30 January 1890
We regret to announce that Sir William Gull died at half-past 12 yesterday at his residence, 74, Brook-street, London, from paralysis. Sir William was seized with a severe attack of paralysis just over two years ago while staying at Urrard, Killiecrankie, and never sufficiently recovered to resume his practice. On Monday morning, after breakfast, he pointed to his mouth as if unable to speak. His valet, who was in the room, did not quite understand what was amiss, but helped him into the sitting-room. Sir William then sat down on a chair and wrote on a piece of paper, "I have no speech." The family were at once summoned, and Sir William was soon after removed to bed, where he received every attendance from Dr. Hermann Weber, an old friend, Dr. Charles D. Hood, his regular medical attendant, and Dr. Acland, his son-in-law. The patient, however, soon lost consciousness, and lingered in this state until yesterday morning, when he quietly passed away in the presence of his family. The inquiries as to his state of health during the last two days have been unusually numerous, a constant stream of carriages drawing up at the door. The Prince of Wales was kept informed of Sir William's condition through Sir Francis Knollys.
Sir William Withey Gull was born at Thorpe-le-Soken, in Essex, in December, 1816, so that he had recently completed his 73d year, and, like many men who have risen to eminence, he was of humble origin. His father, a barge owner on the River Lea, was a tenant of Guy's Hospital, and received from the then treasurer, Mr. Benjamin Harrison, a presentation for his son to Christ's Hospital. After completing his education there, the future baronet took an engagement as usher in a school at Lewes; and, while he was so employed, a need arose for some one who wrote a good hand, and understood Latin, to prepare a new catalogue for the Museum of Guy's Hospital. The treasurer thought of young Gull, who accepted the position offered him, and he soon afterwards showed a desire to become a member of the medical profession. He entered as a pupil at Guy's in 1837, was a very zealous and distinguished student, and, when he had graduated as Bachelor of Medicine at the University of London, in 1841, the treasurer determined to secure his future services for the hospital. He was appointed assistant resident medical officer, and medical tutor, and afterwards resident superintendent of a small asylum for 20 insane women which formed part of Guy's. In 1843 he was appointed lecturer on natural philosophy, and, in 1846, on physiology and comparative anatomy. In the same year he took his degree as Doctor of Medicine, with honours, and in 1848 was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. In 1847 he became Fullerian Professor of Physiology at the Royal Institution, and, in 1848, he gave the Gulstonian lectures (on paralysis) before the Royal College of Physicians. He was appointed assistant physician to Guy's Hospital, and afterwards, in due course, physician and consulting physician. In 1856 he became Lecturer on Medicine, and held this office until 1867. He was Censor of his college for the years 1859-1861 and 1872-1873, and delivered the Harveian Oration in 1870. His first great step in practice was in connexion with the last illness of Bishop Blomfield, in 1857, and after this he rapidly rose in the estimation of the public until the time when, as Physician in Ordinary to the Prince of Wales, he took the chief direction of the treatment of his Royal Highness during his attack of typhoid fever at the close of 1871. In acknowledgment of his great services on that occasion, he was created a baronet in January, 1872, and Physician Extraordinary to the Queen, and was made Physician in Ordinary in 1887. In the autumn of the same year he was for the first time attacked by paralysis when in Scotland: and, although he rallied, and recovered to a great extent, he has not since been able to engage in practice.
In the course of Sir William Gull's long and honourable career, many distinctions of various kinds were bestowed upon him. He was made a D.C.L. of Oxford in 1868, a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1869, LL.D. of Cambridge in 1880, and of Edinburgh in 1884. He was a Crown member of the General Medical Council from 1871 to 1883, and representative of the University of London in the Council from 1886 until his illness in the following year.
Sir William Gull was not a large contributor to the literature of his profession, but what he did in this direction was work of a high order. Perhaps the best known of his writings was the report on cholera for the Royal College of Physicians, which he prepared conjointly with the late Dr. Baly. He was also the first to describe, under the name of "a cretinoid condition in the adult," the disease which has since received the name of myxdema.
Sir William Gull's success in practice was largely due to his minute attention to details, and to his unremitting care in the management of his patients. When the Prince of Wales had passed through the worst portion of his illness, The Times, on December 19, 1871, contained a letter from a correspondent who was enabled to express the opinion of the Royal Family, and who said:-
Sir W. Jenner would be the first to extol the exertions of the colleague who has earned from all at Sandringham what he valued probably only second to the approbation of his own conscience-the deepest gratitude. In Dr. Gull were combined energy that never tired, watchfulness that never flagged-nursing so tender, ministry so minute, that in his functions he seemed to combine the duties of physician, dresser, dispenser, valet, nurse-now arguing with the sick man in his delirium so softly and pleasantly that the parched lips opened to take the scanty nourishment on which depended the reserves of strength for the deadly fight when all else failed, now lifting the wasted body from bed to bed, now washing the worn frame with vinegar, with ever ready eye and ear and finger to mark any change and phase, to watch face and heart and pulse, and passing at times 12 or 14 hours at that bedside. And when that was over, or while it was going on-what a task for a physician!-to soothe with kindest and yet not too hopeful her whose trial was indeed great to bear, to give counsel against despair and yet not to justify confidence.
In 1848, while still a resident official at Guy's Hospital, Sir William married a daughter of Colonel Lacey, of Carlisle. Lady Gull and a son and daughter survive him. The son, Mr. William Cameron Gull, who inherits the title, is a barrister, and the daughter is married to Dr. Acland, of Brook-street, son of Sir Henry Acland.
The funeral will take place on Monday next at Thorpe-le-Soken, near Colchester, where Sir William's father and brother are buried; and a train conveying mourners will leave Liverpool-street Station at 10 o'clock.