Papers of Sir William Macewen, 1848-1924, surgeon, Regius Professor of Surgery, University of Glasgow, Scotland, 1892-1924

Scope and Content

  • Medical correspondence, 1873-1916;
  • General correspondence, 1871-1942;
  • Conference papers, 1922-1923;
  • Family papers, 1794-1935;
  • Personal papers, 1864-1924;
  • Biographical papers and papers relating to publications about Sir William Macewan, 1924-1969;
  • Papers relating to the Allan family, 1858-1925;
  • Photographs, early 20th century;
  • Prescuttings and articles regarding Sir William Macewan, 1988-1956;
  • Macewan family history by Hugh A Macewan, 20th century;
  • Family photographs, 20th century.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir William Macewen was born at Rothesay, Isle of Bute, Scotland, on the 22 June 1848. He was educated at the Collegiate School at Glasgow, Scotland, and went on to study at the University of Glasgow. He graduated from the University as MB CM in 1869, and as MD in 1872. In 1870, he became superintendent of Belvidere Hospital, Glasgow, Glasgow, and in 1877 became a surgeon at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. He married Mary Watson in 1873 and they went on to have 3 sons and 3 daughters.

His career was noteworthy for his pioneering work on brain and bone surgery. In 1878, he became the first person to remove a tumour from the brain; in 1879 he operated for the relief of subdural haemorrhage. He looked upon bones as living tissue and introduced a method of implanting small grafts to replace missing parts of limb-bones. In 1880, he sewed such grafts into the arm of a boy to replace the shaft of the humerus which had been destroyed by disease. The operation was successful, and the patient regained a useful arm. In 1877, he introduced a new method of rectifying knock-knee by cutting through the thigh-bone just above the knee by a subcutaneous operation. Macewen became interested in the biology of bone and carried out a long and critical series of experiments on animals in order to determine the manner in which bones grow and the conditions underlying their repair. He came to the conclusion that the membrane which covers bone (periosteum) cannot produce bone. He published an account of his inquiries in "The Growth of Bone" (1912), reserving his observations on the natural history of bone for "The Growth and Shedding of the Antler of the Deer" which appeared in 1921.

He was appointed Regius Professor of Surgery at the University of Glasgow in 1892. Early in his career he was appointed casualty surgeon at the Central Police Court and during the war was Temporary Surgeon-General in the Royal Navy. He was instrumental in establishing what became known as The Princess Louise Hospital (now called the Erskine Hospital) for the making and supplying of artificial limbs for soldiers and sailors. Sir William, in association with Mrs Strong, matron of Glasgow Royal Infirmary, also initiated the training of nurses. He received the honorary degree of LLD from the Universities of Glasgow and Liverpool, and an honorary DSc from Oxford and Trinity College, Dublin. He was also a honorary FRCS England and Ireland, and a FRFPS Glasgow. In 1922, he was elected President of the British Medical Association and, in 1923, was President of the International Surgical Congress in London. He was knighted in 1902, made a CB in 1917 and was appointed surgeon to the King in Scotland. He received the freedom of Rothesay in 1922. He died in Glasgow on 22 March 1924.

Sources: British Medical Journal (March, 1924); Lancet (March, 1924); Dictionary of National Biography (1937)


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received

Access Information

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Acquisition Information

Gift : family member: c1977 : ACCN 1807

Other Finding Aids

See also University of Glasgow Collections

Digital file level list available in searchroom. Manual file level list available at the National Registers of Archives in Edinburgh (NRA(S)2852) and London (NRA30686)

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Archivist.Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures

Custodial History

Held by the family of William Macewan

Items DC 079/53-61 and DC 079/63-64 were returned to the donor in 1999


None expected

Related Material

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Location of Originals

This material is original

Geographical Names