William Smellie (obstetrician)

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William Smellie (5 February 1697, Lanark – 5 March 1763, Lanark) was a Scottish obstetrician.

He practiced medicine before getting a license, but enrolled later at the University of Glasgow and received his M.D. degree in 1745. After training in obstetrics in London and Paris, he opened a practice in London and began teaching. He invented a "machine", an obstetrical manikin, for instructions. Smellie described the mechanism of labour, designed obstetrical forceps, devised a maneuver to deliver the head of a breech, and published his teachings. He is believed to have painted his own portrait.

Use of forceps by W.Smellie

The William Smellie Memorial Hospital which provided maternity services in Lanark closed in the early 1990s and was re-located to a unit at the Law Hospital in Carluke. This was also closed recently and maternity services moved to Wishaw General Hospital.

It has been alleged that Smellie was involved with either murdering or showing a callous disregard for where his corpses came from (as well as his former pupil William Hunter,and brother John Hunter). The supporting evidence for this theory includes the large number of pregnant corpses Hunter was able to obtain.[1] However, this is widely contested by scholars, and so the debate continues.[2]

The tomb in which William Smellie (and later his wife) was buried still stands in the St. Kentigerns section of the state run Lanark graveyard.


  1. ^ The Emperor's New Clothes - JRSM, Shelton D. The Emperor's new clothes. J R Soc Med 2010;103:46–50. Retrieved Jan 2014
  2. ^ Founders of British obstetrics 'were callous murderers', Denis Campbell, 7 February 1997, The Observer. Retrieved May 2010
  • Speert, H. Obstetric and Gynecologic Milestones (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1958).
  • Lanark Museum

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