Clarke, William Fairlie (DNB00)

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CLARKE, WILLIAM FAIRLIE, M.D. (1833–1884), medical and surgical writer, was born in 1833 at Calcutta. His father was an officer in the Bengal civil service, and died when Clarke was an infant. He was educated first at the High School at Edinburgh, went to Rugby at the age of fifteen, and to Christ Church, Oxford, in October 1852. After taking his B.A. degree in 1856 he returned to Edinburgh, with the intention of studying for the bar; but finding medicine more to his taste, he gave up the law, and in October 1858 he entered as a medical student at King's College, London. After graduating M.A. and M.B. at Oxford in 1862, and obtaining the fellowship of the College of Surgeons in the following year, he commenced practice in London as a pure surgeon. He held several public appointments, the most important being the assistant-surgeoncy at Charing Cross Hospital, which he obtained in 1871. In 1866 he wrote a ‘Manual of the Practice of Surgery,’ which went through three editions; and in 1873 he published his principal surgical work, ‘A Treatise on the Diseases of the Tongue,’ a valuable monograph on a subject which he had made his special study. Besides various other papers and articles intimately connected with the practice of his profession, he also wrote on the kindred subjects of the medical charities of London, the abuse of the out-patient system at hospitals, provident dispensaries, the temperance question, and especially medical missions. Early in life, shortly before he left Rugby, he had been brought to see the importance of religion, and this conviction was the ruling principle of the remainder of his life. In 1870 he had been most happily married to a lady of cultivated tastes, and of entire sympathy with his philanthropic pursuits and his religious convictions, and who, with four sons, survived him. London, where he had so many useful objects in hand and in view, would have appeared to be the proper place for such a man. But his income as a pure surgeon did not keep pace with the requirements of an increasing family, and in 1876 he determined to leave London and establish himself in general practice in the country. Accordingly he took his M.D. degree at Oxford, and removed to Southborough, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, where he passed the remainder of his life, carefully attending to his patients, and at the same time taking an active part in all local affairs that were calculated to benefit his poorer brethren. In 1881 he had a severe and tedious attack of typhoid fever, from the effects of which he never completely recovered, though he was able to carry on his work almost as usual. In the early part of 1884 symptoms of some obscure mischief of the brain began to develope themselves, which compelled him to leave home, and of which he died at Bonchurch in the Isle of Wight, in his fifty-first year, on 8 May. He was buried at Elvington, near York, by his mother's grave; but a drinking fountain has been erected by subscription to his memory at Southborough. In London also his name is perpetuated by the ‘Fairlie Clarke Conversazione,’ an annual meeting for medical students, begun by himself some years before his death, and continued, under the above name, by the Medical Missionary Association. His portrait appears in a photographic picture published 1876(?) entitled ‘Leaders in Medicine and Surgery.’

[A small volume, edited by E. A. W., containing his ‘Life and Letters, Hospital Sketches, and Addresses,’ was published in 1885, and has been used in the preceding notice. See also Dr. George Johnson's address at the Med.-Chir. Soc. 1885; and a notice in the Brit. Med. Journ., 17 May 1884.]

W. A. G.