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Wilson, Sir William James Erasmus

WILSON, SIR WILLIAM JAMES ERASMUS, generally known as Sir ERASMUS WILSON (1809-1884), British surgeon and philanthropist, was born in London on the 25th of November 1809, studied at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, and at Aberdeen, and early in life became known as a skilful operator and dissector. It was his sympathy with the poor of London and a suggestion from Thomas Wakley of the Lancet, of which Wilson acted for a time as sub-editor, which first led him to take up skin diseases as a special study. The horrible cases of scrofula, anaemia and blood-poisoning which he saw made him set to work to alleviate the sufferings of persons so afflicted, and he quickly established a reputation for treating this class of patient. It was said that he cured the rich by ordering them to give up luxuries; the poor, by prescribing for them proper nourishment, which was often provided out of his own pocket. In the opinion of one of his biographers, we owe to Wilson in great measure the habit of the daily bath, and he helped very much to bring the Turkish bath into use in Great Britain. He wrote much upon the diseases which specially occupied his attention, and his books, A Healthy Skin and Student's Book of Diseases of the Skin, though they were not received without criticism at the time of their appearance, long remained textbooks of their subject. He visited the East in order to study leprosy, Switzerland that he might investigate the causes of goitre, and Italy with the purpose of adding to his knowledge of the skin diseases affecting an ill-nourished peasantry. He made a large fortune by his successful practice and by skilful investments, and, since he had no family, he devoted a great deal of his money to charitable and educational purposes. He founded in 1869 the chair and museum of dermatology in the Royal College of Surgeons, of which he was chosen president in 1881, and which just before his death awarded him its honorary gold medal, founded in 1800 and only six times previously awarded. He also founded a professorship of pathology at Aberdeen University. After the death of his wife the bulk of his property, some 200,000, went to the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1878 he earned the thanks of the nation, upon different grounds, by defraying the expense of bringing the Egyptian obelisk called Cleopatra's Needle from Alexandria to London, where it was erected on the Thames Embankment. The British government had not thought it worth the expense of transportation. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1881, and died at Westgate-on-Sea on the yth of August 1884.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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