Nottingham Hospitals History

William Henry Ransom


Born, 19th November, 1823.  Died, 16th April, 1907.

William Henry Ransom was born in Cromer in 1823 and educated at a private school at Norwich, Dr. Ransom was, at the age of 16, apprenticed in the old-fashioned way for four years to a doctor at King’s Lynn. He came of an old seafaring family, his father being the captain of a ship of which he was also the owner; his mother was the daughter of a clergyman. In 1834 he became a student at University College, London, and during his stay there gained several gold medals both at the College at University, where he graduated in 1848, taking the degree of M.D. in 1850. At University College Ransom had Huxley as a fellow student and it is interesting to note that he was the indirect means of influencing Huxley’s career. In a letter to Herbert Spencer, who was also a friend of Dr. Ransom, Huxley on June 1st, 1886, wrote:-

 “You will be quite taken aback at getting a proof from me with so few criticisms, but even I am not so perverse as to think that I can improve your own story of your life. I notice a curious thing. If Ransom had not overworked himself, I should probably not be writing this letter, for if he had worked less hard I might have been first and he second at the examination at the University of London in 1845, in which case I should   have, obtained the exhibition, should not have gone into the navy, and should  have   forsaken science for practice.”

During 1848 and 1849 Dr. Ransom pursued his studies on the continent, first in Germany and then in France, obtaining a competent knowledge of the language of each country which enabled him to follow the medical and scientific literature of the continent. Whilst living abroad he also made the acquaintance of many leading figures in the political and medical world. In 1869 Dr. Ransom was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London and subsequently became a Fellow of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society and of the University College.

Dr. Ransom settled in Nottingham in 1850 and took the house in Low Pavement now occupied by his son Dr. W. B. Ransom. During the period of waiting for patients he did a good deal of laboratory work and had a couple of rooms fitted up for chemical and physiological study. Amongst the subjects he took up was the early development of ova of fish, the result of his investigations being published in the Royal Society’s Proceedings of 1867 and in 1870 he was elected Fellow of the Society. Dr. Ransom took a prominent part in the first meeting of the British Association in Nottingham in 1866.

In the year 1892, when the British Medical Association held its Annual Meeting in Nottingham, Dr. Ransom was President of the Section of Medicine, and in his address alluded to the subject of vegetable morbid growths and their relation to human pathology - a subject he developed much more widely during the last few years of  his life. In the course of a strenuous life Dr. Ransom found time to devote to geology and helped to explore the caves of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. In the course of his investigations he discovered the jawbone of the lynx believed to be the only one found in England and this probably unique specimen is now in the Nottingham Natural History Museum.

The year 1854 saw his election as physician to the General Hospital, in succession to Dr. Gill, a position he retained up to 1890 when he retired and was appointed an honorary consulting physician, being succeeded by his son, Dr. W. B. Ransom.

It is, after all, as a sound and successful consulting physician of upwards of forty years that Dr. Ransom will be best remembered both by his patients and by the numerous members of the medical profession, who sought his advice in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, and the neighbouring counties. Pre-eminent in diagnosis, his self reliance and confidence begat confidence to his patients. Sometimes impatient and occasionally brusque, especially in his early years, he was one of the kindest and most genial of men. Always attracted by the scientific side of medicine, no trouble or pains were too great to enable him to arrive at a correct diagnosis, and full use was made of the aids to diagnosis afforded by the collateral sciences. Several generations of practitioners have testified to his thorough straightforwardness  in his relations both with doctor and patient. Like most men of unbounded energy combined with unusual mental powers, he naturally took the lead in whatever position he was placed. The enlargement and remodelling of the General Hospital in the late 1870’s was mainly directed by his wide knowledge and experience, and resulted in a building in which ornament was subordinated to the principles of hospital hygiene. It is no little credit to his foresight and to his appreciation of the importance of keeping in the van of sanitary progress that the wards he designed remain after thirty years well abreast of modern requirements. Indeed in all matters connected with the General Hospital he remained the leading and moving spirit for many years.

In 1871, when encyclopedias and systems of medicine were not so numerous as at the present day, Dr. Ransom wrote the article “Intestinal Worms” for the third volume of Dr. Russell Reynolds System of Medicine.

In his early professional days he became sceptical about the truth of the opinion then so widely held both by the profession and by the public that cold was the general cause of many diseases; and in 1887 he published a paper on “Cold as the Cause of Disease,” in which he pointed out that such a doctrine was a gross exaggeration. In recent years the part played by bacteria in the cause of pneumonia and the success of open air treatment of consumption have done much to bring round the profession to his point of view. In his own habits and in his treatment of his patients he illustrated the soundness of his views. He was seldom seen wearing an overcoat and he had trained himself to be remarkably indifferent to the discomforts of even severe cold.

The death from scarlet fever of two of his children in 1870 was a severe blow but was received in a characteristic spirit. It stimulated him to study the subject of infection and led him to devise a hot-air disinfecting stove, heated by gas, which was widely used in this country for many years until superseded by steam.

Dr. Ransom was one of the first to join the Robin Hood Rifles in 1859, and he continued as a private in the regiment for fifteen years. Side by side with him on that first parade was the late Right Honorable A. J. Mundella. In the early 1860’s Dr. Ransom became a keen politician throwing his whole hearted energies on the side of Liberalism. In the candidature of the late Samuel Morley, Lord Amberley, and the Honorable Auberon Herbert, Dr. Ransom took a prominent part. He appeared on the hustings in the market place to nominate Viscount Amberley, and made a strong speech in support of reform. Elections in those days were riotous affairs, and an echo of what happened is contained in his concluding sentence of regret at not being able to make himself better heard. Twenty years later, at the time of the Home Rule split, Dr. Ransom became a Unionist although he took no prominent part in political warfare.

Dr. Ransom was much interested in education and had some share in the foundation of the Nottingham Literary and Philosophic Society, now defunct. He took an active part in the founding and early management of the Nottingham University College and was long on the governing body of that institution and of the High School.

About Christmas last, (1906) Dr. Ransom started a new book which was to be a small and more popular treatise on the natural history of galls, a subject which had interested him for a great many years, and the pursuit of which has enlivened many a weekend and summer holiday spent among the beautiful woodlands of Belvior and Edensor

In an obituary to Dr. Ransom it was said:- “No account of the late Dr. Ransom could be complete which failed to record the remarkable happiness of his disposition - he was always bright, cheerful and contented. In 1860 Dr. Ransom married Miss Elizabeth Bramwell, sister of an old college friend, Dr. Charles Bramwell of Nottingham, a member of a well-known Northumberland family, from whom Dr. Byrom Bramwell is also descended.” Mrs. Ransom died eighteen years  before Dr. Ransom of whom three sons survived - namely, Dr. W. B. Ransom, Senior Physician to the General Hospital; Mr.  D’Oyley Ransom, solicitor of Nottingham; and Mr. Herbert Ransom, who is an engineer in London.

From A History of the General Hospital, Near Nottingham.

By Frank H. Jacob.

Pages, 200, 201, 202 & 203.