Sir William Fergusson - Encyclopedia

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SIR WILLIAM FERGUSSON, Bart. (1808-1877), British surgeon, the son of James Fergusson of Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire, was born at Prestonpans, East Lothian, on the 10th of March 1808. After receiving his early education at Lochmaben and the high school of Edinburgh, he entered the university of Edinburgh with the view of studying law, but soon afterwards abandoned his intention and became a pupil of the anatomist Robert Knox (1791-1862), whose demonstrator he was appointed at the age of twenty. In 1836 he succeeded Robert Liston as surgeon to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and coming to London in 1840 as professor of surgery in King's College, and surgeon to King's College Hospital, he acquired a commanding position among the surgeons of the metropolis. He revived the operation for cleft-palate, which for many years had fallen into disrepute, and invented a special mouth-gag for the same. He also devised many other surgical instruments, chief among which, and still in use to-day, are his bone forceps, lion forceps and vaginal speculum. In 1866 he was created a baronet. He died in London on the 10th of February 1877. As a surgeon Fergusson's greatest merit is that of having introduced the practice of "conservative surgery," by which he meant the excision of a joint rather than the amputation of a limb. He made his diagnosis with almost intuitive certainty; as an operator he was characterized by self-possession in the most critical circumstances, by minute attention to details and by great refinement of touch, and he relied more on his mechanical dexterity than on complicated instruments. He was the author of The Progress of Anatomy and Surgery in the Nineteenth Century (1867), and of a System of Practical Surgery (1842), which went through several editions.

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