GOLDEN DAWN: Dr William Wynn Westcott work as GP and with Martindale’s Extra Pharmacopoeia; and campaigns on medical issues

There’s a companion file to this one, covering Westcott as a coroner and the professional organisations he belonged to; with coverage of two long-standing colleagues.

Before you get started, some abbreviations:

BMA = British Medical Association; the campaigning organisation of physicians.

BMJ = British Medical Journal, published by the BMA; very good for medical news and available online at jstor.

GMC = General Medical Council. It was set up by the Medical Act 1858 to keep a register of those qualified to practice; and to set and regulate standards of medical education. The Council members were elected by professional physicians. The 19th century world was getting increasingly professionalised; there were also far more types of employment a doctor could have. I noticed when I was researching the GD members who were doctors, that by the end of the century it was difficult to get a job in the public domain (local authorities, poor law boards etc) without being on the GMC’s register.

LCC = London County Council. The LCC’s powers took effect on 21 March 1889 and it continued to cover the boroughs of Inner London until replaced by the Greater London Council in 1965; taking over the responsibilities of such previous organisations as the London School Board and the Metropolitan Board of Works. The Progressives (allied roughly with the Liberal Party) were in the majority from 1889 to 1907; then the Municipal Reform group (roughly allied with the Conservative Party) dominated until 1934. The LCC’s councillors were elected; its chairperson and vice chairperson were appointed. An Act passed in 1892 gave control of the coroners’ service in London to the LCC; so from that year they were Westcott’s employers.

Sources for GMC and LCC: wikipedia pages.


In the early paragraphs, when other members of his family were still alive and practising medicine, I’ll call him ‘william wynn’. After 1880, when he’s the only Dr Westcott left in the family, I’ll call him ‘westcott’.


There’s more on this in my ‘family and community’ file. Here I’ll just say that William Wynn’s father, Peter Westcott, was a doctor, but may not have practised after 1849. He died in 1858 when William Wynn was 10, and his younger children were brought up in Martock, Somerset, by their uncle Richard Westcott Martyn.

The Westcott family was not wealthy, so the three sons of Peter and Elizabeth Mary Westcott had to work for a living. Ellis, the eldest, became a pharmacist; Richard the middle-brother was a teacher. Richard Westcott Martyn had been working as a doctor in general practice in Martock for many years. It was decided – probably not by William Wynn – that he would train as a doctor with a view to working with, and then succeeding, his uncle.


Westcott started his medical training at University College London, probably in 1867. For reasons I’ll come to in the next section of this file, I think he found materia medica the most interesting of the courses he had to take; having the good fortune to come across an inspiring teacher. In his other courses, however, he was not an outstanding student. In spring 1868 he came fifth out of eight students in both anatomy and physiology. Despite this, in 1870 he did pass the exams set by the Society of Apothecaries to obtain its certificate “in the science and practice of medicine”; and the exams set by the Royal College of Surgeons. He was licensed to practice medicine by the General Medical Council from May 1870. In 1872 he got his bachelor of medicine degree from the University of London; and that was the last qualification in medicine that he obtained.


Martock, a couple of miles north of Yeovil, had three or four doctors for most years between the 1840s and 1890. Richard Westcott Martyn was one of the three or four, at least from the 1850s and probably for much longer; but the listings in the Medical Directory show only two years, around 1850, when he was listed first of the practitioners in the town; and if they were all working together in one practice, he was never the most senior member of it after that time. Westcott started work in Martock by 1872, and was listed in the Medical Directory for that year as the most junior of three doctors. The first on Martock’s list since 1860 had been Joseph Dixon Adams, whose family had been prominent residents of Martock for several generations. He continued to dominate general practice in Martock until his death in February 1919.

Most doctors needed work beyond attending private patients, to make ends meet, especially in the years immediately after they qualified. Richard Westcott Martyn was well into his seventies by the 1870s and his plan had probably always been that he should start withdrawing from some of his extra commitments once William Wynn had started work. By 1874 William Wynn had taken over from his uncle as one of the medical officers employed by Langport Poor Law Board. This was an elected position but it was not very likely that William Wynn’s candidacy would be rejected. As well as visiting the workhouse and hospital wards, the job also required William to undertake some surgery, as a certified factory surgeon; and act as a public vaccinator.

With more leisure time, Richard Westcott Martyn was able to do some writing. He published two small medical works, based on his experience as a GP: On the Cure of Housemaid’s Knee in 1873; and Poisoning by Opium and Alcohol in 1879 – a subject William Wynn would have all-too-much knowledge of later in his working life, and an interesting reflection on life in a country town.

Richard Westcott Martyn may have encouraged William Wynn to write about his medical experiences but I think it was the other way round – William Wynn’s success encouraged his uncle, because William Wynn had had something published in 1872: a short article on a particular case, in the British Medical Journal. Another followed, also in the BMJ, in 1874. In the first case, William had conducted a post mortem; the second article ended with his disgruntlement that the family in that case had refused him permission to conduct one. One case showed him turning to Joseph Dixon Adams – not to his uncle, the more experienced but less qualified doctor – for more expert understanding of why his treatment had failed, and the patient had died. Taken together, the articles show some pointers to William Wynn’s future: his willingness to write and his enjoyment of putting his views before a wider audience; and his curiosity about exactly how people had died and what their bodies could show of the causes. General practitioners carried out their own post mortems throughout William Wynn’s working life; though after many years as a coroner he came to feel that getting the maximum amount of information from the silent witness was best left to doctors who specialised in that kind of work.

In the 1870s William Wynn was local secretary for the New Sydenham Society. The Society had been re-established in 1858 after many years in abeyance, to reissue English medical texts that had gone out of print, and to translate and publish in English medical texts from abroad. I imagine there were not many members of the Society in Martock and Yeovil, but perhaps William Wynn was able to get to meetings of members in London sometimes, and like his two small articles, William Wynn’s membership of the Society pointed the way to the future. The Society’s agent in London and printer of its texts was Mr H K Lewis, medical publisher, of Gower Street; see below for William Wynn’s long publishing relationship with him. Lewis also ran a subscription library which perhaps William Wynn was a member of.

How far William Wynn supposed that his life was set out along tram-lines before him I don’t know. As the 1870s progressed his chances of stepping off the tram were curtailed by his marriage to Eliza in 1873, and the births of Martyn Westcott in 1874, Ida in 1875 and Elsie in 1877. He was making the best of it, getting involved like a local GP should in such organisations as the local school board and the fire brigade; and unlike either Richard Westcott Martyn or Joseph Dixon Adams, becoming a member of two freemasons’ lodges which met in Yeovil. But he did long to get away. If he had married a local woman it might have been different, but the very fact that he hadn’t...Eliza Westcott was from London, and missed her family. Richard Westcott Martyn died on 11 April 1879 and by the end of that year, William Wynn, Eliza and the children had left Martock. They never returned to live there, and to all intents and purposes William Wynn never worked in general medical practice again. He seems to have spent 1880 to 1883 concentrating on his occult interests and – I suppose – living off money Richard Westcott Martyn had left him.


From 1883 to 1919 William Westcott’s main source of income was from work as a coroner. I’ve done a separate file covering that. However, he had a second job all that time and longer, working for the Martindales, father and son, on their medical hand-book The Extra Pharmacopoeia.

1883 to 1925: THE EXTRA PHARMACOPOEIA OF UNOFFICIAL DRUGS which is so famous in its field that it’s usually just referred to as ‘Martindale’.

In Westcott’s lifetime most doctors – especially those outside the large cities – made up their own drugs for use by their patients; so some understanding of chemistry and pharmacy was an important part of their preparations for work. Westcott’s work on The Extra Pharmacopoeia was the result of one of those happy coincidences: in 1868, while Westcott was a student at University College, William Martindale was appointed as its drugs dispenser and teacher of materia medica - pharmacy. Martindale was one of the best qualified pharmacists in the country, having been part of the first group of students to take the exams of the Pharmaceutical Society. If Westcott was not Martindale’s outstanding pupil, he was certainly one whose interest in the subject caught the teacher’s attention.

Martindale taught at UCL for the rest of the time Westcott was doing his training, and for a few years after that, before buying and rejuvenating a pharmacy business in Marylebone, near Wimpole Street and Harley Street where so many doctors practised. He had probably noticed the gap in the medical market by the time he left UCL: the lack of an up-to-date reference work on the currently available medicines and what they could be used for. In fact it was not so much a gap as a yawning chasm in the market: there had not been a new edition of a government-endorsed pharmacopoeia since the 1850s.

A lot of work was needed to prepare the text of what became The Extra Pharmacopoeia, and Martindale must have done his research and development over several years - describing the various substances, vegetable and mineral; listing their supposed properties; describing how to use them as medicines; and working out safe but effective doses. However, Martindale saw that the book would need references to published works on each substance, that doctors would be able to look up: and that was where Westcott came in. For the first edition of The Extra Pharmacopoeia he read 23 medical, chemical and pharmaceutical journals, everything from the BMJ and The Lancet to the official pharmacopoeia of the United States, and works in German and Latin. In each case he made notes for The Extra Pharmacopoeia of volumes and page numbers of relevant articles, what dosage the writers had used, and what the medicines had been used for.

The Extra Pharmacopoeia’s first issue was published in 1883 and it was an immediate success, its first print-run selling out in a few weeks. In fact it has been a success beyond the creators’ wildest dreams. The very belated publication of a government pharmacopoeia in 1914 doesn’t seem to have inconvenienced it at all, and its 35th edition was published in 2008, 3300 pages in two volumes. William Martindale, after years of ill-health, took a fatal dose of prussic acid in 1902, but his son William Harrison Martindale continued to supervise the issuing of The Extra Pharmacopoeia until his own death in 1933, after which it became an official publication of the Pharmaceutical Society. Westcott continued to do the searches of the medical and pharmaceutical literature until he died, in 1925, when the current edition was the 18th, issued in 1924. He worked on several major revisions of the text as a whole, to take account of large numbers of new substances and medicines; in 1898, 1904 and 1915. He also contributed to one small, stand-alone volume issued by The Extra Pharmacopoeia in 1911, an analysis of the new drug being marketed as Salvarsan, or Compound 606, as a treatment for syphilis.

In 1901 the authors of The Extra Pharmacopoeia were given Government acknowledgement of their publication’s importance. A Privy Council committee was ordered to investigate the sale of poisons with a view to updating Schedule A of the Pharmacy Act 1868. William Martindale was made a committee member, and Westcott was one of those who gave evidence.

All the editions in Westcott’s lifetime were published by H K Lewis of 136 Gower Street, and Westcott also went to him for publication of some of his own works.


The second half of the 19th century saw a huge expansion of doctors’ involvement in local government. Acting as medical officer to a parish vestry became one of the sources of income many doctors had in addition to their general practice. The job involved the collection and collation of statistics – work that Westcott had proved he could do well, with his book On Suicide - and in the early 1890s he made an effort to find work as an MO himself. He had prepared himself by obtaining the diploma in public health supervised jointly by the royal college of physicians and the royal college of surgeons, in 1891 or 1892. This entitled him to describe himself as ‘DPH’.

At that time he was an elected member of the vestry of St Mary Islington – the equivalent of a modern local councillor - and an understanding of public health issues was increasingly needed for many of the decisions a vestry needed to make. When the vestry had set up its first public health committee, Westcott was elected to it. He and another doctor-vestryman, John Walker Smyth of 13 Colebrooke Row, went as delegates of St Mary Islington to the 7th International Congress of Hygiene and Demography, held in London from 10 to 17 August 1891.

Westcott may have had a specific post as MO in mind when he decided to take the royal colleges’ course. The MO of St Mary Islington, Dr Charles Meymott Tidy, was hardly older than Westcott, but by early 1892 he was in such poor health that he was expected to have to take a long period of leave. Westcott put himself forward to stand in for Dr Tidy during his sick-leave; work which he would do in addition to his work as coroner and for The Extra Pharmacopoeia.

Westcott’s plan was welcomed by some – not all – of his fellow vestrymen. However, it had some snags, and it started to come unstuck almost at once. The first and biggest snag was that it was against Byelaw 50 for anyone elected to a vestry to be a paid employee of that vestry at the same time. The byelaw would have to be suspended during the time Westcott was doing Dr Tidy’s work; and while some vestry members were happy to vote for that, at least on a temporary basis; others were not, or were not happy to suspend it for Westcott’s sake – he seems to have made some enemies amongst the vestrymen of Islington.

Dr Tidy went on his sick-leave. Byelaw 50 was suspended after a noisy and divisive meeting of the vestry, by a majority of one vote; and Westcott was appointed temporary medical officer by a majority of two votes. However, instead of making the recovery most people were expecting, Dr Tidy died, in March 1892, at the age of only 49, and the temporary vacancy became a permanent one. William applied for the permanent job, and the question of the supposedly temporary suspension of Byelaw 50 became acute.

It also became very public. There were by-elections in some vestry seats in May 1892, including Westcott’s own, in Lower Holloway. He stood for re-election. The suspension of Byelaw 50 started being raised at hustings by some voters. The local papers took up the issue, most of them hostile to the suspension; some of them accusing Westcott of too much willingness to flout the proper procedures. And the Local Government Board, which oversaw the employment of medical officers, refused to sanction his temporary appointment for more than a period of three months while the permanent vacancy was filled.

Westcott was one of 26 men who applied for the permanent job of medical officer to the vestry of St Mary Islington. In due course a short-list of three was drawn up: Westcott; and two men both currently working as local authority medical officers. However, the local elections seem to have changed either the composition or the mood of the vestry and Westcott lost out in two ways as a result: he wasn’t re-elected as a vestryman, which is hardly surprising; and Dr Alfred Edwin Harris, MO of Sunderland, was appointed Islington’s medical officer, by two votes over the man who came second. I’m surprised that the voting was so close. Dr Harris was a far better candidate than Westcott – even assuming Westcott was the man who came second. He had studied medicine in Cork, Edinburgh and London and was licensed to practice by Edinburgh’s royal colleges of physicians and surgeons. He was a member of the Sanitary Institute and the Epidemiological Society and the author of a number of publications, on how diseases spread, and on the duties of a medical officer of health.

Wiestcott does seem to have taken the big hint provided by Dr Harris’ appointment: as far as I can see he didn’t apply for another job as medical officer.


The last sections of this file cover two areas I’ve found difficult to research. I haven’t found much information on either in places that are accessible; and perhaps the documents I’d find most useful no longer exist.


Westcott always favoured higher standards in medicine: he spoke out and campaigned for better regulation, new law, more professionalism and more specialisation. Most of the sources for this campaigning cover William and the practice of medicine by doctors, but one brief mention shows him advocating the same for nurses. The mention is of his being “invested with a Jewel of Honour” by Queen Victoria’s daughter Helena, Princess Christian; at some point before November 1893; in connection with the Royal British Nurses Association (RBNA).

The RBNA had been founded in December 1887 by Ethel Gordon Fenwick (née Manson), who had had to give up her job as matron of St Bartholomew’s Hospital when she married Dr Bedford Fenwick earlier that year. As matron, she had improved the training of nurses carried out at the hospital. She intended that the RBNA should campaign to have those improvements made nationwide; to guarantee standards by setting up a register of practising nurses; and to address issues such as insurance and pensions for professional nurses. Princess Christian, already known for her work with nursing and hospitals, became the RBNA’s very active patron, leading the lobbying as it tried to obtain a Royal Charter. Some at least of the RBNA’s aims were opposed, for example by Florence Nightingale personally, and the Nightingale Fund; but registration of nurses, at least, was an idea whose time was coming. The RBNA opened a register of professional nurses in 1889. Though being listed on it was not legally enforceable, it was a start. A law requiring registration for nurses was finally passed in 1919.

What had Westcott done to earn a Jewel of Honour bestowed by Princess Christian? It may not have been more than allowing it to be made public that he supported the RBNA – it was actively recruiting doctors as supporters and by the end of 1892 had collected 100 names. The intention was to publish the full list of 100 names; but for the most ridiculous reason, the end of the alphabet was left off the list, so I don’t know whether Westcott’s was one of them. I haven’t found any references elsewhere to Westcott campaigning publically on the RBNA’s behalf, but something he did or said led to his being honoured by the RBNA with a jewel, and I think his agreeing to be one of the 100 doctors was the most likely reason.

I haven’t come across Westcott actively canvassing for the 1902 Midwives Act to be passed, but during a talk in 1906 he said how much he had welcomed it. The law brought licensing and inspection to an area of women’s work that had barely been regulated before, being carried out largely beneath the notice of the authorities. It enshrined the idea of inspection by the middle classes of workers who were mostly working-class and without formal training. For Westcott, it brought the possibility of outside scrutiny to an area of his work that he often spoke out about: the death of infants, at or soon after birth. He was sure that some at least of those deaths could have been avoided. He also believed that many ‘natural’ deaths of infants were not natural at all, and suspected midwives of colluding to bring them about. He was glad when the LCC decided that one of its inspectors would attend any inquest into the death of an infant where a midwife had been involved at the birth.

I’m a bit at a loss how to research Westcott’s connection to the Red Cross. One obituary says that “for a long while” he was divisional director of the Red Cross in Islington – which might mean that he had been volunteering with the British Red Cross from the time that the Westcotts went to live in Islington, in the early 1880s. That might well be the case, but the small amount of evidence I’ve come across (without quite knowing where to get more detailed information) is from the first World War. The Medical Directory’s issue of 1919 describes him as a “lecturer” to the Red Cross and that’s the only time the Red Cross figures in his MD entries. By as early as mid-August 1914, the British government had given the British Red Cross authorisation to be a part of the war effort. Working jointly with the St John Ambulance brigades, the Red Cross organised Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD’s) best known for nursing, but also doing cooking, first aid, dealing with issues of sanitation, driving ambulances and the important work of recording details of the missing and dead for relatives at home. There was plenty in all that for William to lecture the Red Cross volunteers in Islington about.

There’s much better evidence for Westcott as a campaigner on issues around drink and alcoholism.


Many Victorian and Edwardian campaigners on these issues were teetotal; but Westcott was not one of them - he drank, but in moderation. Amongst the men he socialised with, he disliked what he described as “Excess in liquor” – he was writing about dinners after meetings of freemasons’ lodges when he used that phrase.

As a GP and even more as a coroner, he saw virtually every week the effects of heavy drinking on men and women, and their families. As always with Westcott, he decided that more information on drink, its causes and consequenees was needed; and he also campaigned for legislation on alcohol, and treatment for alcoholics. His campaigning work was as a member of two organisations: the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Society for the Study of Inebriety. It’s a pity that I haven’t seen more contemporary documents covering Westcott’s involvement in these two organisations; I think that in the Society’s case, they may no longer exist.

The Society for the Study and Cure of Inebriety – as it was called when it was set up (the ‘and cure’ was soon dropped) – was the idea of one man in particular, its founder, Dr Norman Shanks Kerr. Dr Kerr (1834-99) practised medicine in Marylebone and was medical officer for Marylebone vestry. He had become a teetotaller during his time as a medical student in Glasgow and had been an active temperance campaigner since then. He shared the widely held Victorian view that drunkenness and alcoholism were the result of moral failure in the drinker; and he believed that a tendency towards alcoholism was inherited. However, he thought that alcoholism could and should be studied, and that heavy drinking could be cured. He published an early textbook on the subject and took part in several attempts to set up residential clinics where alcoholics could be sent for treatment. He founded the Society in 1884 to collect better data on heavy drinking and alcoholism and to campaign for new laws, and more money for treatment.

The Society organised the Colonial and International Congress on alcoholism, in London in 1887. I couldn’t find a full list of those who attended but perhaps Westcott did so; though he didn’t give a talk. In July 1888 an article by Westcott was published in The Lancet: Deaths from Alcoholic Excess in London. It was based on statistics collected from 1220 consecutive inquests that he had presided over, and was done at the request of Dr Kerr, whom Westcott described as a “friend”. This suggests Westcott was a member of the Society for the Study of Inebriety by that time. He may have even been sought out as a future member by Dr Kerr after his On Suicide was published, with its analysis of suicides in central Middlesex over two years.

In 1890 Westcott was made a member of the BMA’s Inebriates Legislation Committee, which drafted several Parliamentary bills. Dr Kerr was its chairman and Westcott probably joined it at Dr Kerr’s instigation. The two men were perceived by other Society members as working together, and when Dr Kerr died, in 1899. Westcott was the obvious choice to succeed him as president of the Society for the Study of Inebriety. He was in post for two, possibly three, years; but the efforts he made to carry on Dr Kerr’s work were not successful.

He tried to guide the Society towards issuing a strong counter-argument to popular beliefs on alcoholism, particularly on the subjects of heritable characteristics, and race - whether the tendency to heavy drinking could be passed from parents to children; and whether susceptibility varied between ethnic groups. A Committee on Heredity was set up by the Society in July 1899 to prepare a report to this end. The project may have been Dr Kerr’s idea; but his death left William to oversee its work and produce some useful results. The Committee had 14 members at the outset and – as president of the Society and inheritor of Dr Kerr’s mantle – Westcott was its chairman.

Was it Westcott’s idea that the Report should be based on research, rather than prejudice? I think so. It soon became clear, though, that very little systematic research had been carried out, including by the Society itself. Requests for data were published in The Lancet and the BMJ but the only responses were anecdotal rather than statistical.

A bigger problem soon emerged – the members of the Committee didn’t agree amongst themselves about alcoholism’s heritability. These were – still are – very divisive issues, but in early 1901. after 21 meetings, there was still no consensus; and Westcott was ill with the stress of trying to find any common ground. He did get a Report passed at a meeting of the Society’s members in April 1901 but it came nowhere near achieving its object, as the lack of agreement amongst the members was laid bear for readers to see. The Report contained 15 clauses. William and 8 others out of the 14 members agreed to put their names to all 15; but the remaining members, including the Committee’s Secretary, refused to do that. Seven of the 15 clauses were printed with the names of at least one Committee member at the bottom who had refused to sign off that particular clause; even Westcott dissented from one of them. Those who refused to sign off either some or all of the clauses had demanded the right to include their reasons in the Report. Committee member William Henry Kesteven had refused to sign any of the clauses; his dissenting report was included at the end of the main Report.

Westcott’s own views had obviously caused arguments at the Committee’s meetings. He was one of those who had demanded to be allowed to explain themselves in the Report. Though he started his paragraph by airing a very British prejudice against the ‘soft Southerner’, he then stated that his own research indicated that there was no way of proving that the tendency towards alcoholism varied between races and nations, nor that it had done so in different periods of history. He pointed out that he was the only Committee member who had data to back up his opinion: no other Committee member had done any research on the subject at all; so that their opinions – whatever they were – were not based on any evidence.

The Report, as published, was useless as a campaigning tool and there’s no evidence it was ever put forward as one. The Committee members had shown themselves to be quite as prejudiced as the population at large.

After a year of Committee meetings and with no end in sight, Westcott had accepted an invitation to talk about alcoholism and drunkenness to another medical organisation, the Medico-Psychological Association. His paper was read at the Association meeting of July 1900 and an abstract of it was published in the Association’s journal; but if he had hoped to find allies for his Society and perhaps some more campaigners among its members, he was disappointed. The Association’s members did see that there might be a connection between drunkenness and insanity, but chose to continue to focus their efforts solely on mental illness.

Westcott was still president of the Society at its meeting in October 1901 when William Westcott’s son Dr Martyn Westcott gave a talk. He had stepped down by July 1903, however.

Westcott had the misfortune to be succeeded as president by Dr Harry Campbell, an energetic, perhaps charismatic leader, whose changes raised the Society’s public profile. Up to that point, the Society seems only to have issued quarterly Proceedings volumes to members. With Campbell in charge, the Society started publishing a Journal, which could be bought by non-members and thus reach a wider public. He also expanded the Society’s membership. When Dr Kerr and Westcott were presidents, membership was restricted to qualified medical practitioners; even medical students could only be associate members. With Campbell in charge, the Society started to welcome people without medical qualifications as associate members, allowing in lay-people who campaigned on drink and teetolism, as well as people with experience in rehabilitation work with alcoholics but without medical qualifications. As a result the membership quadrupled. One thing Dr Campbell doesn’t seem to have tried, though, was attempting to issue a Society statement on alcoholism and heredity.

In December 1900 Westcott had reported to the Society’s members on the working of the Inebriates Act 1898, and concluded that it hadn’t made any difference so far. Westcott’s understanding of the reasons for that, had an all-too-familiar ring – the national Government had left implementation of the Act to local authorities, many of which had no money to cover this extra obligation. There was also a feeling amongst councillors and rate-payers that it was the Government’s duty to carry out and to finance the work the Act required.

Westcott might have continued active involvement in the Society, but in the very months that members of the Committee on Heredity were refusing to reach any compromises, the Medico-Legal Society was being formed. At the meeting of the Society for the Study of Inebriety in July 1903 Westcott gave his talk about Inebriety in Women and the Overlaying of Infants (that is, suffociation while sleeping in the same bed as their parents). This was his parting shot: though he was still a member of the Society for the Study of Inebriety in 1920, by 1903 he had transferred his campaigning focus to the law covering the work and professional standards of coroners and the medical practitioners they worked with, areas the Medico-Legal Society could influence.


Westcott was an active member of the BMA through its North London District group which I think was also known as the St Pancras Division. What had been the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association started accepting London members in 1856 and changed its name to the BMA. Westcott must have been a member by 1872, when the first of his short articles appeared in the British Medical Journal.

I’ve mentioned above that in 1890 he was appointed a member of the BMA’s committee on alcoholism, which was hoping to influence Parliamentary legislation. I don’t know when he ceased to be a member of it; perhaps around 1900. He was elected a vice-president of the BMA’s North London District in May 1902, to serve for 12 months, after which he was regularly mentioned in the BMJ which printed short reports of district meetings. He gave an address to the members at the Royal Free Hospital on 12 November 1902.

In 1902 Westcott gave a talk to BMA’s St Pancras Division, the first in which he raised an issue he returned to several times over the next few years: the importance to the coroner of a properly completed, accurate death certificate. He was, of course, talking to an audience that filled in death certificates all the time; but Westcott – as ever – wanted higher standards in the completion of this task, too often neglected by doctors in a hurry. The following year he raised the subject of infants who had died of being smothered while sleeping in the same bed as their parents, giving two talks and having another short article published in the BMJ, in which he noted that England had the worst statistics in Europe for such deaths.

He served a first set of 12 months as chairman of the BMA’s St Pancras Division, from February 1904. Then in 1906 he was its honorary secretary, as well as being president of the BMA’s Metropolitan Councils group. By April 1908 the St Pancras Division had taken in the previously separate Islington group; Westcott was elected chairman of the expanded group for the next 12 months.

After 1909 Westcott was less involved with the running of his local BMA groups but he continued to be a BMA member. In June 1919, a few months before he retired as a coroner, he was elected one of its four vice-presidents of its Metropolitan Councils group for 1919-20.


Westcott held his last coroner’s inquest in 1919, and went to live in Durban with his daughter Lilian Gee and her family. He was now in his 70s but was still licensed to practice medicine, and Lilian and he himself were his last two patients. In mid-1922 Lilian became ill with some kind of wasting disease (Westcott doesn’t describe her symptoms); she died in February 1924 despite Westcott’s attempts at treatment. And Westcott’s own condition – gradually failing kidneys – was terminal and he knew it. His symptoms were typical of Bright’s Disease – albuminuria (the protein albumin getting into the urine), and high blood pressure. In 1923 he was treating them with the laxative calomel (mercury chloride) – a treatment considered out-dated since its side-effects had become known – and purgatives, taken three times a week. He was also often ill with fevers and found the South African heat trying, especially at night. He died in 1925.


Qualifications; general practice in Martock:

British Medical Journal 1868 volume 1 of that year issue of 16 May 1868 p490.

Times 16 April 1870 p10 Apothecaries’ Hall. List dated Thursday 14 April [1870] of men who’d obtained its Certificate.

General Medical Council registers: entries for William Wynn Westcott; beginning 26 May 1870; until his death in 1925.

Joseph Dixon Adams

Medical Directory entries

- 1860, the first time there was an entry for him: local list for Martock p421; provincial list p450 where he is described as MRCS 1858 and LSA 1859 – the same qualifications to practice that William later had.

- 1890 volume 1 local list for Martock p430; provincial list p454 showing that in 1862 Adams had graduated from St Andrew’s University as a doctor of medicine – a step in qualifications William Westcott never took. It also indicated that Adams had worked as a house surgeon at Bart’s Hospital for a period; something that William Westcott never did.

- 1900 local list for Martock p523 which shows that Joseph’s elder son, Evelyn George Beadon Adams, was working with his father – MRCS, LRCP 1894; MB London 1896; like his father, he had trained at St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

For the family and its connections to Martock:

There’s family history at wikitree and though neither get it right about the deaths of Joseph’s younger son Ernest (died Martock 1907) and daughter Katharine (died Martock 1910).

Census 1871-1911; freebmd; ancestry probate registry entries 1919.

I checked the United Grand Lodge of England’s membership records, on Ancestry, but couldn’t see any entries for Joseph Dixon Adams.

This website has an entry for Joseph’s younger son Ernest Adams, who joined the colonial medical service and was sent to Kenya: see

Information on Ernest’s death in Western Gazette 16 August 1907 p1 and London Evening Standard 17 August 1907 p1.

Richard Westcott Martyn’s publications:

Medical Directory

- 1873 provincial list p523 Richard Westcott Martyn. On the Cure of Housemaid’s Knee was published in the (?British Medical) Association Journal.

- 1879 provincial list p580 Richard Westcott Martyn. No details are given of where Poisoning by Opium and Alcohol was published; perhaps it was issued as a pamphlet.

Westcott in the Medical Directory, to 1878:

- 1872 p272 list for Martock; provincial list p621.

- 1873 p296 list for Martock; provincial list p651.

- 1874 Volume 1 p291 list for Martock; provincial list p653.

- 1875 p295 list for Martock.

- 1876 p302 in list for Martock; provincial list p687.

- 1877 p310 in list for Martock; provincial list p708.

- 1878 p308 in list forMartock; provincial list p710.

THE SYDENHAM SOCIETY, not to be confused with // which is a local action group for SE26 founded 1972.

Medical Directory 1892 in list of medical societies: p410.

Advert for H K Lewis in the end pages of the pamphlet Inaugural Address of the Society for the Study and Cure of Inebriety; given by Norman Kerr 24 April 1884.

Westcott as its local secretary: The Lancet 15 August 1925 obituary of William Wynn Westcott.

History of the Society:

At, the web pages of Cambridge University Press. Short overview of G G Meynell’s The Two Sydenham Societies…. Published Winterdown Books, Acrise Kent 1985.

An article on the Society at www/, the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology volume 60 number 2 issue of 1 February 2007 p202.


Medical Directory 1879 Volume 1 p317 list for Martock; provincial list p727: entry for William Wynn Westcott. Both entries as 1876.

Medical Directory 1880 p337 in list for Martock: J D Adams and E Price only. London list p239 William Wynn Westcott is now of Langley Villa Surrey (sic but wrong I think; other sources give ‘Sunny’ and that’s in the A-Z) Gardens Hendon. It is not clear from this entry whether Westcott was still in private practice; but the sources for him as a freemason say he was no longer working as a GP.


Reissue of original 1883 first edition including a short biography of William Martindale and an Introduction by Paul J Weller of the Pharmaceutical Society. Weller used two works on the Martindales by a former editor of Martindale, Ainley Wade:

Pharmaceutical Journal 248: 787-78: The Martindales and their Book

Pharmaceutical Historian 29 (2): 24-32: Martindale: the Men and the Books.

Also piv for the current edition. Issued by Pharmaceutical Press for the Society 2008: pi-pv.

Facsimile of the 1883 title page gives its full title: The Extra Pharmacopoeia of Unofficial Drugs and Chemical and Pharmaceutical Properties by William Martindale FCS.

British Medical Journal 1904 volume 1 of that year issue of 7 May 1904 p1102-03 a report on the 11th edition, “thoroughly revised”, which would be issued the following week.

See the 18th edition, 1924, at //

Privy Council enquiry:

Times 21 December 1901 p3 The Poisons Committee. The report was a short one and didn’t say what information Westcott had been asked to give.

BMJ 1903 volume 1 of that year issue of 21 February 1903: 459-460 reported that the Privy Council Committee Report on the Sale of Poisons had just been presented to Parliament

Times 6 February 1902 p7 short obitary of William Martindale. It said the death was sudden, but didn’t say he had committed suicide.

That it was suicide: Martindale’s wikipedia page.

The publication of a government-endorsed pharmacopoeia: Transactions of Medico-Legal Society volume XII 1914/15 p70: it finally saw the light of day on 14 December 1914.

Wikipedia on Salvarsan.

Dioxy-Diamino-Arsenobenzol: its Chemistry, Pharmacy and Therapeutics by William Harrison Martindale and William Wynn Wescott. Published December 1910 [1911] by H K Lewis.


Transactions of the 7th International Congress of Hygiene and Demography. Held London 10-17 August 1891: p100, p123. Neither Westcott nor Smyth read a paper at the Congress, which was very much a ‘great and good’ affair, way above their level.

Medical Directory 1893 London list p309 entry for John Walker Smyth.


Islington Gazette Tuesday 8 March 1892 p2; Tuesday 29 March 1892 p2; Wednesday 27 April 1892 p2; Wednesday 15 May 1892 p2; Wednesday 22 May 1892 p2; Tuesday 28 June 1892 p2.

Probate Registry 1892 entry for Charles Meymott Tidy.

Medical Directory 1892 London list p324 Charles Meymott Tidy of 8 Mandeville Place Cavendish Square and of 7 New St Lincoln’s Inn.

London Evening News Saturday 26 March 1892 p3 report on meeting of vestry of St Mary

Islington, very hostile to its vote to suspend Byelaw 50.

British Medical Journal 1892 volume 1 of that year issue of 30 April 1892 p924/

Hackney and Kingsland Gazette Wednesday 25 May 1892

London Evening Standard Saturday 16 July 1892 p5 decision of vestry of St Mary Islington to appoint Dr A E Harris.

Medical Directory 1893 list of medical officers of health; London list p186 Dr Alfred Edwin Harris.

British Medical Journal 1892 volume 2 of that year issue of 6 August 1892 p319, p330.


The sole reference I’ve come across to Westcott’s involvement: freemasons’ magazine Ars Quatuor Coronatorum volume VI 1893 p205, text of a speech given by Robert Freke Gould at the banquet after Westcott’s installation as Worshipful Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge 2076, in November 1893.

RBNA ‘s archives are now at King’s College London: see I haven’t looked at them, thinking it would probably not repay the amount of time involved, as I can’t find any evidence from other sources of Westcott as an active campaiginer for RBNA.

Wikipedia entries Ethel Gordon Fenwick and Princess Christian; and on the magazine Nursing Record which was taken over by the RBNA, first issue January 1893.

For Ethel Gordon Fenwick see also

At there’s a timeline of nursing registration.

Nursing Record issues published in 1892: plenty of coverage of RBNA and its doings, but no mention of Westcott being involved in them. Its last ever issue before RBNA’s takeover was 29 December 1892. On p1059 a list began of RBNA members, headed by Princess Christian. Then a list began of 100 doctors who were members and supporters of RBNA’s application for a royal charter; but the magazine ran out of paper, so that the list ended with surnames beginning with ‘o’! I expect Westcott was in the list of 100 but I can’t prove it.

Midwives Act 1902

See its wikipedia page, and the Health Foundation’s website at // Just noting here that the Act applied in England only.

Red Cross:

The Lancet 1925 volume 2 of that year issue of 15 August 1925 p355 obituary of William Wynn Westcott, rather unhelpful in this case as it describes him as divisional director of the Red Cross in Islington “for a long while”, without any further details.

Government authorisation for the Red Cross’s war work: The Lancet 1914 volume 2 of that year p529 issue of 22 August 1914.

Medical Directory 1919 Volume 1 London list p376 entry for William Wynn Westcott, describing him as “lecturer” to the Red Cross Society.


Westcott’s assessment of his own drinking; which has to be taken with a pinch of salt, as it comes from a statement he made about himself in 1875, trying to impress a senior freemason and occultist:

Letter plus personal statement William Wynn Westcott to Francis George Irwin, now in the Irwin Letters collection at the Freemasons’ Library. When I was researching the subject in 2019 the letter had disappeared, but R A Gilbert saw it in 1986 or 1987 with the date 7 March 1875. Source for Gilbert having seen it: Ars Quatuor Coronatorum volume 100 published 1988; p6 and footnote 2 p19.

The Lancet volume 2 of that year issue of 21 July 1888 p132: Deaths from Alcoholic Excess in London by William Wynn Westcott.

Dr Norman Shanks Kerr:

British Journal of Inebriety volume 3 1905/06 number 1 July 1905 p2.

ODNB volume 31 p415.

Kerr’s textbook: Inebriety: its Etiology, Pathology, Treatment and Jurisprudence published London: H K Lewis 1888.

Society for the Study of Inebriety

Sources for the Society’s founding:

Seen online at //, Pamphlet issued by the Society for the Study and Cure of Inebriety: Inaugural Address to the Society by Norman Kerr given on 25 March 1884: p1.

My lack of success finding its Proceedings volumes, which must have been issued per meeting. There are a few from around 1900 in the Wellcome Collection - // and they can be read online. The issue of September 1900 was number 65 in the set.

Westcott in the BMA’s sub-committee on drink:

British Medical Journal 1890 volume1 of that year issue of 3 May 1890: p1034-35.

Westcott’s election as president of the Society: The Lancet 1899 volume 2 of that year p903 issue of 30 September 1899.

Westcott ill early in 1901:

Societas Rosicruciana In Anglia Metropolitan College Transactions 1901 p1 report of the meeting of 10 January 1901.

Report of the Committee on Heredity:

See the Wellcome Collection’s copy online at // Report of the Committee on Heredity issued April 1901. Published for the Society for the Study of Inebriety by H K Lewis of 136 Gower Street. Passim.

The attempt at rapport with the Medico-Psychological Society; operation of the 1898 Inebriates Act.

Proceedings of the Society for the Study of Inebriety number 66 Decmber 1900. Published for the Society by H K Lewis of 136 Gower Street: title page, p11; pp15-16. The Society didn’t print the text of Westcott’s speech; an abstract of what he had said was published in the September 1900 issue of the Journal of Mental Science.

Martyn Westcott’s talk: Sea Voyages in the Treatment of Inebriety:

The Lancet 1901 volume 2 of that year issue of 26 October 1901 p1125.

Dr Harry Campbell takes over as president; changes to the Society:

British Journal of Inebriety volume 2 1904/05 issue of July 1904 p1, president’s notes.


British Medical Journal volume 1 of that year issue of 25 May 1872: 554: Rupture of the Heart by Dr William Wynn Westcott.

British Medical Journal volume 2 of that year issue of 26 December 1874: 811-812: Notes on a Case of Exophthalmic Goitre by Dr William Wynn Westcott.

British Medical Journal volume 1 of that year issue of 12 March 1881: 386: A Curious Case of Suffocation by Dr William Wynn Westcott.

St Pancras Division/North London District BMA:

British Medical Journal 1902 volume 1 of that year issue of 24 May 1902 pp1308-10.

British Medical Journal 1902 volume 2 of that year issue of 22 November 1902 pp1677-78.

British Medical Journal 1902 volume 2 of that year issue of 6 December 1902: 1756-59, with the text of the talk: The Coroner and his Relations with the Medical Practitioner, and Death Certification by Westcott at the St Pancras Division of the BMA.

Westcott’s talks on the suffocation of infants in their parents’ bed; he varied the titles at least to reflect the specific interests of his different listeners.

British Medical Journal 1903 volume 2 of that year issue of 7 November 1903: 1208-09. The Overlaying of Infants.

British Journal of Inebriety volume 1 1903/04 pp65-68 at the meeting of Tuesday 14 July 1903: Inebriety in Women and the Overlaying of Infants.

As chairman: British Medical Journal 1904 volume 1 of that year issue of 13 February 1904: 368. And British Medical Journal 1908 volume 1 of that year issues of 18 April 1918: 177; and 13 June 1908: 413-17.

Medical Directory 1905 London list p348 entry for William Wynn Westcott.

As honorary secretary: British Medical Journal 1906 volume 1 of that year issue of 5 May 1906 pp241-242 and issue of 12 May 1906: 253-254.

As president of the BMA’s Metropolitan Councils: Medical Directory 1906 volume 1 London list p337 entry for William Wynn Westcott.

British Medical Journal 1907 volume 2 of that year issue of 23 November 1907: 289-290: Sudden Death, talk by Westcott at the Temperance Hospital Hampstead Road.

After the war: British Medical Journal 1919 volume 2 of that year issue of 12 July 1919: 14-15.


Many sources give 1918 for Westcott’s retirement, but his recent “resignation” was announced in the British Medical Journal 1920 volume 1 of that year, issue of 26 June 1920: 885. Looking in the local papers, the last inquest I could find over which he had presided was in the autumn of 1919.

Times 12 March 1920 p13.

Treating himself and daughter Lilian Gee: Yorke Collection NS73 letters from William Wynn Westcott to Frederick Leigh Gardner: 25 August 1920; 7 February 1922; 20 April 1923; 7 June 1923.

Wikipedia on Bright’s Disease; and on calomel – the blue pill.

Last year registered to practice: Medical Directory 1925 list of registered practitioners resident outside the UK p1824.


7 April 2022

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