Sir William Heneage Ogilvie (1887-1971)

Sir William Heneage Ogilvie (1887-1971) was a British surgeon

23 years at Guy’s Hospital, London

Renowned for his teaching in the surgical fellowship and for his provocative and stimulating approach, particularly to the problems of gastric surgery, he rapidly built up a successful practice

One of the very few medical men of his generation to serve in three wars: the Balkan War (1912-1913) and the two world wars. Outside of war, Ogilvie travelled extensively, and founded The Surgical Travellers Club visiting leading surgical clinics throughout Europe. In his spare time he was a great yachtsman and Commodore of the Oxford University Sailing Club and the United Hospitals Sailing Club.

Ogilvie’s outstanding ability as a writer was exemplified by his essays, including Surgery, orthodox and heterodox (1948), No miracles among friends (1959) and The tired business man (1964), which reveal an individual style and clarity of expression perhaps without peer among medical writers of his time. In addition to this he wrote nearly 200 articles in medical journals and was joint editor of The Practitioner from 1946 to 1962 and editor of the first two editions of Recent advances in surgery.

Ogilvie favoured a low-carbohydrate high-fat diet. He wrote the foreword for Richard Mackarness’ book Eat Fat and Grow Slim in 1958

  • Born on July 14, 1887 at Valparaiso, Chile
  • 1910 – first class honours in physiology at New College, Oxford
  • 1912 – served in the Balkan Wars
  • 1913 – BM BCh Oxon and MRCS LRCP Guy’s Hospital, London
  • 1914-1920 surgeon for the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC); a close spectator of the fierce argument that raged in WWI between the antiseptic surgeons and the physiological surgeons.
  • 1920 – MCh, FRCS
  • 1924 – MD; Hunterian Professor
  • 1925 – appointed assistant surgeon to Guy’s Hospital
  • 1927 – Founded the Surgical Travellers’ Club following the encouragement of Berkeley Moynihan
  • 1940-1945 Major-General and consulting surgeon to the Mediterranean Forces; East Africa Command 1940-1942, Middle East Land Forces 1942-1944 , and Eastern Command 1944-1945
  • 1946 – Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE)
  • 1947 – Bradshaw Lecture on “Surgical handicraft
  • 1957 – Mason. Upper Warden of the Feltmakers’ Company; Master (1958)
  • Additional distinctions: Hon FACS (1938); Hon FRCS Canada (1943); Hon FRACS (1947)
  • Died April 15, 1971 at Wimbledon, London

The surgeon who is his own physician, though he often has a fool for a colleague, has the happiness of working in an atmosphere of mutual confidence and admiration.

Ogilvie 1948 Lancet

Medical Eponyms
Ogilvie Syndrome (1948)

Acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO or Ogilvie syndrome) is an under-recognized disorder characterized by acute and extensive dilatation of the colon in the absence of an anatomic lesion obstructing the gastrointestinal tract.

Most often associated with local causes such as Caesarean section; pelvic surgery; trauma; orthopaedic surgery or systemic causes including sepsis, medications (such as narcotics/sedatives)

Ogilvie described two cases of colonic ileus that he attributes to sympathetic deprivation caused by invasion by tumour.

Thomas sign (1955)

1955 Ogilvie reported on two cases of ampullary cancer presenting with silver stools. A 46 year old female presenting with obstructive jaundice and weight loss; and a 78 year old male presenting with anaemia, and jaundice post blood transfusion. In both cases the stool sample were analysed by Dr Antony Michael Thomas (1913-1971), who made the tentative connection between the stool colour, consistency and carcinoma.

Dr. A. M. Thomas, pathologist to the Royal Masonic Hospital, has pointed out that in cancer involving the ampulla of Vater the patient sometimes passes “silver stools” – that is, motions having the colour of oxidized silver or aluminium paint. The silver or grey stool is a combination of the white stool of obstructive jaundice and the black stool of melaena.

So far as I am aware the silver stool has never been described before. I bring the sign to the attention of surgeons because Dr. Thomas has not yet reported it himself and, being a pathologist, he is likely to report it in a journal read only by his brother pathologists.

Ogilvie 1955

Major Publications

…a misleading symptom is misleading only to one able to be misled. Yet the word mislead does convey the impression of motion, and he who is stationary cannot be misled. In this sense surgeons are more likely to be misled than physicians, for they are more likely to do something. The policy of masterly inactivity sufficiently persisted in, is an infallible guard against misduction

Ogilvie 1948



Eponymous terms


the person behind the name

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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