Lives of the fellows

William Norwood (Sir) East

b.24 December 1872 d.30 October 1953
Kt(1947) MB BS Lond(1897) MD Lond(1901) MRCP(1928) FRCP(1934)

Sir William Norwood East was born the son of W. Quartermaine East, D.L., and Charlotte Isabella, née Bateman. He qualified from Guy’s Hospital which he had entered from King’s College, and two years later joined the Prison Medical Service in which he was to advance to Medical Inspector of Prisons in 1924 and to Prison Commissioner and Director of the Service in 1930. These appointments were a recognition of his thoroughness as a clinician, his administrative ability and his lucidity and complete fairness when presenting his findings and conclusions at Assizes and the Old Bailey during the twenty-five years he had worked in Portland, Manchester, Liverpool and Brixton Prisons.

East was one of the first prison medical officers to show a complete command of the technical aspects of forensic psychiatry which he gained from the practical application of a wide reading in theory. The result was that while he advocated such wise reforms as the treatment of the mentally abnormal in a special penal institution and respected the arguments of lawyers, he remained essentially a clinician anxious to set every individual problem of criminal behaviour in its practical medico-legal frame without the ornaments of vapid excuse and sentimentality.

These temperate views he set out ably in his books Society and the criminal (1949) and The Adolescent criminal (1942), in the reports he gave to the Home Secretary as adviser on the mental state of prisoners condemned to death, and in the lectures he gave at the Maudsley Hospital for thirty years.

He took an active interest in medical societies. He was president of the Society for the Study of Inebriety and Drug Addiction, from 1940 to 1945, of the psychiatric section of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1943, and of the Medico-Legal Society in 1945. He was knighted in 1947, six years before his death at the age of eighty-one.

On 3rd February 1900 he married Selina, the only child of Alfred Triggs; they had one daughter.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1952, 2, 1410-11 (p); 1953, 2, 1050-51 (p); Lancet, 1953, 2,996-7 (p); Times, 1 Nov. 1953.]

(Volume V, page 114)

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