Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Osborne, William

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OSBORNE, WILLIAM, M.D. (1736–1808), man-midwife, was born in London in 1736, and received his medical education at St. George's Hospital. He practised for some years as a surgeon, and was elected man-midwife to the lying-in hospital in Store Street, London. On 10 Oct. 1777 he obtained the degree of M.D. in the university of St. Andrews, and was admitted a licentiate in midwifery of the College of Physicians of London 22 Dec. 1783. He became colleague of Dr. Thomas Denman [q. v.] in an annual course of lectures on midwifery in 1772, and after 1783 lectured by himself for a time, and then with Dr. John Clarke (1761–1815) [q. v.] He states that he had educated more than twelve hundred practitioners in midwifery. In 1783 he published 'An Essay on laborious Parturition, in which the division of the Symphysis Pubis is particularly considered.' Sigault and other Frenchmen had advocated the use of this operation, and in England Dr. William Hunter (1718–1783) [q. v.] had expressed a favourable opinion on it. Osborne thought it useless and dangerous, and subsequent experience has so far confirmed his view that it is now never performed. In 1792 he published 'Essays on the Practice of Midwifery in natural and difficult labours,' which is merely an enlargement of his former book. He was strongly opposed to the Cæsarian section, and had some difference with Denman on the subject. Like most of the writers on midwifery of the hundred years preceding 1860, he quotes scriptural texts in the body of his works. The men-midwives, who became extinct about that period, usually claimed merit for some instrument invented by themselves, and he took pride in a modification of the obstetric forceps, which measured 11¼ inches in length and had a breadth between the blades of 2¾ inches. It is depicted in his second work. A second edition of this, which is believed to have been surreptitious (Catalogue of Library of Royal Medico-Chiruryical Society, ii. 143), appeared in 1795. He attained considerable wealth, and died at Old Park, near Dover, on 15 Aug. 1808. His portrait was painted by J. Hardy, and was engraved by J. Jones in 1791.

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. ii. 336; Osborne's Works.]

N. M.