William Birket Procter (1832-1906) M.R.C.S. Eng. 1854 L.M. 1855 L.S.A. 1859 FRCS
On the 5th February 1827 William Procter aged 41 married Jane Dent aged 36 at Kirkby Lonsdale Parish Church. William was a farmer and in 1828 their first child Isabella was born, followed two years later in 1830 by Agnes. By the time their third and final child William Birket was born on the 11thJanuary 1832, his father had changed his profession to Inn Keeper at the Wheat Sheaf Inn, Main Street, Kirkby Lonsdale.
By 1851, when William Birket was 19 years old, he was living at Henry Street in Bury, Lancashire the home of General Practitioner, Adam Fletcher, where he was studying as an apprentice medical student.
To complete his training, William Birket moved to Church Street in Croydon Surrey, working at the Middlesex Teaching Hospital in Mortimer Street and also held the position of surgeon in the Royal Mail Service. While there, he met Sophia Parris (who was six years his senior) the daughter of Cordwainer James Parris and they were married on the 20thMarch 1854 at St John’s Parish Church, Croydon.
Shortly after his marriage, on 7thMay 1854 he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. (The letters MRCS indicate a surgeon in training who has achieved a level of generic surgical competencies that enable them to successfully undertake specialist training and they are current Members of the College).
Later that year there was a cholera outbreak in Soho and the Middlesex Hospital which had 240 beds, was overwhelmed with the sick, dying and dead. It was at the end of August 1854 shortly before she left for the Crimea that Florence Nightingale offered her help, so very probably William Birket worked alongside her. It was during this epidemic, on the 17thSeptember 1854 his wife Sophia gave birth to their first child Isabella Juliet.
Medical Times and Gazette (7thOctober 1854) Cholera in the Middlesex Hospital Hour after hour and night succeeding day, did all the members of the hospital staff—apothecaries and house-surgeons, matron and house steward, pupils, sisters, nurses and porters—discharge without for a moment shrinking from tasks of the most laborious and revolting. To understand the whole amount of service rendered by them, and its bearing upon the question of the contagiousness of cholera, it must be borne in mind, that this enormous and unprecedented influx of cases, every one of which required nearly constant attendance, came upon them so unexpectedly, that they were wholly unprovided with the requisite assistance. The whole duties, therefore, overwhelming as they were, from the morning of the 1st till midday of the 2nd September, fell to be and were discharged by the ordinary staff of the hospital.
In the nineteenth century it was believed that cholera was transmitted and spread by ‘bad air’ or ‘bad smells’ from rotting organic matter. But it was not until 1854 that the physician John Snow (1813-1858) made a major contribution to fighting cholera when he was able to demonstrate a link between cholera and contaminated drinking water through his pioneering studies. He was struck by the observation that the cases either lived close to or were using the Broad Street, Soho (now Broadwick Street) pump for drinking water. He also determined that brewery workers and poorhouse residents in the area, both of whom relied on local wells, escaped the epidemic. Snow concluded that access to uncontaminated water prevented them from cholera infection, while users of the Broad Street pump became infected. He persuaded the doubtful civic authorities to remove the handle from the Broad Street pump, and the already subsiding epidemic disappeared within a few days.
William Birket continued studying and in 1855 he obtained his LM (licentiate in midwifery).
Shortly after this, William Birket, Sophia and baby Isabella Juliet moved to Bridge Street in Bradford (next door to the Queen Hotel) where William Birket became Medical Officer for the Bradford South Workhouse.
On the 24thMarch 1857, twins William Birket Junior and Agnes Jane were born followed by Edith Sophia on the 30thDecember 1859, Henrietta Alice on the 31stOctober 1861, Ada Hannah on the 9thAugust 1863, Gertrude on the 26thJune 1865 and finally Evelyn Ida on the 10thJune 1867. Sadly, three of the children died at a very early age, Agnes Jane aged 16 years, Gertrude aged 4 days and Evelyn Ida aged 21 Months.
On the 11th June 1868, William Birket earned the title Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (The letters FRCS after a surgeon’s name means that the surgeon’s education and training, professional qualifications and surgical competence have passed a rigorous evaluation and have found to be consistent with the high standards established and demanded by the college, of which the surgeon is a current fellow).
William Birket was very concerned about the high death rate of infants in Bradford and on 29thJuly 1869 the following article appeared in the Bradford Observer:
Bradford Observer 29thJuly 1869 -THE INFANT MORTALITY OF BRADFORD. Mr. W. B. Procter, F.R.C.S., of Bradford, read a paper on this subject. In the first place he dwelt on the importance of the question of infant mortality, and its causes generally; and stated that in Bradford this question had excited the attention of the local sanitary body, and of the local press. The principal passages of the paper were as follows: – Bradford, then, has a high death-rate amongst infants: it is a large manufacturing town of 138,000 inhabitants and, upwards, is one of the ten or eleven large towns mentioned in the weekly mortality list of the Registrar-General, and in its manufacture’s female labour is largely employed, and it is worthwhile inquiring whether this high death-rate is influenced or not by females, that is, mothers, being employed in the mills. It is now well and widely known that in Lancashire during the cotton famine the death-rate amongst children was largely reduced, in consequence, it was said, of mother being obliged, from want of employment, to remain at home, and that the children thus obtained that care and attention which they previously did not. In order to obtain as correct impression as possible, of the cause of the heavy mortality in Bradford, I have taken the total number of deaths of infants under two years of age, for the last two years, ending March, 1869. The total number of deaths in the borough of Bradford in the two years ending March 1869, was 5942. Of these the number of deaths of infants under two years of age was 2795, or 47.038 per cent, of the total number of deaths. Further, of these 2795 deaths of infants, 2076 were deaths in the first year, or 74.275 per cent, infants which did not reach their first birthday.
Thus, we see that far the greatest number of infants die before they are a year old. Let us now analyse these 2795 deaths of infants under two years of age, and in doing I will place them in groups or classes for greater convenience and assistance to the memory. First, brain diseases, such as meningitis, hydrocephalus, &c. Second, convulsions. Third, diseases of the respiratory organs, viz., bronchitis, pneumonia, whooping cough, &c. Fourth, diseases of the digestive organs, as gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, tabes mensenterica marosmas, &c. Then premature birth, and debility from premature birth, next zymotic diseases, measles, scarlet fever, &c.; then small pox itself, congenital syphilis itself, then accidental death, and lastly, other or miscellaneous diseases which do not come under any of the above heads. First, then, there died of brain diseases 182 or 6.511 per cent. Of convulsions, of convulsions alone I mean, no other cause being assigned— there were 491 deaths or 17.567 per cent. Of diseases of the respiratory organs there were 556 deaths or 19.892, nearly 20 per cent. Of diseases of the digestive organs or bowels, there were 809 deaths or 28.228 per cent. I ought to say here that in these latter are included deaths from diarrhoea which occurred in the summer months, but which, if deducted, would not very materially alter the result. Of deaths from premature birth, and debility from premature birth, there were 284 or 10.161 per cent. Of congenital syphilis only 22 deaths or not quite 6 per cent, so we may dismiss that. Of measles and scarletina and typhoid fever 172 deaths or 6.150 per cent. Of smallpox 46 deaths or 1.645 per cent. Other diseases 7.370 per cent. Now, see plainly enough from these figures, that the chief source of infant mortality in Bradford is from diseases of the digestive organs, i.e., from diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, marasmus, atrophy, and the like. The percentage of deaths from these diseases being 28.828, whilst from no other group do, they reach 20 per cent. From my experience, and doubtless others from their experience, could have foretold this without having recourse to statistics. How are these diseases accounted for? How is the great mortality from this class explained? Is it accounted for by the mothers of these infants being absent from them during the day, and lacking the proper nourishment which nature has provided for them, and being badly nursed and improperly fed, that these diseases are generated, and hence the deaths? To some extent I believe this is so. There can be no doubt that many mothers are employed in the mills and their infants are put out to nurse. In many cases the infant is fed during the mother’s absence, and on her return is allowed the breast-milk again; thus, the two kinds of food disagree with it, it then soon becomes ill in its bowels and all thriving is put stop to. At all events, whether the mother goes to the mill or not, there can be no doubt that nearly all these infants are improperly fed, and that improper food during the early period of infancy is the great cause of these bowel diseases. The next most frequent deaths of infants are from diseases of the respiratory organs, bronchitis being the most fatal of the lot. Of course, it is easy here to say that these diseases are produced by alternations of temperature. Doubtless it is so: the only remark I would make in connection with this being that mothers are in the daily habit of taking their babes to the nurse as they go to work in the morning and calling for them on their return at night, and we can easily imagine that to take a young child out of its warm bed half-past five on a cold, raw winter’s morning, is a pretty sure method of ensuring it being carried off by bronchitis or pneumonia. Of deaths by convulsions the per centage is 17.567, a large proportion in my opinion. Now, the term convulsion as a cause of death is rather vague, as we usually suppose that convulsions are associated with some other disease. Many of these children are seized with convulsions during teething and die; but I suspect here also that many ill-fed, ill-nourished children die of convulsions which would not if they were properly fed, nursed, and cared for. Again, many of the deaths from convulsions occurred soon after birth, some a few hours afterwards, some a few days, and others a few weeks. The next most frequent cause of death is from premature birth and debility from premature birth, as many as 10.161 per cent, from this cause. Perhaps, strictly speaking, this ought not to be reckoned amongst the causes of infantile mortality; but as the deaths are registered, I had no alternative but to state them. In connection, perhaps, with this part of my subject may be mentioned the matter of still births; how many of these occur of course I am unable to say, but I fancy the number is great. In Bradford a great many of the poorer classes of women are attended by midwives; but I am quite unable to say that this fact influences the number of still births. At one time, a good many years ago, it was the custom at the Bradford Cemetery to bury still-born children without any certificate; but so numerous did they become that this practice was put a stop to, and now they are not interred without a certificate from the registrar. Of measles and scarletina there were 172 deaths, fewer than I should have thought; perhaps it may be accounted for by saying that there has been no serious outbreak of these diseases the last two years. Of small-pox 46 deaths—many, but not all of these were certified as unvaccinated, I strongly suspect that all were unvaccinated, for the majority of children in Bradford are not vaccinated within the time prescribed by the Act. Of the accidental or violent deaths, most of them were deaths by suffocation; one was suffocated by being accidentally and unknowingly shut up in a shut-up bed, others by being too closely wrapped in the bed clothes, others were found dead on the mother’s arm without any marks of violence. Of the deaths from other diseases no particular comment is required; they were deaths from abscess, diphtheria, spina bifida, malformations, &c, &c. Before closing I ought to allude to another point in connection with infantile mortality – I mean, the practise of drugging infants with *Godfrey’s cordial, soothing syrups, &c. From the inquiries I have made find that Godfrey’s cordial has in a great measure gone out of fashion (fashion, it appears, prevails in this as in everything else), and that the medicine most in use is called ’White mixture’ and it seems to be given in all those cases of bowel diseases I mentioned before. But the practice of giving cordials to infants seem to vary in different districts. ln a populous district in Bradford, one druggist alone, I am told, sells upwards of three dozen bottles of **Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup per week, besides other soothing quack medicines for children. Only a few weeks ago a nurse was intending giving an infant some cordial, and by mistake gave it a mixture of hartshorn and oil, of course, it died in twelve hours. So that it appears evident enough that the practice of drugging is not given up. To briefly recapitulate the three great causes of infant mortality are, first, bowel diseases or wasting diseases; next diseases of respiratory organs next, convulsions; and next, chiefly premature births. In my opinion the greatest of the first three classes are preventable deaths, and it is in better nursing, more proper diet, and greater care generally of infants in their earlier months that the heavy mortality will have to be lessened. I do not suppose that Bradford is worse in respect of its infant mortality than other large and manufacturing towns
*Godfrey’s Cordial – One of the most injurious of patent medicines is a drink prepared with opiates, chiefly laudanum (tincture of opium), under the name Godfrey’s Cordial. Women who work at home, and have their own and other people’s children to take care of, give them this drink to keep them quiet, and, as many believe, to strengthen them. They often begin to give this medicine to newly born children, and continue, without knowing the effects of this “heart’s-ease”, until the children die. – Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845)
**Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup – was widely marketed in North America and the United Kingdom in the late 19thand early 20th centuries as a cure-all medicine for fussy babies. Said to be originally created by Mrs. Charlotte N. Winslow a paediatric nurse while she was caring for infants, the syrup was first commercially produced in 1849 by Mrs Winslow’s son-in-law, Jeremiah Curtis, and his partner Benjamin A Perkins. The primary ingredients of the syrup were morphine and alcohol, with approximately 65mg of morphine per fluid ounce. A teaspoon of the syrup, then, had the morphine content equal to that of approximately twenty drops of laudanum (opium tincture). Given that the 1873 edition of The Health Reformer suggested that babies six months of age receive no more than two to three drops of laudanum, the dosages listed on the bottles of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup are alarming; For a child under one month old, the recommendation was 6 to 10 drops; children three months old were to be dosed half a teaspoon; and children six months month’s old and up were to be given a teaspoonful three or four times a day! The recommended dosage for children with dysentery followed the amounts outlined above but was to be repeated every two hours until visual improvement was noticed (the opioid effect of the syrup caused constipation, to treat the diarrhoea). A teaspoon of the syrup would have contained enough morphine to kill the average child, so it isn’t hard to understand why so many babies who were given Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup went to sleep only to never wake back up again, coining the syrup’s nickname “the baby killer”. There is no statistic of the number of children that died from the use of the syrup, but because many caregivers did not link the death to the syrup, or may have not revealed using the syrup, there is no official statistic of the number of children that died from its use. Estimates, however, put the number at thousands of children who died from overdose, or from addiction and withdrawal.
By 1875 William Birket, his wife Sophia and their family had moved to Great Horton Road, Bradford, it is from here that on the 7thAugust 1878 his daughter Isabella Juliet left to marry John Denton (Land Agent) at St Peter’s Parish Church Bradford, he was 16 years her senior.
Two years later on the 17thSeptember 1880, William Birket’s wife Sophia tragically passed away aged 54.
Bradford Observer – Monday 20th September 1880 Procter – On September 17th, at 58, Great Horton Road, Sophia, wife of W. B. Procter, surgeon.
He continued living with four of his children, William Birket junior, Edith Sophia, Henrietta Alice and Ada Hannah until in 1882 William Birket Junior emigrated to Canada where he took up farming as his profession.
The following year on the 4thJuly 1883, aged 51, William Birket married Harriet Hannah Denton aged 54, Harriet Hannah was the older sister of John Denton who had previously married William’s daughter Isabella Juliet in 1878. They were married for 19 years, until Harriet’s death in 1902 aged 73. Harriet is buried in the Denton family plot at Scholemoor Cemetery. After Harriet’s death, William Birket moved to Hollin Bank, Underbarrow, near Kendal, where he lived for four years until his death on July 29th1906 aged 74.
Bradford Daily Telegraph 31st July 1906 The death is announced at Hollin Bank, Underbarrow, Kendal, where he was living in retirement, of Mr. William Birket Procter, who was for many years in practice in Horton Road, Bradford, as a surgeon. For between thirty and forty years he held the appointment of surgeon at the Bradford Workhouse.
What became of William Birket and Sophia’s children?
Isabella Juliet was born on the 17th September 1854 in Mitcham, Surrey. On the 7th August 1878 at St Peter’s Parish Church, Bradford, she married John Denton (Land Agent) who was 16 years her senior. They had five children together, Elizabeth, John, Emma, Samuel and Richard. On the 4thFebruary 1907 John passed away aged 67. Isabella Juliet never re married and died 25 years later on the 18th February 1932 aged 77 at her home Manor House, Embsay, Skipton. She is buried at Scholemoor Cemetery, Bradford along with her husband and children in the Denton family plot.
William Birket Junior was born on the 24thMarch 1857. By the year 1871, aged 14, William was a boarder at Thomas Dixons School in Bingley. In 1882, he emigrated to Canada where he become a farmer. On the 4thApril 1902, he married Frances Sykes in Virden, Manitoba, Canada where they lived until he passed away on the 7thSeptember 1938, aged 81. They had no children. In November 1938 his widow Frances returned to England to live with her sister-in-law Henrietta Alice Procter and second cousin Doris Wilman, in Morecombe.
Bradford Observer – Saturday 1stOctober 1938 PROCTER. – September 8th, at Virden, Manitoba, William Birkett Procter, only son of the late W. B. Procter, F.R.S.Eng., of Bradford.
Agnes Jane was born on the 24th March 1857, she sadly died on the 11th May 1873 aged 16, in Bradford Yorkshire.
Edith Sophia was born on the 30th December 1859, she never married and died 4thNovember 1895 aged 35, in Bradford, Yorkshire.
Henrietta Alice was born on the 31st October 1861, she never married and died 11th July 1940 aged 78 in Morecombe, Lancashire.
Ada Hannah was born on the 9th August 1863, she never married and died on the 15th June 1934 aged 70 in Morecombe, Lancashire.
Gertrude was born on the 26th June 1865 but tragically died 4 days later on the 30th June 1865.
Evelyn Ida was born on the 10th June 1867 but sadly passed away on the 12th March 1869 aged just 21 months.
William Birket, his first wife Sophia and his children Agnes Jane, Edith Sophia, Henrietta Alice, Ada Annie, Gertrude and Evelyn Ida are all buried in the same plot at Undercliffe Cemetery.
William Birket’s second wife, Harriet Anna and his oldest daughter Isabella Juliet are buried at Scholemoor Cemetery, Bradford in the Denton family plot.
And finally, his only son William Birket is buried in Virden Cemetery, Manitoba, Canada.
Research by Eileen O’Farrell 2022