William Hamer was born at Leeds, the son of John Hamer, J.P. He went to school locally before going up to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he was twelfth wrangler in 1882. He then took the London B.Sc. degree and studied medicine at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. There he qualified in 1886 and won the Kirkes and Lawrence scholarships. After a series of house appointments in his own Hospital and one in the Homerton Fever Hospital, he was drawn to a career in public health and in 1892 became assistant medical officer for the county of London and a few years later lecturer on public health at St. Bartholomew’s. In 1911 he succeeded Sir Shirley Murphy as medical officer of health and school medical officer for London, a post that he retained till his retirement in 1925. He published in 1902 a Manual of Hygiene, which had a long life as a textbook, and in 1928 a more scholarly work, Epidemiology, Old and New.
He delivered noteworthy Milroy Lectures before the Royal College of Physicians in 1906 on Epidemic Disease in England and in 1920 was awarded the Bissett-Hawkins Medal. He was knighted in 1923. Hamer was an efficient administrator and an inspiring leader. An acute though urbane critic of others, particularly of the exponents of bacteriological epidemiology, he ignored criticisms of himself — not out of vanity, for he was a modest man, but from sheer force of habit. His later work on the history of epidemics tended to be obscure, criss-crossed by false trails and bedevilled by complex graphs and diagrams. He regarded epidemiology as a historical entity, descending from Sydenham, and so continued the humanistic tradition of his predecessor, Murphy. His wife was Agnes, third daughter of Joseph Conan; they had a son and a daughter.
G H Brown
[Lancet, 1936; B.M.J., 1936; Nature, 1 Aug. 1936; Al.Cantab., iii, 210]