Ireland, William Wotherspoon (DNB12)

IRELAND, WILLIAM WOTHERSPOON (1832–1909), physician, born at Edinburgh on 27 Oct. 1832, was son of Thomas Ireland, a publisher of Edinburgh. Through his father's grandmother he was a lineal descendant of John Knox through Mrs. Welsh, daughter of the reformer. His mother was Mary, daughter of William Wotherspoon, writer to the signet, and first manager and secretary of the Scottish Widows' Life Assurance Society. Ireland was educated at the Edinburgh high school, and afterwards at the university, where he graduated M.D. in 1855. He then studied for a short time at Paris and became resident surgeon at the Dumfries Infirmary. He was appointed an assistant surgeon in the East India Company's service on 4 Aug. 1850, was attached to the Bengal horse artillery, and was present at the siege of Delhi, where he treated the wounds of Lieutenant (now Lord) Roberts. He took part in the battles of Bedli-Ka-Serai and Najafgarh. He was himself wounded by a bullet which destroyed one of his eyes and passed round the base of the skull towards the opposite ear. Ho also had a second wound though of a less serious character; a ball entered the shoulder and lodged in his back. In the list of casualties in the East India Register and Army List for 1858 he is shown as 'killed before Delhi 26 August 1857.' He received the medal and clasp and was granted three years' furlough counting as service; but after two years' convalescence he was retired from the service with a special pension. After ten years' work, partly spent at Madeira and partly on the continent of Europe, he was from 1869 to 1879 medical superintendent of the Scottish National Institution for Imbecile Children at Larbert. In 1880 he opened a private home for the treatment of cases of arrested mental development, first at Stirling, afterwards at Prestonpans and Polton. In 1905 he was the recipient from his friends of a jubilee gift and an illuminated address presented to him by Dr. T. S. Clouston. He retired to Musselburgh after the death of his wife and died there on 17 May 1909.

He married Margaret Paterson in 1861, and left one son and a daughter.

Ireland, a man of striking individuality, became an authority upon idiocy and imbecility. He had a wide knowledge of literature and history and was well acquainted with the French, German, Italian, Spanish, Norse, and Hindustani languages. His most original and interesting work was the application of his medico-psychological knowledge to explain the lives and actions of many celebrated men. These sketches are contained in 'The Blot upon the Brain, Studies in History and Psychology' (Edinburgh, 1885; 2nd edit. 1893; New York, 1886; translated into German, Stuttgart, 1887), where he considers the hallucinations of Mohammed, Luther, and Joan of Arc; the history of the hereditary neurosis of the royal family of Spain, and kindred subjects. A companion volume 'Through the Ivory Gate, Studies in Psychology and History,' Edinburgh, 1889, deals with Emanuel Swedenborg, William Blake, Louis II of Bavaria, Louis Riel, and others. His 'Life of Sir Harry Vane the Younger, with a History of the Events of his Time,' 1905, Is a careful study from original documents.

Besides the works mentioned, Ireland published:

  1. 'A History of the Siege of Delhi by an Officer who served there,' Edinburgh, 1861.
  2. 'Randolph Methyl, a Story of Anglo-Indian Life,' 1863, 2 vols.
  3. 'What Food to eat,' 1865.
  4. 'Studies of a Wandering Observer,' 1867.
  5. 'Idiocy and Imbecility,' 1877, 2nd edit, renamed 'The Mental Affections of Children: Idiocy, Imbecility, and Insanity,' London and Edinburgh, 1898; Philadelphia, 1900.
  6. 'Golden Bullets, a Story of the Days of Akber and Elizabeth,' Edinburgh, 1891.

To the 'Journal of Mental Science he contributed literary and psychological studies of Torquato Tasso, Auguste Comte and Friedrich Nietzsche.

[Journal of Mental Science, 1909, lv. p. 582; Edinburgh Med. Journal, June 1909, p. 563; Lancet, 1909, i. 1643; Brit. Med. Journal, 1909, i. 1334; additional information kindly given by Lieut.-col. D. G. Crawford, I.M.S., and Miss Ireland.]

D’A. P.