Smyly, Sir William Josiah (1850–1941), obstetrician and gynaecologist, was born 14 November 1850 at 13 Merrion Sq., Dublin, third of six sons among eleven children of Josiah Smyly, FRCSI, and Ellen Smyly (qv) (née Franks), philanthropist. He was educated by private tutors and graduated BA, MB, LM (1872) and MD (1875) from TCD, becoming licentiate (1872), member (1882), and fellow (1884) of K&QCP(I), and licentiate (1872) and fellow (1877) of the RCSI; he also studied in Vienna. As a student he won the Dublin Pathological Society's gold medal for his essay on the ‘Diagnosis and pathology of injuries of the spinal column and cord’ (1871). He was appointed demonstrator of anatomy (1874–7) at RCSI; expecting that his elder brother Philip (qv) would monopolise many specialities, he decided to specialise in gynaecology and was successively appointed assistant master at the Rotunda Hospital (1877–80) and gynaecologist (1882–9) at the City of Dublin Hospital before returning to the Rotunda as master (1889–96) and subsequently consultant gynaecologist (1896–1941).
Immediately recognising the need for modernisation, he undertook ‘the most important reforms made in the history of the hospital’ (Alan Browne, 86). The nursing staff was reorganised; a lady superintendent, Sara Hampson (qv), a trained nurse, replaced (1892–6) the matron and housekeeper and supervised the nursing staff. Elderly and untrained staff resigned or were pensioned off and replaced by fully trained, uniformed nurses, and a training programme for midwives was established (1896). Sanitary arrangements were improved, and nurses (having previously shared wards with patients) were provided with separate sleeping accommodation and a dining hall, facilities that helped to make the Rotunda a popular centre for student midwives.
As a result of a vigorous fund-raising campaign by Smyly and his wife, the Thomas Plunkett Cairnes wing was opened (1895) for gynaecological patients; designed and equipped by Smyly, it included spacious wards and the first aseptic operating theatre in Dublin, which included a steel operating table, metal instruments, a steriliser, and a glass screen separating spectators from the operating staff – pioneering improvements, not previously seen in the British Isles. A skilful operator, Smyly successfully performed many new and difficult operations, and the Rotunda attracted practitioners and student doctors from all over the world. Other innovations included two labour wards (previously lying-in patients and those in labour shared the same room), the abandonment of chloroform and the use of morphine in the treatment of eclampsia, and the introduction of vegetables into the diet of the nursing mother. During his mastership 8,896 women were delivered with a maternal mortality rate of 0.77 per cent. An inspiring teacher, he had as his watchwords cleanliness, natural labour, and ‘no meddlesome midwifery’. Known to his patients as ‘the dear little man’, kindly and respectful to all, he typically commissioned Stephen Catterson Smith (qv) to paint a portrait of Sara Hampson, in acknowledgement of her great contribution, which was hung (1903) in the nurses’ dining room.
He served as gynaecologist (1896–1921) and consultant (1921–41) to the Adelaide Hospital, conducted an extensive private practice from 58 Merrion Sq., Dublin, and was examiner for several institutions including the RCPI and the universities of Dublin, Belfast, and Bristol. He contributed essays to T. C. Allbutt and W. S. Playfair (ed.), A system of gynaecology (1896), to Encyclopaedia medica (1899–1901), and to A. M. Murray (ed.) Quain's dictionary of medicine (3rd ed., 1902); wrote ‘Recollections of the Rotunda Hospital’ (Ir. Jn. Med. Sc., no. 12 (Dec. 1930), 661–6); and was a frequent contributor on a variety of subjects to professional journals.
Greatly respected by his colleagues, he was regarded as the leader of the Dublin school of midwifery, and was knighted (1905); among other distinctions, he was president of the British Gynaecological Society (1900), the Glasgow Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society (1901–3), the RCPI (1904), the Irish Medical Association (1908), the obstetrical sections of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland (1890), the BMA meeting in Bournemouth, England (1891), and the Royal Society of Medicine (1905). He was elected hon. member of the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Leipzig (1909) and hon. fellow of the Edinburgh Obstetrical Society (1921) and of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (1934).
Deeply religious and a strict sabbatarian, he represented the Dublin diocese on the general synod of the Church of Ireland and served on many charitable committees, including the Mission to Lepers. He was associated with numerous nursing societies, the Boys' Brigade, and the Masonic Order, of which he was senior grand warden in the Grand Lodge of Ireland. A talented musician and violinist, he played solo parts in charity concerts. His smart carriage and fast horse were well known in Dublin. His brother Sir Philip Crampton Smyly was surgeon in ordinary to Queen Victoria.
He died 19 March 1941 at his home, ‘Orton’, Seapoint Ave., Monkstown, Co. Dublin; his funeral was held in Christ Church cathedral and he was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin. His portrait hangs in the Rotunda. He married (1881) Eleanor Colpoys Tweedy, younger daughter of Dr Henry Tweedy, MD, and sister of Dr H. J. C. Tweedy (qv), MD; it was a happy marriage, and they had two sons and three daughters. Their eldest daughter, Aileen Grace Smyly, married her cousin Sir Philip Crampton Smyly (1896–1953), chief justice of Sierra Leone (1901–11) and the Gold Coast (1911–29), who was knighted for legal services in Sierra Leone on the same day as his father-in-law was similarly honoured; Vivienne Smyly became supervisor of the Smyly Homes and wrote The early history of Mrs. Smyly's homes and private schools (1977). Their younger son died in childhood.
Their eldest son, Henry Jocelyn Smyly (1882–1970), medical missionary, was born 7 October 1882 in Dublin; he graduated BA (1906) with large gold medal, MB (1911), and MD (1912) from TCD, was elected FRCSI (1912), and served (1911–12) as a house surgeon at the Adelaide Hospital, Dublin. He joined the London Missionary Society and combined missionary activity with clinical teaching and research on his appointment (1913–28) as associate in medicine (and an original member) of the Union Medical College, Peking (Beijing), which became the leading centre of western medicine in China. He organised a successful field campaign against pneumonic plague and used the Chinese hamster as an experimental animal in research on kala-azar. He was mainly responsible for the founding of the Peking Union College Hospital (funded by John D. Rockefeller), and he invited Jocelyn's father, William, to its official opening (1921).
From 1918 he was a member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and under its auspices was appointed (1928) professor of clinical medicine at the Christian Cheloo University, Tsinan, northern China; he supervised a small leprosy hospital and developed an interest in the disease. After the Japanese occupation (1941) of the hospital, he and his wife were interned briefly before being repatriated to England, where he worked in London at Guys and Tooting Bec Hospitals. Returning (1947) to his beloved China, he was again obliged to leave (1951) by the communist advance, and subsequently toured leprosy centres in India. He continued his research with the Mission to Lepers in London and later at the hospital of the Mission to Lepers in Hong Kong (1955–7), where he studied the histopathology of the disease. Returning to England via Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) to visit his son, David Paul Smyly, a medical missionary, he took up the temporary vacancy of government leprologist (1958–60), and continued his research with the Leprosy Study Centre, Wimpole St., London. He contributed to several editions of R. L. Cecil, A textbook of medicine, and to R. G. Cochrane and T. F. Davey (ed.), Leprosy in theory and practice (2nd ed. 1964), which became a standard work. He was elected fellow of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Gentlemanly, gifted with a sense of humour, and full of energy, he was cycling on the day that he died (4 June 1970) at his home, Anglesea House, Kingston upon Thames. He married (1921) Dr Eileen May Bell, MD (Belf.) (gold medal, 1916); they had two sons.