William Topley, the son of Ebenezer Topley, was educated at the City of London School and won a scholarship to St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he went on to obtain a first-class in the natural sciences tripos of 1907. At St. Thomas’s Hospital, where he qualified two years later, he won the Murchison scholarship and became assistant director of the laboratories. His appointment, in 1910, as director of the department of clinical pathology and lecturer on bacteriology at Charing Cross Hospital gave him ample scope for his early interest in bacteriology. In the 1914-1918 War he served as bacteriologist on the British Sanitary Commission, and on his return, persuaded Charing Cross to found an Institute of Pathology. The value of his own research work was recognised when he was appointed, in 1922, to the chair of bacteriology at Manchester, where he established a course in this subject for graduates, and when, in 1927, he was made professor of bacteriology and immunology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He had already collaborated with Major Greenwood in the original studies of experimental epidemics in mice, which was the subject of his Milroy Lectures in 1926. He wrote a standard work, The Principles of Bacteriology and Immunity (1929) with G. S. Wilson, and An Outline of Immunity (1933) which reviewed current knowledge of the subject. He was elected F.R.S. in 1930.
On the outbreak of war in 1939, Topley organised the Emergency Public Health Laboratory Service. Two years later he accepted the secretaryship of the Agricultural Research Council. At the Royal College of Physicians, in addition to the Milroy Lectures, he gave the Goulstonian Lectures in 1919. A tactful departmental head and an able organiser, Topley was noted for his intellectual honesty and devotion to his work. Sailing was his main recreation. He married in 1912 Kate, daughter of Frederick W. Amsden of Sevenoaks, and had two daughters.
G H Brown
[Lancet, 1944; B.M.J., 1944]