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Biographical entry Gowland, William Percy (1879 - 1965)

CBE 1963; MRCS 1901; FRCS 1912; MB BS London 1903; MS 1906; LRCP 1901; Hon DSc Otago 1961.

2 September 1965
Nelson, New Zealand


Born in 1879 the son of Dr George Robert Gowland, LRCP, LRCS, LM, Edinburgh 1874. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School, Owens College and Manchester Medical School, where he won a gold medal in anatomy, and qualified through London University in 1903 with first-class honours in obstetrics and gynaecology. After demonstrating anatomy and physiology in the Medical School, he held resident appointments at the Royal Infirmary and the Chelsea Hospital for Women. He practised for a time at Oldham, Lancashire, served as a ship's surgeon in the Cunard liner Mauretania, and took the MD in 1906.

Gowland decided, however, to make an academic career in anatomy, was appointed assistant lecturer under A M Paterson at the University of Liverpool, and took the Fellowship in 1912. He was elected Professor of Anatomy at the University of Otago and settled in New Zealand at the end of 1914, making it his home for the rest of his long life. He found a small department at Dunedin, and on account of war conditions had little assistance in teaching some fifty students during his first five years as professor. He did, however, introduce new histological equipment and prepared diagrams and drawings to complete the masterly series begun by his predecessor John Scott, who had died in February 1914. Gowland also gathered a first-class library for his department.

After the war his classes increased four-fold and his courses were prolonged from five to six terms, but in spite of this extra teaching duty and without adequate full-time assistance, though helped by a succession of able young demonstrators, he improved the histological service, preparing an excellent collection of slides, and planned a new building for the anatomy and physiology departments, which was opened late in 1926, when he was provided with two efficient assistants.

During the first twelve years of his professorship, 1914-26, Gowland took a busy part in the affairs of the Medical School and in its social side at the Clinical and Dunedin Clubs. But after his new department opened he devoted himself entirely to it and to his students, being a keen supporter of their rugger and boxing clubs. He developed new methods of teaching, introducing his students more fully to embryology and neuro-anatomy.

He spent the year 1929-30 travelling in North America and Europe with a Rockefeller Fellowship, and brought back new ideas and techniques to New Zealand. Thereafter till 1943, when he suddenly resigned the chair which he had held with such success for nearly thirty years, Gowland lectured regularly on embryology, histology and neuro-anatomy to all his students and shared all the practical classes, providing direct personal instruction and forming lasting friendships. He also stimulated a succession of his demonstrators to begin research and publish their results. His school became internationally famous through the success of his pupils, and the brilliant work of many New Zealand surgeons during the second world war has been ascribed in part to Gowland's excellent grounding in three-dimensional anatomy.

After resigning his chair he made a successful new career as Director of Clinical Services at Wellington Hospital, in the North Island, but finally returned to the South, retiring to Nelson where he died on 2 September 1965 aged eighty-six. His wife had died before him, and he was survived by his two sons, the younger of whom Humphrey Gowland, MB ChB, practised as a surgeon at Wellington, and in due course his son Stuart followed him as a consultant urologist.

Gowland was awarded the Honorary DSc of Otago University in 1962 and was created CBE in 1963. He was a man of outstanding personality and vitality, honest, brusque and humorous.

Sources used to compile this entry: [NZ med J 1965, 64, 660-663, by W E Adams, with portrait, and appreciations by R O'Regan and D Denny-Brown; Brit med J 1966, 1, 174 with eulogy by FGR].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England