[Death : 03 - 03 - 1933]

Sir William James Wanless, M.D., F.A.C.S. (May 1, 1865 – March 3, 1933) was a Canadian born surgeon, humanitarian and Presbyterian missionary who founded a medical mission in Miraj, India in 1894 and led it for nearly 40 years. As part of this mission, Dr.Wanless founded India's first missionary medical school in 1897, and helped to establish a leprosy sanatorium as well as a tuberculosis hospital, now known as the Wanless Chest Hospital.

His medical mission turned the once-small village of Miraj into a major medical center in India. By the time he retired in 1928, the clinic he started had become a 250-bed hospital with several important adjuncts. He is considered by many to be India's most famous surgeon of the 19th century, and was known throughout Asia, personally treating princes, rajahs and Mahatma Gandhi. In 1928, he was knighted by King George V, who appointed him Knight Bachelor of the British Empire, for treating 1,000,000 patients and restoring sight to 12,000 of them. The Wanless Hospital in Miraj bears his name, and is now a modern 550-bed teaching hospital.

Early life and education

William James Wanless was born on May 1, 1865 to Elizabeth and John Wanless in the then-community of Charleston (now part of Caledon), Ontario, Canada. He was the sixth of 14 children, including two elder brothers who died in childhood. His father, born in Barrow, Alwinton, Northumberland, England (or possibly Jedboro, Scotland) on December 30, 1832, emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of 17, later emigrating to Canada where he variously became a railroader, a hardware store owner (John Wanless & Sons), and a home heating furnace manufacturer in Toronto (where Wanless Park and several streets are named after one of their distant relations, also a John Wanless, a municipal alderman and educator). During his childhood and adolescence, William was educated in the schools of Charleston, Mount Forrest and Guelph, Ontario.

He graduated from the New York University School of Medicine in 1889. He married Mary Elizabeth Marshall on September 5, 1889 in Canada, and sailed for India the same year., Mary gave birth to Ethel at Miraj on Dec 2, 1891. Mary died on August 12, 1906. On December 5, 1907, Dr William married again at Kodoli to Lillian Emery Havens, who survived him. Lillian gave birth to 3 children: Harold L. Wanless on October 2, 1908, at Miraj; Robert Emery Wanless who became a PanAm Boeing pilot' and Margaret Elizabeth Wanless on August 24, 1917 in Toronto. Lillian later wrote his biography.

Wanless was a delegate to the 1910 World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was president of the Missionary Medical Association of India from 1911 to 1928. In 1918 he was made a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He was erroneously reported as dead in 1922; the incorrect report and its subsequent retraction made headlines in the United States.

Mission in India

William Wanless, age 23, at the New York University School of Medicine, ca.1888.

The Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, sent Dr. Wanless to India in 1889. In 1891, he selected the rustic town of Miraj in Maharashtra State for the mission hospital. The Mission was started as a one-room dispensary in a very small rented place at a busy bazaar, and he was assisted by his wife, Mary, a trained nurse. The Rajah of Miraj, Rajah Sir Gangadharrao Ganesh (Bala Saheb) Patwardhan, provided him with land for a hospital which was formally opened in 1894, in a part of the city now known as Wanlesswadi.

With the establishment of a hospital, the need for higher quality medical care was increasingly felt, and towards that end a School of Nursing was founded in 1897 under the superintendence of Miss Elizabeth Foster. It has since steadily developed into one of the best nursing schools in Maharashtra.

The Mary Wanless Hospital was founded in memory of Wanless's first wife Mary after her death in 1906. Now called the Mary Wanless Hospital / Miraj Medical Centre, it still attracts hundreds of poor and needy patients from across India and abroad. He established the Miraj Christian Medical School in 1907, which later graduated its first group of 17 students, with its only qualified teacher being Wanless himself. In 1917 the medical school was recognized for a Diploma of Licentiate by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Mumbai (LCPS), similar to the LRCP of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) of England.

Tuberculosis Sanatorium, was later established By Dr. Wanless in 1920. At the time of his retirement in 1928 money was raised by citizens and his friends for erection of new building for Tuberculosis Sanatorium. This new Sanatorium was named as Wanless Tuberculosis Sanatorium, better known as Wanless Chest Hospital. It is one of the premier institutions in the country. The Vail Memorial Cancer Institute, named after Dr. Charles E. Vail who joined Wanless three years later, and the Goheen Psychiatric Clinic were started in 1937 and 1955 respectively. The Goheen Clinic was named after Dr. Robert H. H. Goheen, father of Robert Francis Goheen, Under the management of its expert surgeons, physicians, and nursing staff, these facilities have effectively served the purposes for which they were established, that is in providing quality health care to all irrespective of caste, creed, religion or financial means.

Additionally, Wanless established five outpost stations attached to the hospital, and paid the hospital's staff of 125, living only on his missionary's salary sent by the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, while donating his personal staff salary to the mission.

Retirement and legacy

In 1928, after almost forty years of medical missionary service in India, Wanless retired to live in the United States. He wrote a book, Medicine in India, on his life as a doctor in India. He died at his home, 1016 Matillja Street, Glendale, California on March 3, 1933, and was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the same city. His wife Lillian died in 1973 at the age of 99 years at their home in Glendale, California. Wanless's son Harold later carried on his father's tradition by studying medicine at the University of Toronto.

Since its inception over 115 years ago his medical mission has grown into an institution consisting of a 550-bed teaching hospital affiliated with India's Government Medical College, a College of Nursing, an Institute of Pharmacy and various paramedical programmes.

The Wanless Hospital and Wanless Chest Hospital are now located in the township of 'Wanlesswadi', that is ‘Wanless town’, made notable for its medical institutions. The name was given it by its citizens in that part of India and is recognized by the federal government of India. Wanlesswadi has its own Postal Index Number, 416414, and the Indian Railways also has a station named 'Wanlesswadi’ on its Miraj–Sangli Route, which opened on April 1, 1907 for the use by ill or needy patients from across India and from abroad.

As a secondary and tertiary care centre, Wanless Hospital serves a large part of western Maharashtra and North Karnataka. The Wanless Hospital reputedly provides the best possible medical care to all its patients; an institution for comprehensive and dedicated health care.