Bowman, William (DNB01)

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BOWMAN, Sir WILLIAM (1816–1892), ophthalmic surgeon, third son of John Eddowes Bowman, a banker and fellow of the Linnsean Society, and Elizabeth, daughter of William Eddowes of Shrewsbury, was born at Nantwich on 20 July 1816. He was educated at Hazelwood school, near Birmingham, then kept by Thomas Wright Hill, father of Sir Rowland Hill. He left school about the age of sixteen, and was apprenticed to Joseph Hodgson, surgeon to the General Hospital, Birmingham, and in 1837 he came to London and joined the medical department of King's College. Here he served the office of physiological prosector, and after a visit in 1838 to the hospitals of Holland, Germany, Vienna, and Paris, he was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 10 June 1839. In the following October he was appointed junior demonstrator of anatomy and curator of the museum at King's College, and in 1840 he was elected assistant surgeon to King's College Hospital, being more particularly associated with Richard Partridge [q. v.] He became full surgeon to the hospital in 1856, and though the claims of private practice soon compelled him to resign this office he maintained his interest in the institution until he died. Elected professor of physiology and of general and morbid anatomy at King's College in 1848, he became an honorary fellow in 1855 and a member of the council in 1879. In 1846 he was appointed assistant surgeon to the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, Moorfields, becoming full surgeon in 1851, and retiring under an age limit in 1876.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1841, and in the following year he was awarded the royal medal of the society in recognition of his work upon the minute anatomy of the liver, and he afterwards served upon the council and as one of the vice-presidents. He was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 26 Aug. 1844, and in 1867 the degree of M.D. honoris causa was conferred upon him by the university of Dublin.

Bowman became the leading ophthalmic surgeon in London after the death of John Dalrymple (1804-1852) [q. v.], and for this position he was eminently fitted both by his knowledge and by his manual dexterity. The ophthalmoscope was devised by Helmholtz in 1851, and Bowman was among the first to become expert in its use. In 1857 he employed and advocated strongly von Graefe's treatment of glaucoma by iridectomy, and he was busy during the years 1864 and 1865 with new methods of treating cases of detached retina and cataract. He suggested improvements in the treatment of epiphora, and the probes used in this affection still bear his name. In 1880 he was elected the first president of the Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom, a post he retained for three years. His services were so highly valued that the society has since established an annual oration in his honour called the 'Bowman Lecture.' In 1884 he was created a baronet.

Bowman took a wide interest in the welfare of his hospital patients, and in conjunction with Robert Bentley Todd (1809–1860) [q. v.] and others he established the St. John's House and Sisterhood, an institution which provided trained nurses for the sick and poor. A few years later he was able to aid Miss Nightingale by sending out trained nurses to the East during the Crimean war, and he remained a member of the Nightingale fund until his death.

Bowman's work divides itself sharply into two periods — one of pure scientific investigation, the other concerned with the practice of ophthalmic surgery. His scientific and literary work was chiefly carried out between the years 1839-42, and included his original investigations on 'The Structure of Striated Muscle,' read before the Royal Society in 1840-1 on 'The Structure of the Mucous Membrane of the Alimentary Canal,' which appeared in Dr. Robert Bentley Todd's illustrated 'Cyclopædia of Anatomy and Physiology;' and on 'The Structure of the Kidney,' which was read before the Royal Society in June 1842. In 1839 he was associated with Todd in the production of his cyclopaedia (1836-59, 5 vols.) He also co-operated with Todd in producing 'Anatomy and Physiology of Man,' the first physiological work in which histology was given a place (1843-56). Both works contain numerous illustrations by Bowman, whose drawings were made directly upon the block without the intervention of an artist.

The first important communication made by Bowman in connection with ophthalmic surgery was a paper which has since become classical. It was read before the British Association for the Advancement of Science at the Oxford meeting in 1847, and was entitled,' On some Points in the Anatomy of the Eye, chiefly in reference to the Power of Adjustment.' In this paper he demonstrated simultaneously with, but independently of, Ernst Wilhelm Bruecke (1819-1892), the structure and function of the ciliary muscle.

Bowman died at Joldwynds, near Dorking, on 29 March 1892, and is buried in the neighbouring churchyard of Holmbury St. Mary. He married, on 28 Dec. 1842, Harriet, fifth daughter of Thomas Paget of Leicester, by whom he had seven children. His widow died at Joldwynds on 25 Oct. 1900. He was succeeded in the title by his eldest son, Sir Paget Bowman.

A kitcat portrait of Bowman was painted by Mr. G. F. Watts, R.A. A photograph of this picture is reproduced as a frontispiece to the 'Collected Papers,' vol.i. A presentation portrait by Mr. W. W. Ouless, R.A., was painted in 1889 for the Bowman Testimonial Fund, and engraved by J. Clother Webb.

Sir William Bowman was the father of general anatomy in England, and the brilliant results of his investigations into the structure of the eye, of the kidney, and of the striped muscles were of themselves sufficient to establish a reputation of the highest order. But Bowman had other and equal claims to distinction, for his practical gifts were as great and as fruitful as his scientific attainments. As an ophthalmic surgeon he occupied a unique position. Unrivalled in his knowledge of the ocular structures, in his experience and in his operative skill, in consultation he was gentle, patient, and thoughtful; alive to and quickly seizing the salient points of every case, he was yet very reserved, giving his opinion in a few words, but decisively both as to forecast and treatment.

Bowman's works are: 1. 'Lectures . . . on the Eye,' London, 1849, 8vo. 2. 'The Collected Papers of Sir William Bowman, bart., F.R.S., edited for the Committee of the " Bowman Testimonial Fund " by J. Burdon-Sanderson, M.D., and J. W. Hulke,' London, 1892, 2 vols. 4to. Bowman took an active interest in the preparation of these volumes. He revised every proof sheet with his own hands, and added frequent notes.

[Personal knowledge; prefatory memoir by Mr. Henry Power in the Collected Papers, vol. i.; obituary notices in the Trans. Med. and Chir. Soc. 1893, vol. lxxvi., and Proc. of the Royal See. 1893, vol. Hi.]

D’A. P.