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Biographical entry Swain, William Paul (1834 - 1916)

MRCS May 1st 1857; FRCS June 13th 1867; LSA 1858; LM 1858.

30 November 1916
General surgeon


Born at Devonport, the son of Paul William Swain (qv). He was educated at King's College Hospital, where he was House Surgeon. During the Crimean War in 1855 he served as Surgical Dresser on HMS Exmouth.

On settling in Plymouth he was appointed Surgeon to the Royal Albert Hospital, Devonport, and became one of the best-known surgeons in the West of England. He was an active member of the British Medical Association, acted as Secretary of the Section of Surgery at the Plymouth Meeting in 1871, and in 1900 became Vice-President of the South-Western Branch. In 1865 he gained the Jacksonian Prize with his essay on "The Diseased Conditions of the Knee-joint which require Amputation of the Limb and those Conditions which are Favourable for Excision of the Joint". A widely popular book was his Surgical Emergencies, together with the Emergencies attendant on Parturition, and the Treatment of Poisoning, a manual for the use of general practitioners, 1874, and following editions (5th ed, London and Philadelphia 1896; a German translation by Siegfried Hahn from the third English edition, 1883).

Swain took an active part in public health matters. His publication, The Contagious Disease Act at Devonport: its Moral and Physical Results after Six Years' Working, 8vo, Bristol, 1869, was replied to by Charles Bell Taylor, of Nottingham, in Observations on the Contagious Diseases Act ('Women not Animals'), 8vo, Nottingham, nd.

In 1898 Swain was elected to the Plymouth Town Council, and served for sixteen years, being at once elected Chairman of the Sanitary Committee and re-elected annually. One of the first of his schemes to be carried out was an enlargement of the Isolation Hospital. He was active in the campaign against tuberculosis, the provision of proper houses for the working classes, the improvement of the Hospital Ship Maud, the provision of Sanitary Inspectors, and of a motor launch for the Port Sanitary Authorities. To the last he took a lively interest in municipal affairs, infant rescue, and women rescue work, but in 1914 he was obliged to resign from the Council owing to failing health. The Council passed a vote of thanks to him for the zeal, industry, and ability at all times shown by him in the sanitary administration of the town.

He took part in College politics and spoke at meetings. He published College Politics: An Address to the Members of the South-Western Branch of the British Medical Association on Matters concerning the Royal College of Surgeons, 1887, and Preliminary Medical Education at Provincial Hospitals (8vo, London, 1871).

He held a commission in the 3rd Devonshire Volunteers, and went on medical service in a Bulgarian and Servian War, for which he received a medal.

He was a first-rate shot and a mountaineer, being a Member of the Alpine Club. For many years he was Churchwarden of St James-the-Less, and may be said to have rebuilt the Lady Chapel, adding thereto some fine decorations. To St Peter's Church he presented an alabaster and iron screen of beautiful design, and he was a generous donor to many institutions.

He married three times, and was survived by his widow and by a daughter of his first marriage. He had practised at 17 The Crescent, Plymouth, and he died there on Nov 80th, 1916. At the time of his death he was Consulting Surgeon to the South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England