The life of a Sheffielder who was a pioneer of medicine to help the city’s poor and sick is recounted in a new book that also recounts how he almost drowned at sea.
Anatomising Sheffield has been written by Anthony Jackson, a great-great-grandson of the subject of his book, who lives in Norwich.
The book identifies William Jackson as one of the key figures of medicine in early 19th-century Sheffield, alongside others such as surgeon Wilson Overend.
The author notes: “It was the period that saw the establishment of the Sheffield Medical School which is regarded as the founding institution of the University of Sheffield”.
The city was home to several societies that studied various aspects of science and philosophy during the 18th and 19th centuries.
William Jackson served as curator of Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society museum.
He was interested in archaeology and lectured on his findings.
William’s early medical training took place in 1805 as an apprentice to Charles Hawkley Webb, chief surgeon at Sheffield General Infirmary.
The infirmary opened in 1797 to give medical help to the city’s poor. William assisted in setting bones, operations and amputations, as well as autopsies.
He continued his training at St George’s Hospital, London and at Trinity College, Dublin.
The book includes an amazing letter that William wrote to his parents telling them how he survived a shipwreck off the coast of Wales on his journey to Ireland in October 1810.
He wrote about having to swim for it: “This scene is too dismal to reflect upon, some of us were washed overboard by waves, others sank in the water through fatigue.”
Undeterred, he managed to complete his journey and took up his studies, qualifying in 1812.
William returned to Sheffield and became a general surgeon who specialised in obstetric medicine, relating to childbirth.
In 1815, aged 25, he had a surgery in Bank Street at the edge of the city centre. He also worked from Paradise Square.
He later became professor of anatomy at Sheffield Medical School, lecturing for many years alongside his practice, and was a founding fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1843.
His family were originally from Bradfield and many relatives, including William’s father Abraham, are buried in St Nicholas churchyard in High Bradfield.
His grandfather Benjamin was an overseer for the poor, distributing relief to the poor and needy of the parish.
William was born in the Lake District, but his family moved back to South Yorkshire in 1804.
He was among the senior medical professionals who set up the Sheffield Medical School, initially known as the Sheffield Medical Institution.
A meeting took place in Sheffield in February 1828, chaired by William Jackson, which agreed to establish the institution with the purpose of “the delivery of professional lectures, to be accompanied with scientific demonstrations and experiments on Surgery and Materia Medica”’. William Jackson became one of the proprietors.
He also helped to found the Sheffield Royal Hospital - known initially as the Sheffield Dispensary - in 1832, helping poor families to get healthcare.
His 1867 obituary in the Sheffield newspapers said: “It is the opinion of those who knew him best during the zenith of his career that there perhaps never was a man who was in all the departments of his art as a whole his superior; as a medical practitioner in sickness, and operator in surgery; and an obstetrician in its most serious aspects.”
Anatomising Sheffield is available from Anthony for £10. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01603 746493.