Lives of the fellows

William Selby (Sir) Church

b.4 December 1837 d.27 April 1928
BART(1901) KCB(1902) BM Oxon(1864) MA DM Hon DSc Oxon Hon DSc Viet Hon DCL Durh Hon LLD Glasg FRCP(1870) JP

William Church was born at Hatfield, the son of John Church, J.P, D.L, and his wife, Isabella, daughter of George Selby of Beal, Northumberland, whose family were hereditary Janitors of Berwick. At Harrow and University College, Oxford, he distinguished himself as a cricketer. He took his degree with first-class honours in natural science in 1860 and then obtained Lee’s readership in anatomy at Christ Church, which he held until 1869. He entered St. Bartholomew’s Hospital as a student in 1862 and proceeded to his B.M. degree two years later. He first held brief appointments at the Royal General Dispensary and the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Chest before being elected in 1867 assistant physician and lecturer on comparative anatomy at St. Bartholomew’s. In 1868 he became demonstrator of morbid anatomy and in 1875 full physician; he remained on the active staff till the year 1902.

Meanwhile, he had established for himself a reputation as one of his profession’s foremost administrators. From 1889 to 1899 he represented Oxford University on the General Medical Council, and from 1899 to 1905 he held office as President of the Royal College of Physicians, having already served as Censor and delivered, in 1895, the Harveian Oration. In 1900 he visited South Africa as a member of the Royal Commission sent out to investigate the treatment of sick and wounded soldiers. He was chairman of the executive committee of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund from its foundation in 1902 until 1923 and of the distribution committees of the King Edward VII Hospital Fund for London from 1903 to 1918. From 1907 to 1909 he acted as the first president of the Royal Society of Medicine, having taken a leading part, with Sir John MacAlister, in the amalgamation of medical societies which preceded its foundation. He was created a baronet in 1901 and a K.C.B. in 1902.

Although Church neither acquired nor sought a large consulting practice, he was widely respected as an able clinician and diagnostician. He edited his Hospital’s Reports from 1877 to 1893. He wrote an article on rheumatic fever for Allbutt’s System of Medicine but little else of note. He was a man of fine presence, if a trifle aweinspiring to students. He enjoyed country pursuits, particularly riding and shooting, and, on inheriting his father’s estate in 1872, seriously considered abandoning his profession in favour of a country life. Village cricket and the London Skating Club were among his other interests. He married in 1875 Sybil Constance, daughter of C. J. Bigge of Linden, Northumberland, and had two sons and a daughter. When he died at Hatfield in 1928, he was Senior Fellow on the College List.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1928; B.M.J., 1928; St. Bart.’s Hospital Reports, 1929, Ixii, 1; D.N.B., 1922-30, 185; Al.Oxon., I, 251]

(Volume IV, page 177)

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