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William Fergusson 1st Baronet 1808 – 1877

November 05, 2009

William Fergusson 1st Baronet 1808 – 1877William Fergusson 1st Baronet FRCS FRS 1808 – 1877 was a Scottish surgeon, and a personal friend of Frederick Hervey Foster Quin, and in 1856, his operating surgeon (Frederick Hervey Foster Quin was at the time the founder and Chief Physician of the London Homeopathic Hospital),

In 1861, William Fergusson was reprimanded (Anon, Mr. Fergusson and Consultations with Homœoquacks, British Medical Journal 1861;2:105 (Published 27 July 1861)) by _The Lancet_ for visiting patients that were also patients of homeopaths, and he subsequently promised not to do so in the future. (In 1852, Charles Mansfield Clarke 1st Baronet had been similarly compromised - and so, it appears was Charles Locock 1st Baronet).

However, William Fergusson said that he was occasionally consulted by homeopaths for his professional opinion, which he was happy to give,

William Fergusson was accused of ’giving aid and comfort to the enemy’, though he denied that he approved of homeopathy.

On 7th August 1861, Frederick Hervey Foster Quin wrote to William Fergusson to offer his support (Edward Hamilton, A Memoir of Frederick Hervey Foster Quin. (British Homeopathic Society, 1879). Page 101):

… I have had, as I believe you know, an interview with Mr. Price, since which I have read the articles and correspondence in the British Medical Journal and Medical Circular. Mr. Price will have told you that I shall be most happy to take any step that you thought would assist you in this illiberal, ungenerous outcry against you, provided you wished it, and I could see my way to its being of service to you. Now, the more I reflect on the matter, the more I become convinced that any testimony or evidence from me, or any one of my persuasion, would harm instead of benefitting you. The object of your detractors is evidently to make you out to be a ‘black sheep’ in their pure white spotless flock, and me and my friends to be the wolves that have tempted you into other pastures. Now, my or our stating that several others of your body have at different times wandered into the same pastures, and are equally ‘black sheep’ as yourself will not make your fleece whiter in the eyes of those who are interested in making and determined to keep you black. On the contrary, I cannot help believing that my testimony would raise up a host of ne enemies and fresh leading articles, and furnish besides fresh pretexts for attacking you. You have written your letter and have made your statement in your own way, and I would take my stand upon it if I were you’. This, I think, would be wiser than friends or evidence, that would be held suspicious, being brought forward with information that other nameless persons acted exactly as you did. This would inevitably bring a nest of hornets upon you. Mr. Price tells me that someone has given you a report of the dinner that was given to me. You would see that I had made it a rule never to answer attacks upon myself, but I would do for you what I would not do for myself, if you think that good to you would come of it. If these considerations and reflections of mine do n ot convince you, let us meet and determine the best means of assisting you…‘

William Fergusson felt compelled to write subsequently to the British Medical Journal (William Fergusson, Professional Consultations with Homœopaths, British Medical Journal 1861;2:183.1 (Published 17 August 1861)) as his ‘explanation’ was ’deemed unsatisfactory’:

The explanation I offered in my letter to _ __The Lancet_ of 20 July last (1861), regarding my alleged communication with homeopaths, not appearing satisfactory to the profession. I beg to state that for the future I shall feel it incumbent on me to decline any meeting or so called consultation with homeopathic practitioners.

‘Enjoying a large share of professional confidence, and holding various important public appointments, I should consider myself unworthy of such honours, were I, at the present time, to offer any objections to the expressed wishes and opinions of my professional brethren.’ (such was the fear allopaths brought to bear!)

His friend Charles Locock 1st Baronet also felt compelled to write to the British Medical Journal 1861;2:183-184 to suggest that if William Fergusson:

rubs up his memory a little’ and recall that ‘within a day or two of inditing this ambiguous note, he did not visit a patient at the suggestion of a homeopathic practitioner residing not a hundred miles from Mayfair?’ (obviously Frederick Hervey Foster Quin),

Charles Locock 1st Baronet continued:

if he rubs up his memory a little, he will be able to state whether he have or have not personally visited patients in company with the same practitioner?

(As Charles Locock 1st Baronet and William Fergusson were both friends of Frederick Hervey Foster Quin, he would know this!)

Charles Locock 1st Baronet has obviously also been criticised for the same sin, as he continues to disemble:

I reply in stronger language that these insinuations or direct charges are entirely false. There are, I believe, only two homeopaths in my neighbourhood in Hertford Street - W Bell and Hugh Cameron.

‘To the former I have never spoke in my life, and I have certainly not been in the same room as Hugh Cameron for more than two years, and then not in the presence of a patient.

How carefully Charles Locock 1st Baronet conceals his own friendship with Frederick Hervey Foster Quin (and with Harris F Dunsford) - but why is he criticising his friend William Fergusson if not to ubraid him for betraying a friendship?

Frederick Hervey Foster Quin subsequently sent William Fergusson a cheque for 100 guineas in payment for his surgery, and explaining that the commissioned bronze Frederick Hervey Foster Quin had ordered for his friend, and the past twelve years of discussions and friendships were now ‘unsuitable’, considering William Fergusson’s published declaimer against homeopathy (Frederick Hervey Foster Quin’s letter to William Fergusson 23.8.1861).

William Fergusson replied to Frederick Hervey Foster Quin within the hour, to return the cheque, refusing payment for the surgery:

I have never considered that you were under any pecuniary obligations to me, and the personal services which I have been able to give I have always deemed as of a friendly kind. I am truly pained that you should think otherwise… and I must express a hope that you will let our personal relations stand as heretofore…’ (William Fergusson’s letter to Frederick Hervey Foster Quin 23.8.1861).

Andrew Wynter (1819-1876), the Editor of the *British Medical Journal wrote an brief comment in the same issue on 19th October 1861, _to the effect that Spencer Wells had fully explained his involvement with Gully, who could not be a homeopath as the Editor had never yet heard of any *‘… accomplished physician figuring as a homeopath in Britain…‘* and that he would *‘… deeply regret to find that such a thing was possible_‘ _The Editor affirmed that Spencer Wells has acquitted himself of any stain of associating with homeopaths, and it was also *‘… impossible…’ that Grindrod had any *‘… dealings with a homeopath…‘ _and since the original article on the 19th October 1861, no one had come forward to contradict this position. Why would they? They were too busy holding their sides, laughing and rolling around on the floor?

Andrew Wynter was already in print from 13th July 1861 as:

*‘… A correspondent assures us, the present agitation amongst the ‘social bees’ Dr. Wynter left in the ‘Journal of the Association’, is the merest bosh; and that ninety nine men in a hundred of the consulting lions of the hospitals are following the advice of Sir Charles Locock, and meeting homeopaths every week. Though we may not approve of this, we think an Editor going about with a bee in his bonnet to abuse Mr. Fergusson, will only do mischief. Sir Charles Locock says we can never convert them or their patients… *(Andrew Wynter (Ed.), British Medical Journal: BMJ, Volume 2, (British Medical Association, 1861). Page 53.)’

When an allopath quipped that ’he wouldn’t pass a catheter for the patient of a homeopath’, William Fergusson commented ’that, says a great deal for your orthodoxy, but very little for your humanity‘,

William Fergusson was the son of James Fergusson of Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire, and was born at Prestonpans, East Lothian.

After receiving his early education at Lochmaben and the Royal High School of Edinburgh, he entered the University of Edinburgh with the view of studying law, but soon afterwards abandoned his intention and became a pupil of the anatomist Robert Knox whose demonstrator he was appointed at the age of twenty.

In 1836 he succeeded Robert Liston as surgeon to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and coming to London in 1840 as professor of surgery in King’s College London, and surgeon to King’s College Hospital, he acquired a commanding position among the surgeons of the metropolis.

He revived the operation for cleft palate, which for many years had fallen into disrepute, and invented a special mouthgag for the same. He also devised many other surgical instruments, chief among which, and still in use today, are his bone forceps, lion forceps and vaginal speculum.

In 1866 he was created a baronet.

As a surgeon Fergussons greatest merit is that of having introduced the practice of conservative surgery, by which he meant the excision of a joint rather than the amputation of a limb.

He made his diagnosis with almost intuitive certainty; as an operator he was characterized by self possession in the most critical circumstances, by minute attention to details and by great refinement of touch, and he relied more on his mechanical dexterity than on complicated instruments.

He was the author of The Progress of Anatomy and Surgery in the Nineteenth Century (1867), and of a System of Practical Surgery (1842), which went through several editions.

He died in London on February 10, 1877.

Of interest:

James Fergusson 1832 - 1907 of Kilkerran, Philanthropist, MP for Ayr, MP for Manchester, Under Secretary of State for India, Under Secretary for the Home Office, Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Post Matre General, Governor of South Australia, Governor of New Zealand, Governor of Bombay,

James Fergusson was a patient of the Indian homeopath Kulkarni,

A cable has been received saying that Sir James Fergusson, a former Governor of Bombay, was killed, having been buried alive in an earthquake in Jamaica. He greatly encouraged education in the Bombay Presidency. Before leaving for Jamaica he had accepted the Presidentship of the South Africa British Indian Committee. He was buried in Kingston with great honours. [From Gujarati] Indian Opinion, 2-2-1907


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