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William Allen Sturge

Born 1850
Died 1919

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English physician, born 1850, Bristol; died 1919.

Biography of William Allen Sturge

William Allen Sturge was born of Quaker parents in Bristol, where his father, William Sturge, was a wealthy surveyor. He attended local schools until 1865 when he was sent to a Quaker school in London. There, while playing soccer, he injured his knees. He stayed with his uncle while he was recuperating from the knee injury. His uncle, a physician, had sons studying medicine, and it was during this stay that William developed an interest in medicine. This was contrary to his father's wishes; wanting instead that his son take up the family business. His father relented, however, and allowed him to pursue his interest in medicine.

He commenced his medical studies at Bristol Medical School in 1868. He was a very industrious young man who, in the pursuit of his interests, neglected his own health. He fell ill of diphtheria in June, 1869. In August, after recovering from the illness, William went on vacation in Switzerland with his family. While there he developed rheumatic fever, an illness that lasted for several weeks. After recovering, he resumed his studies and passed the Primary Examination of the College of Surgeons in 1870. He went to London in 1871 to continue his studies at University College, but had a second attack of rheumatic fever in 1872 which forced him to take a prolonged rest. His father sent him on a tour in the East in 1873. As a medical attendant, William accompanied a wealthy young man named Lukas to Egypt. After returning from Egypt he resumed his medical studies and received his medical degree from University College, London, in 1873.

After holding the post of Physician's Assistant, he became a resident medical officer and subsequently registrar of the National Hospital for Paralysis and Epilepsy and here commenced his interest in neurology. In 1876 he went to Paris to study with Jean Martin Charcot (1825-1893), but also gained experience in general pathology and medicine with Jean Alfred Fournier (1832-1915) at the St. Louis Hospital.

Both Charcot and Fournier were highly impressed with Sturge's intelligence and originality. It was in Paris that he met his wife, Emily Bovell, who was also a physician. Emily Bovell was one of the original half dozen women who gained admission to the Medical School of Edinburgh University, only to be physically ejected by the male students and faculty. All of these women eventually completed their medical training elsewhere and all achieved distinction in their own particular field. Sturge was strongly liberal and was one of the keenest supporters of women’s medical education.

They married in September 1877 and returned to London to set up a practice together in Wimpole Street. He was appointed physician and pathologist to the Royal Free Hospital, and a lecturer to the Women's Medical School.

He was a fine speaker, an excellent teacher and extremely interested in the welfare of his patients. He had a very large practice of patients with organic conditions and also of patients with psychosomatic problems.

In 1880 his wife became ill and Sturge decided to move to Nice, where he lived for the next 27 years during the autumn, winter and spring. He gradually became very well known and socially prominent as a physician in the Riviera and looked after Queen Victoria and her family during her four visits to Cimez. In recognition of this service, Queen Victoria awarded him gifts and an MVO, which is an order and decoration reserved for people who have rendered service to the Royal Family of a personal nature.

Emily Bovell died in her early 40's in 1885. The following year William married Julia Sherriff, who was his nurse in Nice. Julia was the daughter of a wealthy iron master in the North of England. Because of the summer heat in Nice, the couple used to take their vacations at this time of the year. Sturge was very fond of travelling. It was during his travels that he became greatly interested in archaeology and began to collect Greek vases and Palaeolithic and Neolithic flint implements.

He had rheumatic fever in 1894 which recurred in 1899 and in 1907 he decided to give up practice and return to England. During his holidays he studied early Greek art and was a collector of Etruscan vases, devoting most of his leisure time to the study of archaeology. He settled at Icklingham Hall in Suffolk, which was near the diggings where the Piltdown skull was found. There he established one of the finest private museums of flint implements in the world, carefully classified and catalogued. His collection of more than 100.000 pieces is now in the British Museum. Sturge was one of the founders and first president of the Society of Prehistoric Archaeology of East Anglia His collection of Greek amphora is housed in the Toronto Museum, Canada as the Sturge Collection

In the winter of 1918 he suffered from influenza and then nephritis and subsequently died in March 1919. William Sturge left no children to bear his name.

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