Lives of the fellows

William Henry Corfield

b.14 December 1843 d.26 August 1903
BA Oxon(1864) MA DM FRCP(1875)

W. H. Corfield was born at Shrewsbury, the eldest son of Thomas Corfield, by his wife Jane Brown. He was educated at Cheltenham Grammar School and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took a double first in mathematics, graduated as B.A. in 1864, and went on to take a first class in natural science in 1865. These successes were followed by his election to a Pembroke College fellowship in 1865, the Burdett-Coutts scholarship in 1866 and a Radcliffe travelling fellowship in 1867. He studied medicine meanwhile at University College, London, and in France and Italy, directing his attention while abroad mainly to hygiene and sanitary science. Graduating as B.M. in 1868, he was appointed in the next year the first professor of hygiene and public health at University College — a chair which he occupied till his death. He instituted there the first laboratory in London for the teaching of hygiene in 1875 and a museum of practical hygiene a year later. He was also medical officer of health for Islington from 1871 to 1872 and for St. George’s, Hanover Square, from 1872 to 1900. From 1869 to 1875 he laboriously investigated the treatment and utilisation of sewage and afterwards became known as an exponent of land filtration and sewage farms. He was ahead of his time in accounting for the causation and spread of zymotic diseases and was responsible for many practical measures afterwards justified by bacteriological discoveries. He was likewise in advance of his contemporaries in advocating healthy living conditions for the populace. He wrote and lectured widely on these subjects, and his Laws of Health, first published in 1880, reached a ninth edition in 1896. For his work on the sanitation of dwelling-houses, he was made an honorary Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He delivered the Milroy Lectures at the Royal College of Physicians in 1902 and took part in many sanitary congresses, national and international. In the course of his career he was president both of the Epidemiological Society and of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, and became a member of several foreign societies.

Corfield, who was a sociable figure, enjoyed many interests outside his profession. He was a keen fly-fisherman, a collector of rare books, a connoisseur of old bindings, and the possessor of a fine collection of Bewick’s woodcuts. He supported a movement to secure the opening of museums and picture galleries on Sundays. He married in 1876 Emily Madelina, daughter of John Pike, F.S.A., by whom he had six children. He died at Marstrand, Sweden, v/hile on a visit to improve his health.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1903; B.M.J., 1903; D.N.B., 2nd Suppl, i, 419; Al.Oxon., I, 298]

(Volume IV, page 231)

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