Lives of the fellows

John (Sir) Williams

b.6 November 1840 d.24 May 1926
GCVO(1911) KCVO(1902) MD Lond Hon LLD Edin Glasg Aberd Hon DSc Wales MRCS LSA FRCP(1879)

John Williams was born at Blaenlynnant, Carmarthenshire, the third son of David Williams, Congregational minister and farmer. He went to the Normal College, Swansea, for his schooling and then served a short apprenticeship with a Swansea doctor. He studied medicine at University College, London, and, after qualifying in 1865, obtained junior appointments at University College Hospital, the Brompton Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children. A few years of general practice at Swansea intervened before he was persuaded to apply for the post of assistant obstetric physician to University College Hospital in 1872. His success was now assured. He became obstetric physician in 1883 and professor of obstetric medicine in 1886 and was appointed to the staffs of the Royal Waterloo Hospital for Women and Children and the General Lying-In Hospital. A skilful but conservative surgeon in his own field, whose ability was recognised by Matthews Duncan and Jenner, he was made Physician-Accoucheur to Princess Beatrice of Battenberg and the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary), and presided over the Obstetrical Society in 1887-88.

Early in his career Williams had begun to collect Welsh books and manuscripts, and on retiring to Carmarthenshire in 1903—ten years after resigning his hospital appointments—he devoted himself wholeheartedly to founding a National Library of Wales. When this project was realised in 1906, his collection formed an integral part of the Library and he himself was chosen as its first president. He lived henceforward at Aberystwyth and became vice-president, and, in 1913, president, of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Among the honours received by Williams were a baronetcy in 1894, after the birth of the future King Edward VIII, and the K.C.V.O. in 1902; he was raised to G.C.V.O. on the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone of the National Library’s permanent building in 1911. He held office as high sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1909. He was an outspoken man whose sterling character was admired by Queen Victoria, a generous host, and a keen angler. He married in 1872 Mary, daughter of Richard Hughes of Ynistawe, but had no children. He died at Aberystwyth.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1926; B.M.J., 1926; Presidential Address to R.C.P., 1927, 12]

(Volume IV, page 269)

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