Nottingham Hospitals Archives 2011
NOTTINGHAM’S EMINENT SURGEONS AND PHYSICIANS
WILLIAM BRAMWELL RANSOM
President of the Nottingham Medico-Chirurgical Society
Born, 5th September, 1861. Died, 9th December, 1909.
B.Sc., M.D. London. M.A. Cambridge, F.R.C.P. (1898).
William Ransom was born at Nottingham, the eldest son of W.H. Ransom, F.R.C.P., by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Dr. John William Bramwell of North Shields. From Cheltenham College he entered University College, London, where he proceeded to the degree of B.Sc. in 1882. Two years earlier he had become an undergraduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, and he graduated there as B.A., with first-class honours in natural sciences, in 1883. He was then sent by the University to work in the zoological stations in Naples and at Roscoff in Brittany, and was elected a fellow of his College on his return in 1886. He now completed his medical studies at University College, London, winning two Fellows medals for clinical medicine and graduating as M.B. in 1888. A year's postgraduate work in London, Vienna and Halle, and the tenure of usual house appointments in University College Hospital preceded his return in 1890 to Nottingham, where he took his father's place as physician to the General Hospital. Pulmonary tuberculosis was the principal interest of his remaining years although he was physician of all-round ability. He journeyed to Berlin to obtain a supply of tuberculin, newly discovered by Koch, and demonstrated its effects in the wards of the General Hospital. He helped to found the Sherwood Forest Sanatorium and served on its consulting staff. Ransom married in 1898 an daughter of George Fowler of Basford Hall, and had three children. By the irony of fate he himself fell victim to the disease and died at the relatively early age of forty-eight.
Taken from the Lives of the fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, pages 405 to 406. Compiled by G.H. Brown, M.A., B.Litt., 1955.
“The British Medical Journal, December 18, 1909”
William Bramwell Ransom M.A., M.D., (Cambridge) B.Sc. (London) F.R.C.P.
(Senior Physician to the Nottingham General Hospital; Physician to the Sherwood Forest Sanatorium)
The name Ransom, father and son, is not only a household word in Nottingham but is widely known in the medical world outside the city. Dr. William Bramwell Ransom, the subject of this memoir, commenced practice in the city of his birth in 1890 and shortly afterwards was appointed Physician to the Nottingham General Hospital on the resignation of his father. Only two and a half years have elapsed since Dr. W. H. Ransom passed away full of years and honours, and now on December 9th, 1909, his no less gifted son has been called from his unfinished work in the early age of 48, deeply mourned by a large circle of friends and patients.
Educated in the most liberal manner for the high calling he was destined to pursue, Dr. Ransom already manifested in his boyhood and as a pupil at Cheltenham College those brilliant gifts, so conspicuous in after life, which education can foster but cannot create. From Cheltenham at the age of 17 he proceeded to his father’s old school, University College, London. In 1882 being then 21, he headed the list of physiology honours at the final B.Sc. London, carrying off the university scholarship and medal. He had already entered in 1880, at Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 1883 graduated B.A., first Class in the Natural Science Tripos. On account of his great interest in physiology he was sent by the University to do original work at the Zoological Station at Naples, and at a similar institution at Roscoff in Brittany. As a result of this work, he published articles on the “Cardiac Rhythm of Invertebrata;” “The Influence of Glycerine on the Liver” (Journal of Physiology, volumes 5 and 7); “The Spinal and Visceral Nerves of Cyclostomata,” and on other subjects.
In 1886 he was elected Fellow of Trinity College and having returned to University College to study medicine, he gained two Fellows medals for clinical medicine, the Liston Medal for pathology and graduated M.B. in 1889. In the following year he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians. The same college recognized his eminent abilities by electing him to the Fellowship in 1898.
No sooner had Ransom settled in Nottingham than it was not only among the medical profession, but by everyone with whom he came in contact that it was obvious that a new power had arisen in the place. On the boards of charities and other communities he once showed an insight into difficult problems which astonished men of years and experience. Whenever he spoke he was attentively listened to and his weighty words were always delivered with grace of style, and now without a fund of ready humour. Under these circumstances it cannot be wondered that he speedily became the leading medical consultant in the city and county. He early recognized that purely medical practices could not be expected to be as large as formerly on account of the ever-increasing incursions of surgery; nevertheless he was always an exceedingly busy and over worked man. He was invariably kind and sympathetic to patients and courteous to his brethren. With his infallible memory and penetrating insight the diagnosis of a difficult case appeared an instinct with him. Yet he had none of the arrogance of intellect. He must have seen something of the mistakes of others, yet he never did or said anything calculated to disturb the relations of doctor and patient. “I never wish to meet a nicer of fairer man in consultation”- this is not a mere commonplace of the nil nisi bonum type, but has been said scores of times during his lifetime.
Shortly after he commenced practice Dr. Koch announced the discovery of tuberculin. Ransom’s untiring energy was shown by his making a special journey to Berlin to obtain first hand a supply of the new specific. Its effects were afterwards demonstrated to the medical profession in the wards of the General Hospital by himself and other colleagues. For seventeen years, until finally struck down by illness, he was a constant and devoted servant of that institution. For years he spent the whole of his Sunday mornings in the wards, besides numerous visits on week days; add to this five or more long hours for out patients on Friday afternoons, and some conception can be formed of the work he forced himself to do instead of allowing some space for rest and recreation. He never had a strong physique and the numerous amounts of work he got through was a continual triumph of mind over matter. He was not only keen on acquiring, but generous in imparting knowledge. On his Sunday morning visits he was frequently accompanied by a small but earnest band of men, who were never looked on as intruders but received with kindly welcome and to them he spoke with ungrudging patience. For years he poured out the treasures of his well stored mind in his lectures to nurses. No matter what the occasion, he always gave his best - nihil tetigit quod non ornavit. His relations with his honorary colleagues and with the resident medical and nursing staff were always most cordial. In addition to the General Hospital he was also a member of the honorary staff of the Nottingham and Notts. Convalescent Homes, to which institutions he rendered valuable service by advising on medical, hygienic, and administrative matters.
In 1892 when the British Medical Association met in Nottingham, W. B. Ransom was Secretary of the Section of Medicine his father being President. He also took part in the Leicester meeting in 1905. When the British Association for the Advancement of Science met in Nottingham in 1893, Ransom was one of the Secretaries. He was Governor of the Nottingham High School, and a member of the Council of the Nottingham University College. He was President of the Nottingham Medico-Chirurgical Society during the session 1896-7, and delivered a masterly address on “Immunity” afterwards published in a small volume. He was a frequent contributor of valuable clinical and pathological material to the society. Year after year he delivered set addresses and however long these might be, he had the happy art of keeping his audience interested to the end. No matter what the subject - “Should Milk be Boiled,” “The Prevention of Tuberculosis,” “Pernicious Anaemia,” “Experiments on Animals,” “Infantilism,” “Modern Views on the Nervous System,” and many others, - all were treated in the same exhaustive manner. When he opened a discussion on “Diet,” on December 5th, 1906, there seemed to be no diminution in the familiar energy of manner or depth and facility of treatment, yet that was the last occasion on which his voice was to be heard within the walls so often the silent witnesses of his eloquence.
Ransom threw himself heart and soul into the question of open air treatment for Phthisis, which began to be strongly advocated in Great Britain about the year 1898. By his untiring labours and his great enthusiasm a Society for the Prevention of Consumption was formed. A last monument to those labours remains in the form of the Sherwood Forest Sanatorium (Ransom Sanatorium). By his own generous and self-sacrificing efforts a building fund of over £5,000 was collected, a site having been provided by the Generosity of the Duke of Portland. It is no easy matter in these days to start a new medical charity, and it is not too much to say that this Sanatorium owes its existence to the unstinted efforts of Dr. Ransom in arousing the necessary enthusiasm. No other of his contemporaries, medical or lay, possessed the unique combination of gifts which alone could make such an effort successful. The sanatorium was opened in 1901 for 14 patients, all of the poorer class. This beneficent work has been brought within reach of an ever increasing number of patients, 32 of whom are now accommodated, while its effects are reinforced by the active efforts of a zealous after care committee.
Ransom contributed numerous articles to medical literature, many being of permanent value. In addition to those already referred to the following may be mentioned:- The Occurrence of Sugar in Pathological Effusions (1889); A Case of Actinomycosis (Medical Chirurgical Translations, 1892); A Case of Actinomycosis of the Orbit, with a Summary of seven other cases of Actinomycosis (British Medical Journal, 1896); A Case of the “Intestinal Sand” (Quarterly Medical Journal, 1902); Two Cases of Acromegaly (British medical Journal, 1895); On Lead Encephalopathy and the use of Diachylon as an Abortifacient (British Medical Journal, 1900); A Case of Tumour of the Spinal Dura Mater (British Medical Journal, 1894); Syringo-myelia (Journal of Pathology, volume XI); A case illustrating Kinesthesis (Brain, 1892); Tumours of the Corpus Callosum (Brain, 1895); Phthisis in Relation to Life Insurance (1900); The Vis Medicatrix Naturae (Presidential Address, Nottingham Naturalists’ Society). This is by no means a complete list of his published writings, but it will serve to illustrate his indefatigable industry and the wide range and many sided interest of his observations.
By a strange irony of fate Dr. Ransom fell victim to the disease - consumption - which he had done so much to relieve. During the later years of his life he contracted several severe attacks of influenza. Definite symptoms of phthisis showed themselves in the summer of 1907, and the disease proved fatal about two and a quarter years later. (The British Medical Journal, December 18th, 1909).
The following notes are communicated by Dr. Henry Head, F.R.S., Physician to the London Hospital:-
I first knew William Bramwell Ransom in the year 1880, when we were together at Trinity College, Cambridge. He had already received a considerable scientific training at University College, London, where we attended Professor Lankester’s lectures. He was intensely enthusiastic for both comparative anatomy and physiology, and at the end of his first year became a major scholar of his college. After taking his degree with First Class Honours in the second part of the natural Science Tripos (1883) he went to Naples and worked at the action of the heart of the cuttle fish and other allied animals. On his work he obtained a Fellowship at Trinity College and then entered strenuously on his medical Studies at University College Hospital. Here he held all the ordinary junior appointments and was House Physician to Dr. Ringer. He returned to Nottingham about the year 1890 and the rest of his career is better known to others than to me.
In his earlier years he was always known to us for his vivacity and for the agility of his intellect. In our debates (whether in the Laboratory, the Hospital, or the Natural Science Club) he was distinguished for the extraordinary accuracy of his knowledge over an unusually wide range.
He had been brought up in an atmosphere of natural history, and had been taught by his father to observe the phenomena of Nature. To this had been added the superb zoological training which gave him an unusually wide range for so young a man. His power in interesting himself in new medical subjects was the outcome of his agile mind and I know no man who could put forward so luminous and accurate an account of some recent advance in medicine in which he had interested himself.
Unfortunately the last years of his life were haunted by perpetual ill-health, which lowered his vitality and made work he had previously loved a heavy tax on his failing strength.
(The British Medical Journal, December 18th, 1909)
By the death of Dr. W. B. Ransom the Medical Profession has lost one of its brightest ornaments.
On October 31, 1890, he was appointed as Honorary Physician to the Nottingham General Hospital in succession of his father, and during the many years in which he filled that office, he worked to the best of his great ability for the sake of the patients who were under his care.
In the annals of the General Hospital no more honoured name can be found than the one he bore. Father and son alike gave of their best, not only for the benefit of this Institution but for the community at large. And today we mourn the loss of his son, who by his never failing courtesy, kindness and consideration for others, won the respect and admiration of all who had the privilege to be associated with him either in his public or private life. (House Committee Meeting, April 13, 1910)
A History of the General Hospital near Nottingham
by Frank H. Jacob.
Pages 235, 236, 237, 238 & 239.