Lives of the fellows

William John Ritchie (Sir) Simpson

b.27 April 1855 d.20 September 1931
CMG(1909) MB CM Aberd(1876) MD DPH Cantab FRCP(1899)

William Simpson was born at Glasgow, the son of John Simpson. He went to school in Jersey and studied medicine at Aberdeen University, graduating as M.B, C.M, in 1876. After early appointments at the Samaritan Convalescent Home, Dover, and the Haydock Lodge Asylum, he began his career in public health in 1880, by obtaining the post of medical officer of health for Aberdeen. This he resigned in 1886, when, after studying at King’s College, London, he went out to Calcutta as the city’s first medical officer of health. The wide experience that he gained in twelve years there enabled him to qualify, on his return, for the chair of hygiene and public health at King’s College, which he occupied from 1898 to 1927. He also lectured on hygiene at the London School of Medicine for Women for some years. He helped to found the London School of Tropical Medicine in 1899 and served on its staff as lecturer on tropical hygiene till 1923. He was likewise one of the promoters of the Ross Institute at Putney in 1926 and acted as its director, and as physician to the attached Hospital for Tropical Diseases, till his death.

Outside his regular work in London, Simpson undertook many other duties of importance. In 1900 he served on a commission sent to South Africa to investigate the outbreaks of dysentery and enteric fever among the troops. Two years later he investigated plague in Hong Kong, in 1906 sanitation in Singapore, in 1908 plague and public health in West Africa, in 1913 plague and public health in East Africa. In 1913, too, he was a member of the commission on plague in West Africa. He reported on sanitation and plague in the mining districts of the Gold Coast in 1924 and five years later visited the copper mines of Northern Rhodesia. Much of his work was recorded in official reports and in treatises. Among the latter were A Treatise on Plague (1905), Maintenance of Health in the Tropics (1905), and The Principles of Hygiene as applied to Tropical and Sub-Tropical Climates (1908).

Simpson’s public work was rewarded by conferment of the C.M.G. in 1909 and a knighthood in 1923. He also received the Serbian Order of St. Sava in 1919 for services to Serbia during the War. He was Croonian Lecturer at the Royal College of Physicians in 1907 and president of the Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from 1919 to 1921. Simpson was a man of great industry and an inflexible purpose that sometimes led to clashes with his associates. He married in 1888 Isabella Mary Jane, daughter of George Jamieson, D.D., minister of St. Machar’s Cathedral, Old Aberdeen, and had one son and one daughter. He died at the Ross Institute.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1931; B.M.J., 1931; D.N.B., 1931-40, 812]

(Volume IV, page 414)

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