Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Wright, William (1874 - 1937)

MRCS 11 May 1899; FRCS 12 December 1901; MB BCh Manchester 1897; MSc Birmingham 1903; DSc 1904; LRCP 1899; FSA 7 March 1907; Knight of Grace of the Order of St Olaf.

24 February 1874
21 October 1937
Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire


Born at Wigan, 24 February 1874, the second child and first son of Joseph Wright, clothier, and Agnes Rae, his wife, both parents being of Scottish extraction. He was educated at Wigan Grammar School and at Owen's College, Manchester. He practised for a short time as a general practitioner, in partnership with Louis Birch at Ince in Makerfield, Wigan. Private practice proving uncongenial, he soon returned to Manchester as demonstrator of anatomy at Owens College. Here he quickly made his name as a good and inspiring teacher, and was appointed lecturer on anatomy in the University of Birmingham, then under the control of Sir Bertram Windle who kindled his archaeological spirit. In 1905 he was appointed lecturer on anatomy at the Middlesex Hospital, acted as sub- dean, and lived in the residential quarters with the students. Sir Arthur Keith was elected Conservator of the Royal College of Surgeons Museum in 1908, and Wright was immediately invited to fill his place as professor of anatomy in the Medical School attached to the London Hospital. He accepted the post, and in 1910 was made dean of the Medical School on the death of Munro Scott. He filled both these posts with great advantage to the School and Hospital until his death. His last annual report was published posthumously in the London Hospital Gazette, 1937, 41, 42-50.

He married on 17 July 1937 Gwladys Jones, widow of his close friend and life-long companion Gwynne Jones (d 1933) and mother of Howell Gwynne-Jones, MRCS, CVO, and Surgeon-Commander W T Gwynne-Jones, RN. Mrs Wright died on 27 December 1943. Wright died after a prolonged illness on 21 October 1937, at his house Villa Candens, Gerrards Cross, Bucks, and was buried after a funeral service in the Gerrards Cross Parish Church.

William Wright was an excellent teacher of anatomy and a good organizer. He was president of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1931-33, and president of the anatomical section of the British Medical Association in 1910. He was in constant request as an examiner at the various licensing bodies, and was sent to Canada as senior examiner when the Primary FRCS was first held in the Dominion, and in 1935 he flew to India on a similar errand with Professor G A Buckmaster as his colleague, with whom he had also examined in Melbourne in 1931. The Secretary of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons expressed "the sorrow felt in Australia and New Zealand" at the deaths of Buckmaster and Wright, in a letter to the Brit med J 1938, 1, 650. During the war he was gazetted lieutenant, RAMC (T) on 7 March 1917, and was subsequently promoted captain.

Interested in archaeology, he did some good field work at Driffield in East Yorkshire on the skulls found in the round barrows, and lectured on the prehistoric and early historic inhabitants of England, giving the results of his digging in Gloucestershire. In 1935, in collaboration with L E Tanner, MVO, he published an important paper on investigations regarding the fate of the Princes in the Tower. He showed in this paper that, as the odontoid process was not yet united to the body of the axis, the children whose bones were disclosed were under the age of 13. From this and other anatomical points in connexion with the spine and the teeth he was able to say with some degree of certainty that the bones belonged to children, Edward V and Richard Duke of York, who had been killed by suffocation.

Wright was essentially a "clubbable" man, who was at home in the Athenaeum and the Savage Club. He loved music and surrounded himself with artistic possessions. Leonardo da Vinci appealed to him both as an artist and as an anatomist. He was created a Knight of Grace of the Norwegian order of St Olaf for his help in publishing the Windsor Castle Leonardo drawings; and he left to the College Library his copy of this publication, Quaderni d'Anatomia, 6 vols., Christiania 1911-16, inscribed to him by the editors. He filled many offices at the Royal College of Surgeons: he was Hunterian professor 1904-7, 1908-9, 1912-13, Arris and Gale lecturer 1918, Thomas Vicary lecturer 1925 and 1934, examiner for the Primary Fellowship 1914-19, 1923-28, 1929-34.

Skulls from the round barrows of East Yorkshire. J Anat 1904, 18, 119; 1905, 19, 417.
Prehistoric and early historic inhabitants of England, Hunterian lecture. Middx Hosp J 1907, 11, 90; 1908, 12, 39.
Morphology and variation of the skull, Hunterian lecture. Lancet, 1909, 1, 669. Practical Anatomy, with F G Parsons. London, 1912. The book was designed especially for candidates intending to present themselves for the Primary FRCS. It was remodelled and the substance of it appeared later in the Six Teachers' Anatomy, London, 1932, and the Six Teachers' Anatomy for Dental Students, London, 1934.
Recent investigations regarding the fate of the Princes in the Tower, with Lawrence E Tanner, MVO. Archaeologia, 1935, 84, 1-26.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 22 October 1937, p 18e, 23 October p 18c, 25 October, p l7e; Lancet, 1937, 2, 1052, with portrait; Brit med J 1937, 2, 281, with portrait; Lond Hosp Gaz 1937, 41, 47, with portrait, a good likeness; information given by Mrs Wright; personal knowledge].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England