Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, William Tyler

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SMITH, WILLIAM TYLER (1815–1873), obstetrician, son of humble parents, was born in the neighbourhood of Bristol on 10 April 1815. He was educated at the Bristol school of medicine, where he became prosector and post-mortem clerk. He graduated as bachelor of medicine at the university of London in 1840, and eight years later proceeded M.D. He became a licentiate of the College of Physicians, London, in 1850, and was elected to the fellowship in 1859. He began his career as a teacher in the private school of Mr. Dermott in Bedford Square, and became, despite an ungainly manner and bad delivery, an impressive and effective lecturer and speaker. When St. Mary's Hospital was founded, Smith was appointed obstetric physician and lecturer on obstetrics. He continued his teaching there for the allotted term of twenty years, and on retirement was elected consulting physician accoucheur. He held the office of examiner in obstetrics at the university of London for the usual term of five years. He resided, at first, at 7 Bolton Street, Piccadilly, thence removed to 7 Upper Grosvenor Street, and subsequently to No. 21 in the same street.

For several years he was largely dependent upon literary work, and his skill as a writer greatly aided his professional reputation and influence. He was long engaged upon the editorial staff of the ‘Lancet,’ at first only as an occasional contributor, but soon as one of its sub-editors. Among his contributions were valuable papers ‘On Quacks and Quackery,’ and a series of biographical sketches of the leading physicians and surgeons of the metropolis.

At the instance of his intimate friend Marshall Hall [q. v.], he studied the applications of the reflex function to obstetrics, with the result that the practice of obstetrics became, for the first time, guided by physiological principle. The results of his researches he reduced to the form of lectures, which he published week by week in the ‘Lancet.’ The earliest series he collected and issued separately as ‘Parturition, and the Principles and Practice of Obstetrics,’ 1849, a book which he dedicated to Hall. Some further lectures similarly contributed to the ‘Lancet’ formed the basis of his ‘Manual of Obstetrics,’ 1858. Both books take a place in obstetric literature only second to the writings of Thomas Denman the elder [q. v.], and are the more remarkable because at the time they were written Smith had no large practical experience. The ‘Manual of Obstetrics,’ although defective in some practical points, especially as regards the operations, immediately became, and long remained, the favourite text-book in this country.

Tyler Smith raised the position of obstetric medicine not only by his teaching, oral and written, but by the foundation of the Obstetrical Society of London. The subsequent success of the society was largely due to his contributions in memoirs and in debate and to his capacity for business. On the death of Edward Rigby (1804–1860) [q. v.] in December 1860, Smith was elected president.

Smith was associated with Thomas Wakley [q. v.] in the establishment of the New Equitable Life Assurance Society, one aim of which was to secure the just acknowledgment of the professional services of medical men. He was one of the first directors (cf. Sprigge, Life and Times of Thomas Wakley, 1897). When the society was united to the Briton Life Office, he became deputy chairman of the united companies. He conceived the idea of raising the ancient Cinqueport town of Seaford to the position of a sanatorium and fashionable watering-place. He purchased a considerable piece of land in and adjoining the town, and leased more from the corporation on the condition that he should secure it against the frequent submersion by the sea and build upon it. He was active in promoting the foundation and success of the convalescent hospital at Seaford, and was bailiff of the town in 1861, 1864, 1867, 1868, and 1870. He was magistrate for the town and port from 1861 to the time of his death at Richmond on Whit-Monday 1873. He was buried at Blatchington, near Seaford.

He married Tryphena, daughter of J. Yearsley, esq., of Southwick Park, near Tewkesbury, and had seven children, two of whom died in infancy. Engraved portraits of him are at St. Mary's Hospital and at the Obstetrical Society of London.

His chief works, apart from those mentioned above and numerous contributions to the ‘Medico-Chirurgical Transactions,’ ‘Obstetrical Transactions,’ and ‘Pathological Transactions,’ were: 1. ‘Scrofula: its Nature, Causes, and Treatment,’ 8vo, 1844. 2. ‘The Periodoscope, with its application to Obstetric Calculations in the Periodicities of the Sex,’ 8vo, 1848. 3. ‘Treatment of Sterility by Removal of Obstructions of the Fallopian Tubes.’ 4. ‘Pathology and Treatment of Leucorrhœa,’ 8vo, London, 1855.

[Lancet, 1873; Medical Times and Gazette, 1873; British Medical Journal, 1873; Churchill's Medical Directory; Brit. Mus. Cat.; private information.]

W. W. W.