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Biographical entry Stone, William Henry (1830 - 1891)

MRCS Feb 22nd 1856; FRCS May 15th 1856; BA Oxon 1852; MA 1855; MB 1856; MRCP Lond 1856; FRCP 1863.

5 July 1830
5 July 1891


Born in Spitalfields on July 5th, 1830, the only son of the Rev William Stone, Rector of Christchurch, Spitalfields, and later Canon of Canterbury. Canon Stone was a man of commanding presence, great learning, and wide culture, and earnestly desired that his son should become a scholar and an ornament of the Church. The boy was brought up in refined surroundings and in a deeply religious atmosphere. He took to classics with avidity, and at seven years old showed what later proved a life-long tendency - that of branching off at a tangent from one pursuit to another. He was found attending alone the lectures at the Royal Institution, and was questioned one evening as to whether he understood them. His answers were so satisfactory that the managers put him on the free list for a term of years. He became a brilliant student at Charterhouse School, where he was educated from 1843-1849 and won the Gold Medal. He matriculated from Balliol College, Oxford, on Nov 30th, 1848, having gained a scholarship there which he held until 1855. He graduated BA in Michaelmas Term after gaining a 1st class in Literae Humaniores ('Greats') and a 2nd class in mathematics, though it is not recorded in the Oxford Historical Register.

Stone became a student at St Thomas's Hospital, his love for physical science having been fostered by John Jackson, of Church Street, Spitalfields, who was a skilful microscopist. In him physic and physics were seen working together so naturally, says Dr William Ord, that his young friend was led to choose a profession in which both could take part. He was as brilliant at St Thomas's as at school and college. He took without difficulty the entrance scholarship in Classics and Mathematics, and ended by obtaining the Treasurer's Medal at St Thomas's, which is awarded for general proficiency. His studies were completed in Paris, where he was a pupil of Richet.

He was appointed Medical Registrar at St Thomas's Hospital, but soon accepted the post of Inspector to the Board of Health and Superintendent of Vaccination in Trinidad, where he gained great experience of tropical fevers and leprosy. Returning to London in 1861, he was appointed Physician to the Surrey Dispensary and Assistant Physician to the Brompton Hospital for Consumption, devoting much of his leisure to the study of physics and the collection of apparatus in his little Vigo Street house, which became a perfect museum. He was appointed Lecturer on Forensic Medicine at St Thomas's, and in 1868 became Physician to the Clergy Mutual Assurance office, with which he was connected to the end of his life, and where both as Medical Examiner and Director he showed persistent energy and proved himself a man of business in whom the Board reposed trust.

In 1870 he was appointed Assistant Physician at St Thomas's Hospital, and Lecturer in Materia Medica and Physics in the School. In a year or two he became full Physician and held this post till his retirement under the rule as to age in 1890. His record at the Royal College of Physicians was a high one. He was Censor (1884), Lumleian Lecturer (1886), Harveian Orator (1887), and Croonian Lecturer (1879). His Lumleian Lectures were, says his biographer, Dr Ord, as connected with medicine, the culmination of his physical studies; they treated of the electrical conditions of the human body, and, while carefully recording the results obtained by previous observers, were full of original thought and observations far in advance of what was already known. In his pursuit of medicine he was at all times attracted by subjects related to physics - hence many of his papers, such as his early prize essay on "Aegophony". He did much electrical research, writing extensively on his results, and in conjunction with Mr. Wyatt, the actuary, published his important reports on "The Mortality Experience of the Clergy Mutual Assurance Society". He showed in these that there was no evidence of increased prevalence of cancer and that phthisis is not as frequently hereditary as is supposed. His style was literary, lucid, full of flashes of wit and illustration. As a lecturer he was all this, and was almost more amusing than seriously instructive. He fascinated his pupils, but was often again tempted to wander beyond their depth. His classical scholarship had always stood him in good stead; he was well versed in the Latin and Greek medical authors, and his trained memory enabled him to quote readily. He might have become a brilliant orator. He attended closely to his duties as a physician, and perhaps the most important part of his teaching in the wards was therapeutical.

He did not practise, and at his home in Vigo Street, and afterwards in Dean's Yard, devoted himself to physics, to the Clergy Mutual Office, and lastly to music, of which he was a master. He was a member of the well-known amateur musical society the "Wandering Minstrels", played in many concerts, and performed admir┬Čably on the clarionet. He improved the double bassoon, and invented and played one with lower notes than had hitherto been heard in orchestras, to which he introduced his instrument. He lectured on acoustics at the Royal Institution, etc, and published valuable works on sound. His papers on music bear witness to the fact that he might have taken a very high position as an authority on that art had he so chosen. He also read many papers on his electrical researches before the British Association and Society of Telegraphic Engineers. He was a Vice-President of the Physical Society of London.

His musical accomplishments and brilliant conversational powers should have led him into society, but he lived the life of a recluse. At 14 Dean's Yard "he lived a life mostly to himself, with his kindly old housekeeper, his owls, and his multitudinous apparatus". He was attacked with severe mental illness in 1882, and has referred to his case in one of his papers. His vigour was much impaired; he took to drugs, removed to Wandsworth, and came back to London, making spasmodic public appearances. Indeed, he acted for some years as Hon Secretary of the Fellows' Club of the Royal College of Physicians, and in this capacity showed much of his old brilliancy.

In 1890 he resigned his position as Physician to St Thomas's Hospital, and died at Geraldine Road, Wandsworth, on his sixty-first birthday, July 5th, 1891, after months of suffering. Dr S W Wheaton, his faithful and careful friend, was with him to the last, and supplied Dr Ord with much of his information. A portrait accompanies Dr Ord's biography (St Thomas's Hosp Rep, 1890, xx, pxxvii.)


Novus Theaetos or Sense and Science; being the Introductory Address delivered at St Thomas's Hospital, Oct 1st, 1869, 8vo, London, 1869.
"A Short History of Old St Thomas's Hospital," 8vo, London, 1870; reprinted from St Thomas's Hosp Rep, 1870, I, 1.
"On Aegophony," 8vo, London, 1871; reprinted from St Thomas's Hosp Rep, 1871, ii, 187.
"Clinical Lecture on Pleural Tension. Delivered at St Thomas's Hospital," fol, 1878; reprinted from Med Examiner, 1878, iii, 68 - a very interesting essay.
Some Further Remarks on Pleural Tension, 8vo, np, 1878.
"Adjustments of the Sphygmograph."- St Thomas's Hosp Rep, 1875, vi, 105.
"On Hysteria and Hystero-epilepsy," 8vo, London, 1880; reprinted from St Thomas's Hosp Rep, 1880, x, 85.
"On the Effect of the Voltaic Current on the Elimination of Sugar," 8vo, London, 1881; reprinted from Rep Brit Assoc, 1881, 724.
"On the Electrical Resistance of the Human Body," 8vo, London, 1883; reprinted from St Thomas's Hosp Rep, 1883, xii, 203.
The Harveian Oration, delivered at the Royal College of Physicians, Oct 18th, 1887, 8vo, London, 1887.
In Frank B Wyatt's Report on the Mortality Experience of the Clergy Mutual Assur-ance Society, etc, 8vo, London, 1891, Stone wrote the "Report on the Medical History of the Society" (1829-1887); and he also wrote on the same subject with STEWART HELDER in St Thomas's Hosp Rep, 1872, iii, [141, and Ibid, 1876, vii, 273.
International Health Exhibition, London, 1884. The Physiological Bearing of Elec┬Čtricity on Health "Use of the Continuous Current in Diabetes" (with W J KILNER) - St Thomas's Hosp Rep, 1882, xi, 61.
"Measurements in the Medical Application of Electricity" (with W J KILNER) - Ibid, 147.
"The Physical Basis of Auscultation."- Ibid, 1873, iv, 233.
Stone's paper "On the Electrical Resistance of the Human Body" led up to the Lumleian Lectures. Among his medical papers mention should be made of "Some Effects of Brain Disturbance on the Handwriting", St Thomas's Hosp Rep, 1883, xii, 67, in which he gave an account of his own illness; and of the "Tricoelian Heart", Ibid, 1882, xi, 57.
He edited the St Thomas's Hosp Rep, 1870-3, i-iv.
He also published lectures on the "Scientific Basis of Music" and "Elementary Lessons on Sound", Sound and Music, 8vo, London, 1876, which had a large sale.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit Med Jour, 1891, ii, 105].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England