Watson Cheyne

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Sir William Watson Cheyne

Watson Cheyne2.jpg
Born14 December 1852
Died19 April 1932 (1932-04-20) (aged 79)
Scientific career
Fields Bacteriology

Sir William Watson Cheyne, 1st Baronet, KCMG , CB , FRS , FRCS [1] (14 December 1852 – 19 April 1932) was a Scottish surgeon and bacteriologist, who pioneered the use of antiseptic surgical methods in the United Kingdom.

Fellow of the Royal Society Elected Fellow of the Royal Society, including Honorary, Foreign and Royal Fellows

Fellowship of the Royal Society is an award granted to individuals that the Royal Society of London judges to have made a 'substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science, and medical science'.


Early life and education

Cheyne was born at sea off Hobart, Tasmania. His father, Andrew Cheyne, was the eldest of two illegitimate children born to James Cheyne, and was brother to John Cheyne, the Laird of Tangwick (Northmavine, Shetland). His father grew up at the Tangwick Haa, and went to sea around the age of twelve, rising to command a brig in the Far East at the age of 22. His mother Eliza, the daughter of the Rev. William Watson, died in 1856, leaving Willam Cheyne to be brought up by his grandfather, the Rev. William Watson, and latterly by his aunt and uncle-in-law, [2] in Fetlar.


Northmavine or Northmaven is a peninsula on the northernmost part of the Shetland mainland in Scotland. The peninsula has historically formed the Civil parish Northmavine. The modern Northmavine community council area has the same extent. The area of the parish is given as 204.1 km². At the provisional population census conducted in March 2017, the population numbered 741, yielding a population density of 3.6 per km², which is the second lowest in Shetland, after Fetlar.

Shetland Subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies north-east of mainland Britain

Shetland, also called the Shetland Islands and formerly Zetland, is a subarctic archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland, situated in the Northern Atlantic, between Great Britain, the Faroese Islands and Norway.

Fetlar One of the North Isles of Shetland, Scotland

Fetlar is one of the North Isles of Shetland, Scotland, with a usually resident population of 61 at the time of the 2011 census. Its main settlement is Houbie on the south coast, home to the Fetlar Interpretive Centre. Fetlar is the fourth-largest island of Shetland and has an area of just over 4,000 hectares (15 sq mi).

In 1864, he was sent to Aberdeen Grammar School, and he remained there until 1868 when he went to King's College, Aberdeen to study for an Arts degree, which he did not complete. His uncle and aunt wished him to train for the ministry, but like his father, his own inclination was for the sea. With the idea that if he became a doctor he could join the navy, he entered the University of Edinburgh to study medicine in May 1871. [3] He completed his degree in medicine and surgery in 1875.

Aberdeen Grammar School Secondary school in Aberdeen, Scotland

Aberdeen Grammar School is a state secondary school in Aberdeen, Scotland. It is one of thirteen secondary schools run by the Aberdeen City Council educational department.

Kings College, Aberdeen College of University of Aberdeen

King's College in Old Aberdeen, Scotland, the full title of which is The University and King's College of Aberdeen, is a formerly independent university founded in 1495 and now an integral part of the University of Aberdeen. Its historic buildings are the centrepiece of the University of Aberdeen's Old Aberdeen campus, often known as the King's or King's College campus.


Medical career

Cheyne became the house surgeon to Joseph Lister, the British founder of antiseptic medicine, in 1876. Bacteriology had been much researched in France and Germany in the 1870s and 80s, but little work was done in the field in Britain. Lister was one of the few pioneers of its study in Britain. In 1877, the two took positions at King's College Hospital, where Cheyne served as an assistant surgeon, and later as surgeon from 1880 to 1917 and also as a professor of surgery from 1891 to 1917. He was a devoted follower of Lister and his antiseptic surgical methods. Cheyne was greatly inspired by the work of German bacteriologist Robert Koch, and translated his work Untersuchungen über die Aetiologie der Wundinfenktionskrankheiten (1878) for the New Sydenham Society in 1880, which greatly enhanced the acceptance of bacteriology in Britain. [3] He had a work published in 1882, Antiseptic Surgery: Its Principles, Practice, History and Results, and later in 1885 a book, Lister and His Achievement. The work he did in his early career on bacteria and preventative medicine was highly influenced by Koch, and in Spring 1886, Cheyne visited Koch's laboratory in Berlin and studied his methods. [4] He undertook trials on tuberculin and reported his findings to the RMCS in April 1891. He found that giving repeated doses improved the condition of patients, but rarely acted as a cure. His paper was recognized as the first important contribution to the topic in France. [5] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1894.

Robert Koch 19th and 20th-century German physician and bacteriologist

Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch was a German physician and microbiologist. As one of the main founders of modern bacteriology, he identified the specific causative agents of tuberculosis, cholera, and anthrax and gave experimental support for the concept of infectious disease, which included experiments on humans and other animals. Koch created and improved laboratory technologies and techniques in the field of microbiology, and made key discoveries in public health. His research led to the creation of Koch's postulates, a series of four generalized principles linking specific microorganisms to specific diseases that remain today the "gold standard" in medical microbiology. For his research on tuberculosis, Koch received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1905. The Robert Koch Institute is named in his honour.

Tuberculin extract used to identify a tuberculosis infection

Tuberculin, also known as purified protein derivative, is a combination of proteins that are used in the diagnosis of tuberculosis. This use is referred to as the tuberculin skin test and is recommended only for those at high risk. Injection is done into the skin. After 48 to 72 hours if there is more than a five to ten millimeter area of swelling the test is considered positive.

Military service

Cheyne served during the Boer War as a consulting surgeon for the British military in South Africa from 1900 to 1901. In a despatch dated 31 March 1900, the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa, Lord Roberts, described how Cheyne had "rendered invaluable service by … advice and assistance to the Medical Officers" and "been unwearying in … work among the wounded and sick". [6] In 1910 he was made Honorary Surgeon-in-Ordinary to King George V. With the outbreak of World War I, he became a consulting surgeon to the Royal Navy in 1914, and in 1915 was for a short time temporary Surgeon General, RN. He was later made Surgeon Rear-Admiral and KCMG. [3] From 1914 to 1916, he served as President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and in 1924 he was awarded the inaugural Lister Medal for his contributions to surgical science. [3] The following year, he delivered the first Lister Memorial Lecture. [7] He was made a baronet in 1908.

Second Boer War War between two Boer Republics and the United Kingdom

The Second Boer War was fought between the British Empire and two Boer states, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, over the Empire's influence in South Africa. It is also known variously as the Boer War, Anglo-Boer War, or South African War. Initial Boer attacks were successful, and although British reinforcements later reversed these, the war continued for years with Boer guerrilla warfare, until harsh British counter-measures brought the Boers to terms.

A member of the armed forces mentioned in dispatches is one whose name appears in an official report written by a superior officer and sent to the high command, in which his or her gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy is described.

Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts British soldier

Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, was a British Victorian era general who became one of the most successful British military commanders of his time. Born in India to an Anglo-Irish family, Roberts joined the East India Company Army and served as a young officer in the Indian Rebellion during which he won a Victoria Cross for gallantry. He was then transferred to the British Army and fought in the Expedition to Abyssinia and the Second Anglo-Afghan War, in which his exploits earned him widespread fame. Roberts would go on to serve as the Commander-in-Chief, India before leading British Forces to success in the Second Boer War. He also became the last Commander-in-Chief of the Forces before the post was abolished in 1904.

Political career

In 1917, he was elected a Unionist Member of Parliament (MP) for Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities [8] and for the Combined Scottish Universities in 1918, holding the seat until he stepped down at the 1922 general election. [9]

The Unionist Party was the main centre-right political party in Scotland between 1912 and 1965.

Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities was a university constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1868 until 1918. It was merged with the Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities constituency to form the Combined Scottish Universities constituency.

The Combined Scottish Universities was a three-member university constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1918 until 1950. It was created by merging the single-member constituencies of Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities and Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities.

Later life

He was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Orkney and Shetland in 1919. Cheyne left London in the early 1920s and retired to Fetlar. He resigned his position as Lord Lieutenant in 1930. He died in 1932 aged 79 at a sanatorium in England after a prolonged illness. [3]


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  1. b., W. (1932). "Sir William Watson Cheyne, Baronet. 1852-1932". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society . 1: 26. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1932.0007.
  2. "Sir William Watson Cheyne" watson-cheyne.com/swintro.htm. Retrieved 1 May 2008
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 W. B (December 1932). "Sir William Watson Cheyne, Baronet. 1852–1932". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 1 (1): 26–30. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1932.0007.
  4. "Cheyne, Sir William Watson, 1st Baronet." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006.
  5. Hunting, Penelope (1 January 2002). The History of the Royal Society of Medicine. RSM Press. p. 150. ISBN   1-85315-497-0.
  6. "No. 27282". The London Gazette . 8 February 1901. p. 845.
  7. Lister and his Achievement, Sir William Watson Cheyne, 1925
  8. Historical list of MPs: E (part 1). leighrayment.com
  9. Craig, F. W. S. (1983) [1969]. British parliamentary election results 1918–1949 (3rd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. ISBN   0-900178-06-X.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Christopher Nicholson Johnston
Member of Parliament for Edinburgh & St Andrews Universities
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Combined Scottish Universities
With: Dugald Cowan
Sir Henry Craik
Succeeded by
Dugald Cowan
Sir Henry Craik
Sir George Berry
Honorary titles
Title last held by
Malcolm Alfred Laing
Lord Lieutenant of Orkney and Shetland
Succeeded by
Alfred Baikie
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Leagarth)
Succeeded by
Joseph Lister Cheyne