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Sir William Bowman, 1st Baronet

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Sir William Bowman, Bt
Sir William Bowman, 1st Baronet
Born20 July 1816
Nantwich, Cheshire, England
Died29 March 1892(1892-03-29) (aged 75)
Known forBowman's Capsule
Bowman's glands
Bowman's layer
AwardsRoyal Medal (1842)
Scientific career

Sir William Bowman, 1st Baronet (20 July 1816 – 29 March 1892) was an English surgeon, histologist and anatomist. He is best known for his research using microscopes to study various human organs, though during his lifetime he pursued a successful career as an ophthalmologist.


Born in Nantwich, Cheshire, third son of a banker and amateur botanist/geologist, Bowman attended Hazelwood School near Birmingham from 1826.[1] A childhood accident involving gunpowder is supposed to have interested him in medicine, and he was apprenticed to surgeon Joseph Hodgson at Birmingham General Hospital in 1832.[1] He left Birmingham in 1837 to further his training as a surgeon and attended King's College London, where he served as a prosector under Robert Bentley Todd, a Professor of physiology.

His earliest notable work was on the structure of striated muscle, for which he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1841.[1] At the young age of 25, he identified what then became known as the Bowman's capsule, a key component of the nephron. He presented his findings in 1842 in his paper "On the Structure and Use of the Malpighian Bodies of the Kidney" to the Royal Society and was awarded the Royal Medal. His collaboration with Todd led to the publication of the five-volume "Physiological Anatomy and Physiology of Man" (1843–1856) and "Cyclopaedia of Anatomy and Physiology" (1852), which detailed their research on microscopy and histology, relating minute anatomical observations to physiological functions. Their extensive use of the microscopes revolutionized the study of anatomy and physiology. Apart from the Bowman's capsule, other anatomical structures named after him include:

After completing his surgical training in 1844, Bowman practised as an ophthalmologist at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital (later known as Moorfields Eye Hospital). He was an early user of the ophthalmoscope invented by Hermann von Helmholtz in 1851.[1] Between 1848 and 1855, he also taught at King's College. In 1880, he founded the 'Ophthalmological Society', which later became the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

In 1870 he commissioned Arts and Crafts architect Philip Webb to rebuild Joldwynds, Bowman's house in Holmbury St Mary, Surrey. It was completed in 1874.[2]

In 1884, Queen Victoria created him as a baronet.[3] He died at Joldwynds on 29 March 1892, and is buried in the neighbouring churchyard of Holmbury St. Mary.[4] A memorial to him lies within St James's Church, Piccadilly.

A memorial to Sir William Bowman, 1st Baronet, in St James's Church, Piccadilly


On 28 December 1842, he married Harriet, fifth daughter of Thomas Paget of Leicester, by whom he had seven children. She died at Joldwynds on 25 October 1900. He was succeeded in the title by his eldest son, Sir Paget Bowman.[4]

Publications by Sir William Bowman[edit]

  • Todd, Robert Bentley; Bowman, William (1857), The Physiological Anatomy and Physiology of Man, Philadelphia: Blanchard and Lea, retrieved 3 August 2008, full download available at Google Book Search.
  • Bowman, William (1849), Lectures on the parts concerned in the operations on the eye, and on the structure of the retina: Delivered at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, Moorfields, June 1847. To which are Added, a Paper on the Vitreous Humor; and Also a Few Cases of Ophthalmic Disease, London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, full download available at Google Book Search.


  1. ^ a b c d Hale-White, W. (1935) "Sir William Bowman", pp. 177–188; in Great Doctors of the Nineteenth Century, Edward Arnold & Co
  2. ^ Kirk, Sheila (2005), Philip Webb: Pioneer of Arts & Crafts Architecture, Chichester: Wiley-Academy, p. 115, ISBN 0470868082
  3. ^ "No. 25305", The London Gazette, 4 January 1884, p. 78
  4. ^ a b Power 1901.

Wikisource This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainPower, D'Arcy (1901), "Bowman, William", in Lee, Sidney (ed.), Dictionary of National Biography (1st supplement), London: Smith, Elder & Co


  • Galst, Jay M (April 2007), "Sir William Bowman (1816–1892).", Archives of Ophthalmology, 125 (4): 459, doi:10.1001/archopht.125.4.459, PMID 17450657
  • Frixione, Eugenio (2006), "Muscle microanatomy and its changes during contraction: the legacy of William Bowman (1816–1892).", Journal of Muscle Research and Cell Motility, 27 (1): 9–20, doi:10.1007/s10974-005-9048-z, PMID 16465470, S2CID 20472873
  • Haviv, Y S (February 2000), "Figures in the historical dispute over renal function. Part II: Karl Ludwig versus Rudolph Heidenhain and William Bowman.", Journal of Medical Biography, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 32–8, doi:10.1177/096777200000800107, PMID 10994045, S2CID 12239557
  • Eknoyan, G (December 1996), "Sir William Bowman: his contributions to physiology and nephrology.", Kidney Int., vol. 50, no. 6, pp. 2120–8, doi:10.1038/ki.1996.538, PMID 8943499
  • Roman, F S (October 1992), "Sir William Bowman", The British Journal of Ophthalmology, 76 (10): 639, doi:10.1136/bjo.76.10.639, PMC 505252, PMID 1420050
  • Trevor-Roper, P (March 1992), "Sir William Bowman—1816–1892", The British Journal of Ophthalmology, vol. 76, no. 3, p. 129, doi:10.1136/bjo.76.3.129, PMC 504187, PMID 1540552
  • Davis, B T (1982), "The formative years of Sir William Bowman, F. R. S", Histoire des sciences médicales, vol. 17, no. Spec 2, pp. 169–71, PMID 11612284
  • Law, F W (1975), "Sir William Bowman", Survey of Ophthalmology, vol. 19, no. 5, pp. 302–7, PMID 1092012
  • Lilien, O M (July 1972), "Sir William Bowman (1816–1892)", Investigative Urology, 10 (1): 107–8, ISSN 0021-0005, PMID 4556711
  • Grondona, F (September 1971), "[Structure and function of the kidney according to William Bowman]", Clio Medica (Amsterdam, Netherlands), vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 195–204, PMID 4113808
  • Thomas, K B (July 1966), "The manuscripts of Sir William Bowman", Medical History, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 245–56, doi:10.1017/s002572730001111x, PMC 1033604, PMID 5330007

Further reading[edit]

Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Holmbury St Mary)
Succeeded by