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Biographical entry Handley, William Sampson (1872 - 1962)

MRCS 7 February 1895; FRCS 10 June 1897; MB BS London 1895; MD 1896; MS 1897; Hon FACS 1926.

12 April 1872
18 March 1962
General surgeon


Born on 12 April 1872, he received his medical education at Guy's Hospital, qualifying in 1895 and winning the University Gold Medal and Exhibition in the MB. Subsequently he became house surgeon to Arbuthnot Lane, and later a demonstrator of anatomy, gaining the Astley Cooper Prize in 1904. For a time he joined a general practice in Woolwich.

His first appointment as a surgeon was to the Samaritan Hospital in 1900, and in 1904 he won a research scholarship at the Middlesex Hospital. Realising the importance of a sound knowledge of pathology in surgery, he undertook research into the mode of spread of cancer. His microscopical studies led him to the conclusion that cancer of the breast spreads principally along the lymphatics in the deep fascia, and he coined the expression lymphatic permeation for this process.

In 1906 he was appointed assistant surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital in which the Cancer Wing gave him ample opportunities for his research. He was also a skilled abdominal surgeon who proposed the term "ileus duplex" for a particular type of intestinal obstruction. During the war of 1914-18 he served as a captain in the RAMC(T). His other appointments included that of surgeon to the Bolingbroke Hospital.

At the College he was elected Hunterian Professor on six occasions 1905, 1910, 1915, 1917, 1921 and 1924, and he gained the Walker Prize for the years 1911-1915. He was elected to the Council in 1923 and was Vice-President in 1931-33. In 1934 he delivered the Bradshaw Lecture, and in 1939 was Hunterian Orator, retiring from the Council in 1943. In 1955 he was awarded the Comfort Crookshank Prize for cancer research. In 1935-6 he was President of the Surgical section of the Royal Society of Medicine, becoming an honorary Fellow, and he was always an active member of the British Medical Association. He was a member of the Academy of Medicine in Rome and of the Royal Flemish Academy of Medicine.

Small in stature, soft spoken and kindly, he was an indomitable and courageous operator. With an international reputation he had a host of friends and no enemies.

He married Muriel, daughter of the Rev. Clayton Rigby of Great Yarmouth in 1908 and they had four sons and a daughter. One son, Richard Handley, is a surgeon at the Middlesex Hospital and a member of Council and of the Court of Examiners.

Handley died on 18 March 1962 at Malvern in his ninetieth year. His portrait by Olivier hangs in the Board-room of the Middlesex Hospital. A memorial service was held in the Chapel of the Middlesex on 3 April 1962, the lesson being read by Sir Eric Riches.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 20 March 1962 p 17 a with portrait, 4 April 1962 p 14 c memorial service, 23 July 1962 p 12 d will; Lancet 1962, 1, 698 with portrait and appreciation by RVH; Brit med J 1962, 1, 948, p 1082 appreciation by Lt-Col A Innes Cox, p 1213 appreciation by Dr N I Spriggs; Ann Roy Coll Surg Engl 1962, 30, 344-346 appreciation by Sir Eric Riches and portrait by Olivier; Brit med J 1952, 1, 812 eightieth birthday tribute with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England