Henry George Ferguson
Sir William Taylor (1871 - 1933):
William Taylor was one of many Ulstermen who made their considerable marks outside the province: in his case he was a dominant figure in Dublin medicine.
He was born in Castlefin, County Donegal, son of John Taylor, farmer and mill owner, of Grahamsland, and his cousin Mary. William attended the Academy School at Strabane (1884-1886), travelling by pony. Initially he showed little interest in schoolwork even though he was clever and diligent, and for a while he stopped attending, instead working on his father’s farm. However he soon returned to studies, enrolling at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in 1889 where he soon showed himself to be a quite exceptional student of high intellect, and inexhaustible and skilful application.
His progress was now remarkable; in quick succession he won First Prize in Medicine and Surgery at Trinity College, Dublin (1891 and 1892) followed by the Mayne Scholarship (1893), proceeded to become Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) and of the Royal College of Surgeons (LRCSI); and Licentiate in Midwifery (LM) (with Gold Medal in operative surgery). He proceeded to the Fellowship of the RCSI (1898), BA and MB of Trinity College, Dublin (1892), eventually to his MD in 1922, Master of Surgery (MCh) and MA in 1926.
His clinical positions were manifold starting with house surgeon to the Meath Hospital, Dublin, 1893-1895; the staff posts of assistant surgeon (1898) and, finally, now being Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (FRCSI); he was promoted to visiting surgeon at Cork Street Hospital (1900-1922). During the period before the outbreak of World War One he established himself among the surgical leaders of the Dublin hospitals, pioneering many successful techniques in asepsis, abdominal surgery especially, and never spared himself in his duties, including teaching. In 1922 he became a Council member of the RCSI. It was said that his teaching bible was Jacobson’s Operations of Surgery and that he knew it by heart. “He could lecture like a Presbyterian minister out of a Scott novel for two hours on the complications of gastric ulcer” as one student recorded.
Unfortunately he was not generally on easy terms with some of his colleagues being at times outspoken with “criticisms of a rasping and sarcastic tongue” and he attitude to Taylor, of his distinguished Dublin contemporary, Sir William Ireland de Courcy Wheeler, was “that one-eyed bastard from Mercer’s” Hospital while Wheeler’s response was the more genially phrased though just as bitter describing Taylor as “that country boy from Donegal”.
When war was declared in 1914 Taylor offered his services and was appointed consulting surgeon and colonel to the Forces in Ireland and was active in the Dublin Castle Red Cross Hospital; and at the time President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (PRCSI) he was active in recruiting. In 1917 the War Office asked him to form the staff for the Dublin (83rd) General Hospital near Boulogne and which he personally supervised; he was mentioned in despatches by Sir Douglas Haig. For his services he was gazetted CB in 1919 followed by KBE in 1920.
In 1922 Taylor was appointed Regius Professor of Surgery at Trinity College, Dublin; this was unexpected and it delighted Taylor who had few interests in Trinity and its corporate culture and he was now converted and left the Meath Hospital to join Sir Patrick Dun's staff, with that hospital’s historic connections with Trinity, in the event until his death in 1933. (Ironically perhaps an early patient of his at Dun’s was Constance Gore-Booth, later known as Countess Markievicz, a “rebel of 1916) whose appendix he removed!) For a while the hospital saw little of him. He travelled, had duties thrust upon him by various bodies. Some were medical (such as President of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland; President of the Royal Academy of Medicine; he was also made Honorary LLD of McGill University; Honorary Fellow of the American College of Surgeons) while others were non-medical.
His career at Dun’s (1922-1933) was a successful one and he proved to be an admirable colleague. He was devoted to his patients to the extent of multiple visits if unduly concerned about their progress, especially after surgery. He kept his professional charges modest especially to ensure that they were affordable in the cases of widows and the poor generally. He was decisive, and mindful that time was often of the essence. His virtues did not, however, include modesty; but his tongue, though often sharp, was fair. He looked forward to the time when larger central hospitals could replace Dublin’s multiplicity of small and outmoded ones; he was Vice-Chairman of Irish Hospitals’ Trust Ltd towards this end. His interests, once rural, now involved golf, music, and the Trinity College football, cricket and boating teams. He was a keen Freemason of high rank, a member of the Kildare Street Club and of the Dublin University Club; at the time of his death he was President of the Zoological Society of Ireland.
He had many honours, and among those already mentioned were his Fellowship of the American College of Surgeons (1920); his Fellowship of the American Surgical Association (1923). He was President of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland (1924-1925) and of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland (1927-1933). He also extended his voluntary attention beyond the more prestigious and smaller voluntary hospitals in and around Dublin, principally as surgeon on the staff of the National Children’s Hospital and St Ultan’s Infant Hospital, as well as surgeon to the Coombe Hospital, several dental hospitals, and Dr Steevens’s Hospital, amongst others.
Taylor married Katherine M Walker, eldest daughter of Dr William Walker of Louisiana. They set up home at 47 Fitzwilliam Square and at St Ann’s, Killiney. The marriage provided three sons and one daughter, none of whom remained in Ireland: Charles practised medicine in Rochester, New York; Jack made his career in Africa; William worked for the Persian Oil Company in Borneo; his daughter became Mrs Ridlington and lived in London.
It was at the Fitzwilliam Square address that he died, suddenly of a heart attack, in 1933. He is buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery, Dublin.
|Born:||21 September 1871|
|Died:||29 January 1933|
RSJ Clarke: A Directory of Ulster Doctors (who qualified before 1901), Belfast, Ulster Historical Foundation, 2013, volume I; Dictionary of Irish Biography, www.dib.cambridge.org; JB Lyons: An Assembly of Irish Surgeons, Dublin, Glendale Press/RCSI, 1983
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