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Biographical entry Smith, William Robert (1869 - 1966)

MRCS 1892; FRCS 1896; MB London 1892; BS 1894; MD 1895; LRCP 1892.

Honingham, Norfolk
6 February 1966
Obstetrician and gynaecologist


Born at Honingham, Norfolk in 1869 he was educated at Bracondale School, Norwich and King's College Hospital, which he entered with an exhibition, and won prizes and scholarships each year from 1887 to 1890. He qualified with the Conjoint Diploma and the London MB in 1892, took the BS in 1894, and gained the MD in 1895 and the Fellowship in 1896. After serving as house surgeon, house physician and medical registrar at King's, he went to Nottingham where he made his career.

While senior house surgeon at Nottingham General Hospital he installed the first X-ray apparatus in 1896, the year following Roentgen's discovery. It was put up in a disused bathroom at the cost of £100 paid by Sir Charles Seeley, the chairman of the hospital. Later he introduced electric heating in the Women's Hospital, in place of the coal fires previously used, even in the operating theatre.

Smith settled at Beeston, near Nottingham in 1898 and was in general practice there for fifty years. He also specialised in midwifery and from 1903 was for thirty years surgeon to the Castlegate Women's Hospital, Nottingham. He was also surgeon to Collins Maternity Hospital, and consulting obstetrician to Nottingham Corporation and the Nottinghamshire County Council.

He was President of the Nottingham Medico-Chirurgical Society 1914-1919, Vice-President of the Section of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Medical Association at its annual meeting in 1920, and Chairman of the Nottingham division of the BMA 1928-29. He retired from hospital work in 1933, but continued his private practice till 1947. In early days of practice he made his rounds with a pony and trap, but bought a motor-car in 1906 which he drove for 100,000 miles before changing to a new one. However he continued to make his evening visits on a bicycle till 1947.

Smith was a handsome, massive man with a bustling walk, and smiling eyes and mouth, which endeared him to all his patients. When he retired they gave him a handsome present which he spent on a tour of South Africa. He then settled at Sheringham, Norfolk, living with a nephew and enjoying golf, bridge and gardening.

He was active in Masonry, and kept up lifelong friendships, among others with his contemporaries from medical school P T Beale FRCS, whose father had been senior physician at King's, and John Wood MRCS, son of the senior surgeon. Smith died on 6 February 1966 aged ninety-six.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet 1966, 1, 442 with eulogy by P H O'Donovan; Brit med J 1966, 1, 681 with eulogy by JDP].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England