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Biographical entry Hamilton, William James (1903 - 1975)

FRCS by election 1968; BSc Belfast 1926; MB BCh BAO 1929; MSc 1931; MD 1936; Hon DSc 1968; DSc Glasgow 1934; FRS Ed 1934; FRCOG 1959.

Born
21 July 1903
County Antrim
Died
3 May 1975
Occupation
Anatomist

Details

William James Hamilton was born in County Antrim on 21 July 1903 and educated at Queen's University, Belfast, where he took the BSc with first-class honours in 1926 and obtained first place and first-class honours in the final medical examinations in 1929. He proceeded MSc in 1931 and went to Glasgow University as a lecturer in anatomy. There he obtained the Struthers Anatomical Prize and Gold Medal in 1932 and was awarded the DSc in 1934. At about that time he was elected FRS Ed. At Glasgow he came under the influence of T H Bryce and this instilled in him a passion for embryology. He then went to St Thomas's Hospital Medical School as deputy director of anatomy and in 1936 was appointed to the Chair of Anatomy in the University of London at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College. That year he was awarded the MD of Queen's University with high commendation. During his early years as a professor he introduced innovations in anatomical teaching resulting in the human body being presented to students as a dynamic, developing, functioning, and eventually ageing entity in which structure and function are closely related. The clinical relevance of what he taught was always prominent, and he helped to make surface and radiological anatomy integral parts of the preclinical course.

In 1945 he returned to Glasgow as Regius Professor of Anatomy, but in 1947 accepted appointment to the newly created Chair of Anatomy at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, where he remained until his retirement. He was President of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland from 1953 to 1955 and was elected FRCOG in 1959 and FRCS in 1968. He was awarded an honorary DSc of Queen's University, Belfast, in 1968 and the John Hunter Medal and Triennial Prize of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1973. He was Dean of Charing Cross Hospital Medical School from 1956 to 1962. When he took office this was a small school with limited academic horizons, but he succeeded in obtaining chairs in obstetrics and gynaecology, surgery, and medicine over the short space of three years. During his deanship plans were laid for the new hospital and medical school at Fulham, and he played a leading part in determining the existing pattern of buildings.

Hamilton was a prolific producer of books and chapters in composite works, and in recent years was occupied in the production of teaching films in embryology. His scientific papers were principally on embryology and placentology, and it is not possible to consider his impact on these fields without mentioning the name of J D Boyd, his lifelong friend and colleague. Those who were privileged to know and understand Hamilton not only respected him but felt a deep admiration and affection for him. The simplicity and warmth of his character were never more in evidence than when he could be observed playing with small children. Students soon learnt that he was very approachable and could be relied upon to do all he could for anyone in need of help. His appreciation of the beauty of form and composition made him particularly suitable to be Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Academy of Arts, a position he held for about 20 years.

Professor Hamilton married Maimie Young of Belfast in 1933. It was a source of pride and joy to him that his four sons are members of the medical profession and that his only daughter is a dental pathologist. He died on 3 May 1975, aged 71.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 5 July 1975; Brit med J 1975, 2, 396].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England