Lives of the fellows

William (Sir) Roberts

b.18 March 1830 d.16 April 1899
BA Lond(1851) MB (1851) MD MRCS LSA FRCP(1865) FRS

William Roberts was born at Bodedern, Anglesey, the eighth son of David Roberts, farmer and surgeon, of Mynydd-y-gôf, and his wife Sarah, daughter of Thomas Foulkes of Montgomeryshire. He went to school at Mill Hill and then entered University College, London, where he took the degrees of B.A. and M.B, in 1851 and 1853 respectively, with high honours. He completed his studies at Paris and Berlin, before procuring a house appointment at Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1854. In the year following, at the unusually early age of twenty-five, he was elected, without opposition, physician to the Infirmary, a post which he retained till 1883. In 1859 he began lecturing on pathology at Owens College and four years later was appointed lecturer on medicine. When Victoria University received its charter enabling it to grant degrees, he was made one of its first joint professors of medicine, a chair which he occupied from 1873 to 1876.

In 1889, four years after receiving his knighthood, Roberts moved from Manchester to London. Here he concerned himself with university affairs and became first a member and then, in 1897, chairman of the committee managing the Brown Institution. He represented London University on the General Medical Council from 1896 till his death. A Censor of the Royal College of Physicians, he gave the Goulstonian Lectures in 1866, the Lumleian Lectures in 1880, the Croonian Lectures in 1892 and the Harveian Oration in 1897.

Throughout his life, Roberts took a special interest in physiology and the science that was to be known as biochemistry. He did valuable research work on the digestive ferments, the functions of the pancreas, and the chemistry of the urine. His Practical Treatise on Urinary and Renal Diseases (1865) went into several editions, and he contributed articles to Quain’s Dictionary and Allbutt’s System of Medicine. Single-minded and modest in character, he avoided controversy and remained aloof from public life. He took pleasure in improving his estate at Bryn, Merionethshire, fishing the Dovey, and studying the flora of the countryside. He married in 1869 Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Johnson, former president of the Manchester chamber of commerce, and survived her and their son and daughter.

G H Brown

[B.M.J., 1899; Times, 18 Apr. 1899; D.N.B., 1st Suppl., iii, 298]

(Volume IV, page 146)

<< Back to List