|Description||Falconer was born in Chester on 23 February 1744. After graduating MD from Edinburgh in 1766 he attended the lectures of Gaubius and Albinus at Leiden and gained a second MD on 22 May 1767. He had become an extra-licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians on 12 March 1767 and in the same year was appointed physician to the Chester Infirmary. Falconer established a good practice in the town. In January 1770, however, at the suggestion of the Quaker physician John Fothergill, he moved to Bath. On 18 March 1773 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and on 12 May 1784 he was appointed physician of the Bath General Hospital, a post which he retained until 10 February 1819. |
Though greatly esteemed, William Falconer was not a popular man. Despite his abrasive personality Falconer ran a successful spa practice, counting among his patients the duke of Portland, Lord Chancellor Thurlowe, William Pitt, and Horatio Nelson. He was also a prolific writer who published over forty books as well as numerous papers. These works ranged over topics in the classics, theology, and natural history, but medicine featured most prominently, including studies of plague, influenza, and fever, the antiseptic qualities of fixed air or carbon dioxide, and the implications of climate, diet, and lifestyle for health. However, William Falconer was most famous for his research into the Bath waters and their impact on chronic conditions, notably rheumatism, gout, and ischias, or the hip case. The Medical Society of London awarded its silver medal to him for an essay on this last subject in 1805.
In investigating the efficacy of the spa, William Falconer made an important contribution to later Georgian medical quantification, which contests the view that clinical statistics only emerged at the Paris hospitals after the French Revolution. Building on the mortality and morbidity ratios which James Jurin had constructed to evaluate smallpox inoculation, Falconer recognized that numerical analysis had to accompany simple counting if patient records were to yield their full potential. His training at the progressive Edinburgh medical school under William Cullen primed him for this role and brought him into contact with a group of students-including Thomas Percival and John Haygarth - who were to become pioneers of a social medicine which used statistical comparisons to tackle problems of urban public health.
Falconer died at his house in The Circus on 31 August 1824
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Notes taken from lectures by Robert Whytt with a section on the distinction of diseases of Dr William Cullen, 1762-1765