Coulson, William (DNB00)

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COULSON, WILLIAM (1802–1877), surgeon, younger son of Thomas Coulson, master painter in Devonport dockyard, was born at Penzance in 1802. Walter Coulson [q. v.] was an elder brother. His father was an intimate friend of Sir Humphry Davy; his mother was Catherine Borlase. After receiving some classical education at the local grammar school, Coulson spent two years in Brittany (1816–18), and became proficient in the French language and literature. Having first been apprenticed to a Penzance surgeon, he entered as a pupil at Grainger's School of Anatomy in the Borough, and attended St. Thomas's Hospital, where he became dresser to Tyrrell. Here, about the time when the ‘Lancet’ was first published in 1823, Coulson attracted Mr. Wakley's attention, and was at once accepted as a contributor, and afterwards regularly engaged on the staff of the ‘Lancet.’ From 1824 to 1826 he studied in Berlin, supplying the ‘Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal’ with foreign correspondence, and making the friendship of the poet Campbell under circumstances highly honourable to both (see Campbell's Life by Beattie, ii. 448). After some months' stay in Paris, Coulson returned to London and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons on 26 Sept. 1826. He at once joined in the establishment of the Aldersgate Street School of Medicine with Tyrrell, Lawrence, and others, and acted for three years as demonstrator of anatomy. At the same time he superintended the foreign department of the ‘Lancet,’ and made many translations from foreign works. In 1828 he was elected surgeon to the Aldersgate Street Dispensary, and in 1830 consulting surgeon to the City of London Lying-in Hospital. His investigations on puerperal affections of the joints in connection with the latter did much to improve the knowledge of their nature and pathology. They were published in the second edition of his work on ‘Diseases of the Hip Joint.’ In 1832 he, with his colleagues, resigned his connection with the Aldersgate Dispensary in consequence of the committee maintaining the practice of ‘virtually putting up for sale all the most efficient offices of the charity’ (Clutterbuck, Memoir of G. Birkbeck, M.D., 1842, p. 9; Lancet, ii. 1832–3, 477, 790, 821). In the same year he joined the medical board of the Royal Sea-bathing Infirmary at Margate, of which he long continued an active member. In 1833 he failed to secure election to an assistant-surgeoncy at the London Hospital, being beaten by Mr. T. B. Curling. Coulson's practice rapidly increased with his various publications, which, commencing in 1827 with a translation and notes to Milne-Edwards's ‘Surgical Anatomy,’ and a second edition of Lawrence's translation of Blumenbach's ‘Comparative Anatomy,’ became more and more original in their character, and culminated in those on the bladder and lithotrity. He was also a valued contributor and adviser in connection with the cyclopædia and other publications of the Useful Knowledge Society (see C. Knight, Passages of a Working Life, cited below). He removed from his early residence in Charterhouse Square to a house in Frederick's Place, Old Jewry, where he commanded for many years perhaps the largest city practice. He was elected among the first batch of fellows of the College of Surgeons in 1843, became a member of the council in 1851, and in 1861 delivered the Hunterian oration. When St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington, was established, Coulson was elected senior surgeon. Besides being a specialist and successful operator in diseases of the bladder, Coulson undertook a large proportion of more strictly medical cases. Combining successful practice with good finance, and the inheritance of his brother Walter's fortune, he accumulated one of the largest fortunes ever made in practice, viz. a quarter of a million. He married in 1840 Miss Maria Bartram, notable for her skill in painting as well as her attractive manners and great intelligence. She died on 4 Jan. 1876, and was followed by her husband on 5 May 1877.

Coulson was noteworthy for more than his surgical skill. A liberal, a disciple of Carlyle, Maurice, and Stuart Mill; a friend of Barham, Francis Newman, and other leading literary men; of sufficient individuality among such men to leave a distinct impress, ‘he had large subjective powers, and ruled in the circle in which he moved. Possessing an inflexible will and indomitable perseverance, he was occasionally rigid, stern, and intolerant. His active sympathy was easily aroused, and his efforts to relieve the oppressed never abated. Rest to him was little more than a myth’ (Lancet, 19 May 1877). He was marked by a strong belief in individuality, in duty, and in the fulfilment of promises. He was tall and vigorous-looking, his face late in life showing deep furrows along the sides of the mouth and around the chin. Coulson's principal works are: 1. ‘On Deformities of the Chest,’ 1836; 2nd edit. 1837, enlarged, with numerous plates. 2. ‘On Diseases of the Hip Joint,’ 4to, 1837; 2nd edit. 8vo, 1841. 3. ‘On Diseases of the Bladder and Prostate Gland,’ 8vo, 1838; 2nd edit. enlarged, with plates, 1840; 6th edit. 1865. 4. ‘On Lithotrity and Lithotomy,’ 8vo, 1853. 5. ‘Lectures on Diseases of the Joints,’ 8vo, 1854. Coulson also contributed the articles ‘Lithotomy’ and ‘Lithotrity’ to Cooper's ‘Practical Surgery,’ edited by Lane (1861–1872), and wrote for W. B. Costello's ‘Cyclopædia of Practical Surgery,’ 1841–3.

[Medical Circular, 1853, with portrait, ii. 329–32, 349–51; Lancet, 1877, i. 740–2; Cornish Telegraph, 9 March 1864, p. 3; Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, i. 95, iii. 1139, Life of R. H. Barham, 1870, ii. 205–6, 220; Beattie's Life of T. Campbell, 1849, ii. 448–52; Charles Knight's Passages of a Working Life, 1873, ii. 129.]

G. T. B.