Smellie, William (1697-1763) (DNB00)

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SMELLIE, WILLIAM, M.D. (1697–1763), man-midwife, son of Archibald Smellie and his wife, Sara Kennedy, was born in the town of Lanark in 1697, and was educated at its grammar school. Where he received medical instruction is unknown, but in 1720 he was engaged in practice in Lanark, then a town of about two thousand inhabitants, as a surgeon and apothecary. On 5 May 1733 he was admitted a member of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. He was a friend of John Gordon, Smollett's teacher, of Smollett himself, and of Dr. William Cullen [q. v.], who then lived at Hamilton. He settled in London in 1739, where he was aided by Dr. Alexander Stuart, physician to St. George's Hospital, near whom he resided in Pall Mall (Munk, Coll. of Phys. ii. 109), and attended the lectures of Dr. Frank Nicholls [q. v.] Before finally settling in practice he visited Paris, and attended lectures on midwifery there. On his return to London William Hunter (1718–1783) [q. v.], who had been a pupil of Smellie's friend Cullen, in July 1741 went to live with him. He began to teach midwifery at his house in 1741, using a model made of real bones covered with leather. His fee for a single course was three guineas, and his teaching is described by a pupil as ‘distinct, mechanical, and unreserved.’ He received the degree of M.D. from the University of Glasgow on 18 Feb. 1745. Dr. William Douglas attacked his practice of midwifery in two letters published in 1748, to which a former pupil of Smellie replied anonymously in ‘An Answer to a late Pamphlet,’ and received an answer in ‘A Second Letter to Dr. Smellie.’ In 1752 Smellie published ‘A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Midwifery,’ and in 1754 a ‘Collection of Cases and Observations in Midwifery,’ and ‘A Set of Anatomical Tables with Explanations,’ in folio. In 1764 a supplementary volume to his treatise on midwifery was published, entitled ‘A Collection of Preternatural Cases and Observations in Midwifery.’ He describes more exactly than any previous writer the mechanism of parturition and the curves followed by the infant during birth, and he shows the importance of exact measurement of the pelvis. A letter from Smollett to Dr. John Moore (1729–1802) [q. v.], dated Chelsea, 1 March 1754, shows that he had revised the composition of Smellie's second volume, and probably of the others (Facsimile of letter in Glaister, Life of Smellie, p. 118). Both Dr. John Moore and Dr. Denman were his pupils. His practice was large, and in 1759 he retired to Lanark and bought a small property called Kingsmuir. This, with other land which he had bought before, formed an estate called Smellom, on which he built a house, and there died on 5 March 1763. He was buried near the church of St. Kentigern in Lanark, where his grave is marked by a tombstone and inscription.

In 1724 he married Eupham Borland, who survived him, and died on 27 June 1769 without offspring. Dr. Matthews Duncan, who was learned in all the midwifery writers, always spoke of Smellie as one of the greatest.

[Dr. John Glaister's Dr. William Smellie, Glasgow, 1894; Alexander Duncan's Memorials of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Glasgow, 1896; Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, vol. lix.; McClintock's Preface to New Sydenham Society's edition of Smellie's Works, 3 vols. 1876–8.]

N. M.