William Withey Gull

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

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The youngest son of John Gull, a bargeowner and wharfinger of Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex, he was born in Colchester. 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. 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. Gull died in London after a series of paralytic strokes, the first of which had occurred nearly three years previously.

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 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 real 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 myxoedema, describing it as a "cretinoid state in adults."

Jack the Ripper suspect

Gull has been suggested as a suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders, but few researchers give credence to these arguments. Inconsistencies in the circumstances surrounding Gull's death, and the fact that his Will was probated twice, gave rise to the theory that Gull's death had been faked by his family, who then placed him in an insane asylum under the name Thomas Mason in order to hide the fact that Gull was the Ripper.

Gull has been mentioned as a suspect in a Freemasonic conspiracy theory, often in conjuction with Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence. See Jack the Ripper royal conspiracy theories for further information. Most historians have dismissed these ideas as utterly unreliable.

A fictionalized Gull features prominently in both Iain Sinclair's White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings and Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell.



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