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Biographical entry Collins, Sir William Job (1859 - 1946)

KB 1902; KCVO 1914; MRCS 28 July 1880; FRCS 12 June 1884; BSc London 1880; MB BS 1881; MD 1882; MS 1885; VL JP County of London.

9 May 1859
12 December 1946
Ophthalmologist and Welfare reformer


William Job Collins was a man of powerful intellect and character, who showed early promise of great achievement as a surgeon and ophthalmologist, but turned aside from his medical career to promote liberal reforms in the life and welfare of his fellow citizens, through a long life of service to the university, city, and county of London, and to the country at large, both in Parliament and through a large number of public and private commissions and societies. His fluent voice and pen were always ready to serve the causes which he had at heart. He was born in London on 9 May 1859, the eldest son of William Collins, MD of 1 Albert Terrace, Regent's Park, and Mary, eldest daughter of Edward Treacher; for fuller particulars see the foregoing account of his younger brother, Edward Treacher Collins, FRCS, who achieved distinction as an ophthalmologist.

He was educated at University College School, then still in Gower Street, and at St Bartholomew's Hospital, which he entered in 1876 after winning the Jeafferson exhibition for classics and general knowledge. He served the hospital as ophthalmic house surgeon and extern midwifery assistant, and in 1884 was assistant demonstrator of anatomy in the medical college. Collins however came to disbelieve in the value of vaccination and vivisection, and as he always had the courage to speak and write vehemently in support of his beliefs, he spoilt his chances of promotion in his own hospital, where he had been educated in strictest traditions of Harvey and Jenner. He had been a scholar and gold medallist of London University and graduated in science in 1889, the year in which he qualified as MRCS, and took the MB BS in 1881. He made postgraduate studies in ophthalmology at Utrecht and proceeded to the London MD in 1882, the FRCS in 1884, and the MS in 1885. With this equipment Collins seemed destined to rise high and quickly in the profession. He was elected to the staff of the Royal Eye Hospital and the Western Ophthalmic Hospital, and was for many years ophthalmic surgeon to the Temperance Hospital and to the Hampstead and Northwestern Hospital. In 1897 he published a useful treatise on Cataract, which reached a second edition in 1906.

Already in his early thirties, Collins began to show his interest and aptitude for public affairs. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Vaccination 1889-96, and from 1893 till 1927 he served on the senate of London University, being vice-chancellor 1907-09 and again 1911-12. He was elected a member of the London County Council for St Pancras in 1892, became vice-chairman in 1896, and as chairman in 1897 presented the Council's address to Queen Victoria at her diamond jubilee. He stood unsuccessfully for Parliament as a Liberal candidate for London University in 1895 and again in 1900, when Sir Michael Foster, FRS, was elected; he was returned by a large majority for West St Pancras in 1906. He was temporary chairman of committees in 1910, but went out at the general election that year. He was re-elected for Derby in 1916 and held the seat till the general election of 1918.

He had advocated providing a central ambulance service for London while serving in the LCC in 1901. A bill for this end promoted by the Council was thrown out by the Lords in 1906, and a departmental committee of the Home Office was appointed with Collins as one of the three members. This committee reported in 1909 in favour of the service, but while his two colleagues recommended that the Metropolitan Asylums Board should be the ambulance authority, Collins recorded a dissentient view in favour of the LCC. Collins now introduced his Metropolitan Ambulances bill in Parliament, and it became law in 1909; the LCC was however reluctant to operate the Act and the Ambulance Service only came into being in 1914. Collins wrote an account of the service, its beginnings and its great development, in The Times, 21 March 1939.

Collins served on many other commissions of enquiry: Royal Commission on vivisection 1906-12; select committee on the hop industry 1908; independent chairman of the Cumberland joint district board under the Coal-miners' Minimum Wage Act 1912; the committee on accidents to railway servants 1914-19; chairman of the Sussex agricultural wages committee 1920-39; Treasury committee on university colleges; chairman, civil servants conciliation and arbitration board 1917-18. He was British plenipotentiary to the international opium conferences at The Hague in. 1911, 1913, and 1914 and wrote for the British Medical Journal on opium problems. His book on the Ethics and law of drug and alcohol addiction was a piece of wise and humane reasoning. He was for thirty years chairman of the Central Council for district nursing for London, and on his retirement in 1944 was elected its first president. He was honorary secretary of the League of Mercy 1899-1928, a trustee of the City parochial charities and a member of the City Churches commission 1919-20. Collins was elected an honorary liveryman of the Turners Company in 1909. He was a Justice of the Peace and a Deputy-Lieutenant for the County of London and was appointed Vice-Lieutenant in 1925. He had been knighted in 1902 and was created KCVO in 1914.

During the first world war Collins served in France as a Red Cross commissioner with particular charge of ophthalmic matters. In 1918 he was Doyne memorial lecturer, speaking on "Ophthalmology in the war" at Oxford, and received the Doyne medal. He had published a manual on Gunshot wounds of the eye in 1917. His political study, The aetiology of the European conflagration, 1915, aroused some interest. He was a member of council of King Edward's Hospital Fund for London, and in 1919 signed a minority report in favour of more generous pensions for hospital officers, having previously, as a private member of parliament, secured similar improvement for asylum officers. He was president of the Medico-legal Society 1901-05, and on three occasions led deputations to different Lord Chancellors advocating the reform of death certification. He was president of the Sanitary Inspectors Association; he had himself taken the certificate of London University in sanitary science in 1887 with a gold medal; and was chairman of the Chadwick trust and the Northwestern Polytechnic. Collins was not content only to carry on the work of earlier liberals, but wrote biographies of his heroes Sir Samuel Romilly (1908) and Sir Edwin Chadwick (1924). He also made serious excursions into philosophy, publishing a study of Spinoza, and in 1905 an essay on physic and metaphysic; he was a protestant with unitarian affiliations. Collins was an active member of the Huguenot Society of London, and as its president 1926-29 gave an address on Ambroise Paré, the great Huguenot surgeon of the sixteenth century. He was one of the three founders of the Anglo-Batavian Society in 1921, and a vice-chairman of it when reconstituted as the Anglo-Netherlands Society.

He married in 1898 Jean Stevenson Wilson, elder daughter of John Wilson, MP for Govan, for many years a sister at the Temperance Hospital. Lady Collins threw herself heartily into her husband's interests in the public and charitable affairs of London, and became a leading vice-president of the League of Mercy. Her house at Beachy Head near Eastbourne was a centre of sympathy for every liberal cause. Lady Collins was long a victim of arthritis; she died at 1 Albert Terrace, Regent's Park, on 29 January 1936, and was buried at Hampstead Old Churchyard. There were no children of the marriage. Collins survived for eleven years, dying at Albert Terrace on 12 December 1946, aged 87. A memorial service was held in Crown Court Scottish presbyterian church, Covent Garden, on 30 December 1946. Collins was of medium height, broad-shouldered, with a fine head. His somewhat Olympian manner and rhetorical style of speech hid a warm-hearted friendliness. He represented the best type of independent citizen from the professional class of the later nineteenth century.

Principal publications:-

Specificity and evolution. London, 1884; 2nd edition 1890; 3rd edition 1920; the first edition was dedicated to Herbert Spencer.
Cataract. London, 1897; 2nd edition 1906.
The man versus the microbe. Redhill, 1903; 2nd edition 1929.
Physic and metaphysic. London, 1905.
Sir Samuel Romilly's life and work. London, 1908.
The ethics and law of drug and alcohol addiction. London, 1916.
Gunshot wounds of the eye. Oxford, 1917.
Ophthalmology and the war (Doyne memorial lecture). Trans Ophthal Soc UK 1918, 38, 292.
Sir William Lawrence 1783-1867. Brit J Ophthal. 1918, 2, 497.
The life and doctrine of Sir Edwin Chadwick. London, 1924.
Ambroise Paré (Presidential address), Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London, 1929, 13, 549.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 14 December 1946, pp Ia and 7e, 18 December, correction to date of death, 20 December, p 7e, note on his Dutch interests by A van Anrooy, 31 December, p 7b, memorial service; Lancet, 1946, 2, 963, with portrait and appreciation by Lord Addison, FRCS, and 1947, 1, 46, eulogies by Z L P and C E A Bedwell and correction; Brit med J 1946, 2, 96 and 1947, 1, 120; Brit J Ophthal 1947, 31, 126; Proc Huguenot Soc London, 1947, 18, 23; personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England