Sir William Gull, 1st Baronet

Sir William Withey Gull, 1st Baronet (December 31, 1816January 29, 1890) was an English physician.


William Withey Gull was born on 31 December 1816 aboard the barge "The Dove" moored at St Osyth Mill in the parish of Saint Leonards, Colchester. His father was John Gull , a bargeowner and wharfinger of Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex, and his mother was Elizabeth Gull (nee Chilver). He was the youngest of eight children. He was christened on 9 February 1817 in Saint Leonard Church, Colchester, Essex, England.

He began his career as a schoolmaster, but in 1837 Benjamin Harrison, treasurer of Guy's Hospital, who had noticed his ability, brought him up to London from the school at Lewes where he was usher, and gave him employment at the hospital, where he obtained permission to attend lectures. In 1843 he was made a lecturer in the hospital's own medical school, in 1851 he became assistant physician, and in 1856 he became full physician. In 1847 he was elected Fullerian professor of physiology in the Royal Institution, retaining the post for the usual three years, and in 1848 he delivered the Gulstonian Lectures at the College of Physicians, where he held every important office except president. In 1869 he was made a fellow of the Royal Society. He was created a baronet in 1872, in recognition of the skill and care he had shown in attending the Prince of Wales during his attack of typhoid fever in 1871.

He married Susan Anne Dacre Lacy in 1848 and they had three children: Caroline Cameron, Cameron and William Cameron.

Gull died at his London home (74 Brook Street, Mayfair) after a series of paralytic strokes, the first of which had occurred nearly three years previously. His death certificate was certified by his own son in law, Dr Theodore Dyke Ackland (this was against usual medical customs and practices, although it was not illegal). The cause of death was officially recorded as a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He was buried about 1 February 1890 in Thorpe Le Soken, Essex, England. When his will was probated shortly after his death he had amassed a fortune of £340,000 (an enormous sum in 1890). [] .

Sir William Gull's fame rested mainly on his clinical work; he described himself as "a clinical physician or nothing." His success was due to his powers of observation, and to the great opportunities he enjoyed for gaining experience of disease. He was sometimes accused of not believing in the overall efficacy of drugs, but he prescribed drugs like other physicians when he considered them likely to be beneficial. He felt, however, that their administration was only a part of the physician's duties, and his honesty and outspokenness prevented him from deluding himself or his patients without proof. But though he regarded the purpose of medicine as the relief of physical suffering, he did not disregard the scientific side of his profession, and made some notable contributions to medical science.

His papers were printed chiefly in Guy's Hospital Reports and in the proceedings of learned societies: among the subjects he wrote about were cholera, rheumatic fever, tenia, paraplegia, and abscess of the brain, while he distinguished for the first time (1873) the disease now known as hypothyroidism, describing it as a "cretinoid state in adults."


"Savages explain, science investigates"

"Make haste and use all new remedies before they lose their effectiveness"

"The road to a clinic goes through the pathologic museum and not through the apothecary's shop"

"We have no system to satisfy, no dogmatic opinions to enforce. We have no ignorance to cloak, we confess it"

"I do not say no drugs are useful, but there is not enough discrimination in their use"

"That the course of nature may be varied we have assumed by our meeting here today. The whole object of the science of medicine is based on this assumption"British Medical Journal, 1874, 2: 425."

"I do not know what a brain is, and I do not know what sleep is, but I do know that a well-fed brain sleeps well"Quoted in St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Reports, 1916, 52: 45."

"The foundation of the study of Medicine, as of all scientific inquiry, lies in the belief that every natural phenomenon, trifling as it may seem, has a fixed and invariable meaning" "Published Writings, «Study of Medicine»"

"If facts be nature’s words, our words should be true sign of nature's facts. A word rightly imposed is a landmark indicating so much recovered from the region of ignorance"Published Writings, Volume 156, «Study of Medicine»"

"Never forget that it is not a pneumonia, but a pneumonic man who is your patient. Not a typhoid fever, but a typhoid man"Published Writings (edited by T. D. Acland), Memoir II."

"Realize, if you can, what a paralyzing influence on all scientific inquiry the ancient belief must have had which attributed the operations of nature to the caprice not of one divinity, but of many. There still remains vestiges of this in most of our minds, and the more distinct in proportion to our weakness and ignorance." "British Medical Journal, 1874, 2: 425."

Jack the Ripper suspect

Gull has been suggested as a suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders, related to an alleged royal/masonic conspiracy. At the time of the frenzied Whitechapel murders, Gull was in his seventies and already had suffered a stroke. For this reason, he features in a number of Ripper-related works of fiction:

A fictionalized Gull features prominently in Iain Sinclair's "White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings".

Gull also appears in the graphic novel "From Hell", by writer Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell.

"From Hell" portrays Gull as Jack the Ripper, being part of a conspiracy to kill four prostitutes with the knowledge of an illegitimate royal child. Gull, a highranking Freemason, justifies the brutal murders by claiming they are a Masonic warning to an apparent Illuminati threat to the throne. (Historically, the Illuminati were blamed, in some quarters, for the French Revolution.) Secretly, however, the killings are part of an elaborate mystical ritual to ensure male societal dominance over women, with Gull being increasingly delirious after suffering a stroke. Alan Moore acknowledges in the appendix to "From Hell" that he does not endorse the Gull-as-ripper theory, but merely used it because it suited his literary purpose.

Gull is also Jack's identity in "Royal Blood," a storyline in issues 52-55 of the Vertigo Comics series "Hellblazer", written by Garth Ennis. Since Ennis and Alan Moore are friends, an unofficial connection exists between this story and "From Hell".

In the film adaptation of "From Hell", Gull, played by Ian Holm, is portrayed as having been secretly driven mad by his stroke, and being spurred on, in his madness, to commit murders whose settings employ Masonic symbolism.

Sir William is also the killer in the 1988 TV dramatisation of the murders, along with coachman John Netley. This movie starred Michael Caine and Jane Seymour. Gull himself was portrayed by actor Ray McAnally. [] However, their motives in this particular version have nothing to do with the royal conspiracy.

He was depicted in "Murder by Decree" under the name Sir Thomas Spivey.

Sir Nigel Gull is one of the villains of Mark Frost's book "The List of Seven". Sir Nigel shares many things with Sir William; he was physician to the royal family, portrayed as being close to the family and close to Prince Edward in particular. He is portrayed as a 'woman-hater' and the member of a conspiracy.

In "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", Spike makes a reference to his mother's physician being a Dr. Gull.


Gull's daughter Caroline Cameron Gull (died 1929) married Theodore Dyke Acland MD (Oxon.) FRCP, the son of Sir Henry Acland, 1st Baronet MD FRS. They had two children, a daughter (Aimee Sarah Agnes Dyke Acland) who died in infancy in 1889, and a son, Theodore Acland (1890-1960), who became headmaster of Norwich School. [ [ Theodore Dyke Acland] at, accessed 23 August 2008]


* [ Fullerian Professorships]

External links

* [ William Withey Gull - A Biographical Sketch (1896)]

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