Biography of William Anderson
William Anderson was educated at the City of London School. He then entered the University of Aberdeen, but soon moved to the Lambeth School of Art, where he developed his considerable talents as a draftsman and artist, and obtained a medal for artistic anatomy. He entered medical school at St. Thomas’ Hospital in 1864, graduating in 1867 with the Cheselden Medal for surgery. He was a hard-working student and, being somewhat reticent, preferred the wards and classrooms to boisterous extra-curricular activities.
He was conferred doctor of medicine in 1868 and then worked as a house surgeon at St. Thomas’ Hospital. He became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1869 and thereafter gained practical surgical experience at the General Hospital, Derby, before returning to St. Thomas’ Hospital in 1871 as surgical registrar and demonstrator in anatomy. His appointment coincided with the opening of the new hospital, which was situated on the south bank of the river Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament. His artistic abilities proved to be of great value in the illustration of his lectures on anatomy and he quickly acquired a reputation for his prowess in this field. His students were especially impressed by his ability to draw on the blackboard simultaneously with both hands.
In 1873 Anderson married the daughter of Dr. Hall, a physician of Derby.
An artist in Japan
A unique combination of art and medicine commenced when the Japanese government established the Imperial Naval Medical College in Tokyo and advertised for a British surgeon as its director. Anderson obtained the position of professor of anatomy there in 1873 and was medical officer to the British envoy in Japan from 1874 to 1879. At first he lectured with the aid of an interpreter, and later in Japanese, on anatomy, physiology, surgery, and medicine.
Anderson lived in the English colony, where he acted as medical officer to the British Legation. He had a genial nature and his popularity with his students was enhanced by the fluency that he developed in the Japanese language.
During this period he started collecting Japanese pictures. His first collection was destroyed in a fire in which he lost most of his possessions, but he was soon able to replace his losses. Thus he built a superb collection of Japanese art, engravings, etchings and illustrated books that illustrated the history and development of Japanese art. He later sold his collection to the British Museum. At the time it was considered to be the finest to be assembled in Europe and perhaps in the world. In his later years Anderson wrote several authoritative texts on oriental art and he maintained his links with the Japanese community in London.
Return to St. Thomas's
In 1880 he was invited back to St. Thomas’s as assistant surgeon and lecturer in anatomy, in place of William Warwick Wagstaffe (1843-1910), who had retired due to ill health. Paradoxically, Wagstaffe survived to write Anderson's obituary, 20 years later. In 1887 Anderson was placed in charge of the dermatology department where he described «angiokeratoma corporis diffusum universale».
Every year large numbers of Japanese students flocked to his lectures in London. He continued teaching anatomy until he became full surgeon in 1891, and that same year was appointed Hunterian professor of surgery and anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons, succeeding professor John Marshall (1818-1891). He was vice president of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland. From 1892 he was professor of anatomy at the Royal Academy of Arts, from 1894 surgeon and lecturer in surgery at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London. Anderson was examiner of surgery at the University of London and to the Royal College of Surgeons.
Anderson was not a voluminous writer, but he wrote several textbooks and made contributions to the history of surgery, art in relation to medical science and on deformities of the fingers and toes. He was founder and president of the Japan Society and was honoured by the Japanese government which awarded him the "Order of the Rising Sun" with the rank of commander. Many Japanese doctors came to work with him at St. Thomas’. He was an excellent teacher, although somewhat shy and retiring.
William Anderson had an eye for beauty and when failing a particularly handsome but ignorant student, drew the attention of his colleagues to the young Apollo and said, «Some woman has spoilt him». On another occasion when discussing another - «His ugly face has soured his life and his manners. I should like to try the effect of a whig and a beard.
He had believed he was suffering from indigestion but died suddenly from a ruptured cord of the mitral valve, presumably secondary to coronary thrombosis, while driving through London in his carriage.