William Smellie (obstetrician)

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William Smellie (5 February 1697, Lanark – 5 March 1763, Lanark) was a Scottish obstetrician.


He practiced medicine before getting a license, but enrolled later at the University of Glasgow and received his M.D. degree in 1745. After training in obstetrics in London and Paris, he opened a practice in London and began teaching. He invented a "machine", an obstetrical manikin, for instructions. Smellie described the mechanism of labour, designed obstetrical forceps, devised a maneuver to deliver the head of a breech, and published his teachings. He is believed to have painted his own portrait.

Use of forceps by W. Smellie


Smellie, together with his former pupil William Hunter and his brother John Hunter, was accused to be involved in either murdering pregnant women or of showing a callous disregard for where his corpses came from. The arguments is the large number of the pregnant corpses Hunter was able to obtain.[1] However, the debate continues and this accusation is widely contested by other scholars.[2]


The tomb in which William Smellie (and later his wife) was buried still stands in the St. Kentigerns section of the state run Lanark graveyard. The William Smellie Memorial Hospital which provided maternity services in Lanark closed in the early 1990s and was re-located to a unit at the Law Hospital in Carluke. This was also closed recently and maternity services moved to Wishaw General Hospital.


  1. Shelton, D. C. (February 2010). "The Emperor's new clothes". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 103 (2): 46–50. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2009.090295. PMC 2813782. PMID 20118333.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Campbell, Denis (7 February 2010). "Founders of British obstetrics 'were callous murderers'". The Observer.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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