William Marsden (surgeon)

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William Marsden by Thomas Henry Illidge.

William Marsden (1796–1867) was an English surgeon whose main achievements are the founding of two presently well-known hospitals, the Royal Free Hospital (in 1828) and the Royal Marsden Hospital (in 1851).

Marsden was born in Sheffield in Yorkshire, the youngest of eight children. When he left school he was apprenticed to a wholesale druggist in Sheffield. In 1816, he moved to London where he took up an apprenticeship to a surgeon-apothecary before setting up on his own. At the end of 1824 he enrolled as a student of surgery at St Bartholomew's Hospital under the famous surgeon and lecturer John Abernethy (1764–1831). In April 1827 Marsden passed his MRCS examination to qualify as a full surgeon. He became an MD in 1838.

After discovering the difficulties the poor had in obtaining medical treatment, Marsden sought to establish a free hospital in London for which "poverty and sickness are the only passports".[1] In 1828 he set up a small dispensary at 16 Greville Street, Hatton Garden, Holborn, which was named the London General Institution for the Gratuitous Cure of Malignant Diseases. This was later constituted as the Royal Free Hospital, and moved to the Gray's Inn Road in the 1840s.

A few years later, Marsden turned his attention to cancer sufferers and, in 1851, set up another small establishment in Cannon Row, Westminster. This grew into the Brompton Cancer Hospital (now the Royal Marsden Hospital, Fulham Road site).

Marsden married Ann Bishop, known as Betsy-Ann, in 1820. They had four children, three sons and a daughter, but only one of them, Alexander Edwin Marsden, a surgeon (1832–1902), survived into adulthood. Betsy-Ann died of cancer in 1846 and Marsden married his second wife, Elizabeth Abbott.

William Marsden died in 1867. He is buried in West Norwood Cemetery, South London [1].[2]


  1. ^ Statement originating in the 1830s that was added to the cover of the Royal Free Hospital's annual reports from 1889. (Royal Free Archive Centre, Royal Free Hospital Annual Reports)
  2. ^ Dr William Marsden at Find a Grave

Further reading[edit]

  • McIntyre N. William Marsden's Yorkshire family, 1749-1922. J Med Biogr 2004;12:154-60. PMID 15257351.
  • Ford JM. William Marsden (1796–1867); Alexander Marsden (1832–1902). J Med Biogr 2002;10:62. PMID 11898764.
  • Sandwith, Frieda. Surgeon Compassionate; The Story of Dr. William Marsden M.D., M.R.C.S. Peter Davies, London, 1960. (The author is the great-granddaughter of Dr. Marsden).

External links[edit]