James Wardrop

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James Wardrop
James Wardrop.jpg
James Wardrop by Andrew Geddes
Torbane Hill, Linlithgowshire
Died1869 (aged 86–87)
Burial placeBathgate Old Kirk
OccupationSurgeon and ophthalmologist
  • James Wardrop (1738-1830) (father)
  • Marjorie (mother)
RelativesAndrew Wardrop

James Wardrop FRSE FRCSEd FRCS (1782–1869) was a Scottish surgeon and ophthalmologist.


Wardrop was born the youngest son of James Wardrop (1738-1830) and Marjorie (née Marjoribanks) at Torbane Hill, near Linlithgow, West Lothian, but at four years of age moved with the family to live in Edinburgh where he attended the High School, and then St Andrews University. In 1800 he was apprenticed to a firm of surgeon apothecaries which included his uncle Andrew Wardrop, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh,[1] and in 1801 was appointed House Surgeon at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

He trained in London (1801), Paris and Vienna (1803). He was admitted a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1804. He worked as an ophthalmic surgeon in Edinburgh 1804–08 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1808, upon the proposal of Andrew Wardrop, Alexander Keith and James Russell. In 1809, he published an important monograph 'Observations on Fungus Haematodes or Soft Cancer' in which he for the first time described as an entity a pediatric eye cancer now known as retinoblastoma[2] and, unknowingly, a uveal melanoma that he helped to enucleate and that later metastasized to the liver.[3]

Soon thereafter, Wardrop moved to London where he worked as an ophthalmic surgeon in 1809–69; and gained his honorary MD degree at St Andrews University in 1834.

Wardrop taught surgery from 1826 at the Aldersgate Street medical academy with Lawrence and Tyrrell, and published surgical treatises.[4] Wardrop was early appointed surgeon-extraordinary by the Prince Regent. This annoyed rivals in London, and he found the doors of the large hospitals closed to him. In retaliation he founded the West London Hospital for Surgery near the Edgware Road, and invited general practitioners to watch him operate. Further royal honours came, but he declined a baronetcy (in lieu of royal fees) and moved out of royal circles. His social gifts, a knowledge of horseflesh and marriage to a wife with aristocratic connections brought him popularity.[5]

Wardrop was associated with Thomas Wakley in the founding of The Lancet in 1823, for which he first wrote savage articles and, later, witty and scurrilous lampoons in his column 'Intercepted Letters'. The letters, under the pseudonym 'Brutus', were thinly disguised as by leading London surgeons, 'accidentally' revealing their nepotism, venality and incompetence. There was enough truth in them to make the parodies sting.

He was later rehabilitated with the Royal College of Surgeons of England, becoming a Fellow in 1843.[6]

On his death he was buried in Bathgate Old Kirk.


In 1813 he had married Margaret, daughter of Col. George L Dalrymple of East Lothian and the widow of Captain Burn. They had four sons and a daughter.


  1. ^ "James Wardrop (1782–1869): from Whitburn to Windsor Castle". Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Archived from the original on 22 October 2010. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
  2. ^ Kivelä T (Nov 2009). "200 years of success initiated by James Wardrop's 1809 monograph on retinoblastoma". Acta Ophthalmol. 87 (8): 810–2. doi:10.1111/j.1755-3768.2009.01807.x. PMID 20002017.
  3. ^ Kivelä T (Aug 2017). "The first description of the complete natural history of uveal melanoma by two Scottish surgeons, Allan Burns and James Wardrop". Acta Ophthalmol. 95. doi:10.1111/aos.13535. PMID 28834323.
  4. ^  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1899). "Wardrop, James". Dictionary of National Biography. 59. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  5. ^ Brook C. 1945. Battling surgeon. Strickland Press, Glasgow. p36
  6. ^ Desmond A. 1989. The politics of evolution: morphology, medicine and reform in radical London. Chicago. p. 428


  • Wardrop, James 1808. Essays on the morbid anatomy of the human eye.
  • Wardrop, James 1809. Observations on Fungus Haematodes or Soft Cancer