He thus became a pioneer of modern medicine in Japan. During the Revolution up to 1868 he not only discharged his duties with marked zeal and efficiency, but also rendered many useful services to foreign residents and to Japan by volunteering gratuitous services in the field at personal hazard, in which he was successful in caring for the wounded. In 1868 Willis was lent to the Japanese Government, at their special request, for the purpose of establishing a Hospital and Medical School in Tokyo, and he resigned his appointment in HM service for the purpose of forwarding the science of medicine in Japan. In doing so he ventured into remote parts, where the animosity entertained by many of the people and soldiery against foreigners was so great that he carried his life in his hands.

For his services to the wounded in the Army of the Mikado he received the honour of the Imperial Brocades, conferred for the first time upon a European and commoner. He received the thanks both of the Japanese and British Governments, and in 1893 the Government of Japan gave permission for the erection of a statue of Willis in the public park of Kayoshima by subscribers, the majority of whom were native medical practitioners who had studied under Willis.

After that he was Vice-Consul at Yeddo until 1881, a post he filled with his accustomed tact and geniality. He returned to England in 1881, and after taking out a course of midwifery at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin came to London and passed the examination for the FRCS Eng and MRCP London. He practised for a short time with his brother George Willis at Monmouth. In 1885 he went out again as Physician to the Legation at Bangkok in Siam, obtained a large practice, started a public hospital for Europeans, interested himself in the prison population, and induced the King of Siam to institute important sanitary and moral reforms. The King and his brother, Prince Devawongze, were among his patients and presented him with their portraits and autographs. He returned to Europe on sick leave in 1892, spent some time at Monmouth and in London, and followed up advances in medical science. He was spending Christmas, 1893, with his brother at Florence Court, Co Fermanagh, when he fell ill of a 'bilious fever' and died on Feb 14th, 1894.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England