Papers of William Stirling

  • Reference
      GB 133 STI
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      0.3 li.m. 124 items
  • Location
      This collection is located at the University Archive and Records Centre , main University Library.

Scope and Content

A small collection of papers of Professor William Stirling (1851-1932) reflecting his interests in physiology, and in the promotion of medical knowledge to the general public.

Most of the material concerns Stirling's work as a public lecturer on a wide range of medical and biological topics, particularly his work for the Combe Trust. The Combe Trust was set up under the will of George Combe (1788-1858), a Scottish solicitor and phrenologist, who left money for public lectures on health. Stirling appears to have been its main lecturer in the north of England. It also includes several research notebooks compiled during the course of his career.

The collection comprises:

  • A notebook of Stirling dated 20 October 1873 from his time at the University of Leipzig, which describes the dissection of a dog;
  • A notebook dated 1880-1882 describing analyses of blood, human and animal;
  • A notebook containing an analysis of frog lungs, c.1888-1889;
  • A copy of Stirling's Outlines of physiological chemistry, which was used for teaching at the University of Aberdeen (1881);
  • A notebook compiled by Stirling listing recipients of his book, Some apostles of physiology (1902);
  • A notebook on chemical physiology c. 1914-1915;
  • A manuscript lecture of Stirling's from 1915 which deals with inter alia embryology and digestion.
  • A notebook relating to his lectures on eyesight (1927-1930);
  • A large collection of syllabuses, notices and posters for Stirling's public lectures (1891-1931), most of which were delivered under the auspices of the Combe Trust at locations in Lancashire, Cheshire, West Riding, Derbyshire and Staffordshire, including subjects such as 'Foods and digestion' (1904), 'Preservation of health' (1915), 'Gateways of health' (1924-1931) [97 items];
  • Lectures notes (typed) on 'The romance and beauty of plant life';
  • Cuttings reporting Stirling's lectures, 1906-1916 [14 items];
  • Reports of the Combe lectures delivered by Professor Stirling (Aberdeen 1882);
  • Booklet: Combe lectures examination questions, 1895-1899;
  • A notebook concerning Combe lectures on the senses, 1910,
  • A letter from F. P. Milligan to Edward Brockbank, 19 June 1930, which outlines the objectives of the Combe trust, and includes a typescript copy of the trust settlement (1858), dated at Edinburgh.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Stirling, known as Billy, was professor of physiology at Owens College/University of Manchester from 1886-1919. He was born in Grangemouth, Scotland in January 1851 and was educated at the Dollar Academy. He studied science and medicine at the University of Edinburgh, gaining a number of academic distinctions.

Stirling continued his studies at the University of Leipzig with Professor Carl Ludwig (1816-1895), and at Paris under Louis-Antoine Ranvier (1835-1922). Stirling was appointed demonstrator in practical zoology and later of practical physiology at Edinburgh before becoming professor of the institutes of medicine at the University of Aberdeen in 1877. In 1886, Stirling was appointed Brackenbury professor of physiology and histology at Owens College, in succession to Arthur Gamgee, a position he held until retirement in 1919.

Stirling was known more for his teaching than for research. He was a considered a highly effective instructor of medical students, and was an energetic dean of the Medical School between 1902-1913. Stirling was also much in demand as a public lecturer on medical and public health subjects. He wrote comparatively little, but did translate Leonard Landois' Lehrbuch der physiologie des menschen in 1884, and also wrote Outlines of practical physiology (1888) and Outlines of practical histology (1890). Stirling was appointed Fullerian Professor of Physiology to the Royal Institution, London, in 1906. He was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a member of the Physiological Society. He remained in Manchester where he died on 1 October 1932. His son, William Stirling, was a ophthalmic surgeon in Manchester.


The collection has not currently been arranged and catalogued in detail. It consists of two main series: notebooks and lecture syllabuses, notices and cuttings,

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Separated Material

Stirling's student lecture notes of Professor John Hughes Bennett physiology lectures, 186809, are kept at the National Library of Scotland. GB 233 MS.9165

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

It is believed that the collection was donated to Ernest Bosdin Leech by Professor Stirling's family following his death in 1932. The collection was formerly treated as part of the Manchester Medical Collection, curated by Leech, but is now maintained as an independent collection of personal papers at UMLL.

Related Material

Stirling's publications and biographical files in the Manchester Medical Collection, MMC/1/StirlingW and MMC/2/StirlingW respectively.

Geographical Names