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William John Penny


William John Penny born 15th November 1856 in Kingsbury Episcopi just south of Langport, Somerset. He was selected for England while playing for United Hospitals. Scored a try on his debut, the first full-back to score for England. There is some controversy over this try as there are conflicting reports as to who scored it. A.G.Guillemard writing in Marshall, describes Penny as scoring. The Times said that Hornby scored. He had previously played for Kings College Hospital and went on to play for Clifton in 1883 when he was working as House Surgeon at Bristol General Hospital. On 15th November 1879 he was one of ten original committee members that founded Middlesex County RFU while at United Hospitals.

INTERNATIONAL RECORD: English Caps 1878/79

Career Record: P3, W2, D1, L0, Tries 1, Cons 0, Pen 0, DropG 0

11th March 1878 v Ireland (Landsdowne Road, Dublin) W 2G,1T-0

10th March 1879 v Scotland (Raeburn Place, Edinburgh) D 1G-1DG

24th March 1879 v Ireland (Oval, London) W 2G,2T,1DG-0




The census of 1861 says that the Penny family living in Kingsbury Episcopi were comprised of

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation
William Penny Head M Male 36 Ash Marlock, Somerset Farmer of 293 acres employing 9 men, 10 boys and 1 woman
Susan Penny Wife M Female 30 Shepton Beauchamp, Somerset
Jeremiah Penny Son S Male 6 Kingsbury, Somerset Scholar
William Penny Son S Male 4 Kingsbury, Somerset Scholar
Edward Penny Son S Male 8 months Kingsbury, Somerset
Nancy Grose Cousin (Visitor) Female 13
Ann E. Hallett Cousin S Female 20 Montacute, Somerset
Susan Humphrey Servant S Female 25 Curry Mallet, Somerset

He played for the South v North in an England trial match at Whalley Range, Manchester on 15th December 1877. The South won by a Goal and 2 Tries to nothing.

Back Row (L-R): ?, ?, A.Budd (Blackheath), ?. Middle Row (L-R): ?, ?, ?, ?, ?. Front Row (L-R): W.J.Penny, ?, ?, ?, ?. On Ground (L-R): ?, ?.

Above the England team that played Ireland on the 11th March 1878 with ex Clifton College and Clifton RFC player Arthur Budd and future Clifton player W.J.Penny. Image courtesy of the RFU.

Back Row (L-R): A.Budd, F.S.Ireland, A.S.Marsden, Aub. Spurling, G.Stokes, H.C.Harrison, P.Brunskill, N.Smith. Seated: W.H.White, W.J.Penny, H.D.Bateson, L.Stokes, G.W.Burton, A.Poland, G.Budd. On Ground: O.Richardson, G.Spurling, A.H.Jackson, R.Cuff, A.R.Layman.

Blackheath 1st XV 1878-79 with future Clifton RFC player William Penny and ex Clifton RFC player Arthur Budd. Penny played in matches for Blackheath from Octotober 1869 to January 1870.

Back Row (L-R): H.Huth (Huddersfield), R.Walker (Manchester), L.Stokes (Blackheath), F.R.Adams (Richmond), S.Neame (Old Cheltonians), G.Harrison (Hull), N.F.McLeod (R.I.E.College), H.C.Rowley (Manchester), H.H.Taylor (St.Georges Hospital). Sitting (L-R): W.J.Penny (United Hospitals/Kings College Hospital), A.Budd (Blackheath), G.W.Burton (Blackheath), H.H.Springman (Liverpool), F.D.Fowler (Manchester). On Ground (L-R): W.A.D.Evanson (Richmond), G.F.Vernon (Reserve) (Blackheath).

Above the England team that played Scotland on 10th March 1879 with ex Clifton College and Clifton RFC player Arthur Budd and future Clifton player W.J.Penny. This was the first England team to play for the Calcutta Cup. Image courtesy of the RFU.

Above Dr Jeremiah Penny, William's elder brother, House Surgeon at King's College Hospital examining a student posing as patient (possibly William Speed Hayman) with the ward sister and staff nurse. Image 1890-91 courtesy of King's College Hospital.

William and Jeremiah both worked at Kings College Hospital and worked with Joseph Lister. William became FRCS (1885). Medical education at King’s College London. House Accoucheur (1880), House Surgeon (1880-1881). Assistant surgeon to King’s (1888). Surgeon to the Bristol General Hospital ( 1889).

Kellys of 1889 reports that Penny's father owned Coombe Farm, Crewkerne now famous for Milk and Cheese production. Above Coombe Farm, Crewkerne. See

Above: Bristol General Hospital, Guinea Street, c.1915. Built in 1853 its basement formed dockside warehouses to generate extra income.

Joseph Lister, Jeremiah Penny (House Surgeon) and Howard Distin (Senior Dresser) in a surgical ward in King’s College Hospital, 1890. Image courtesy of King's College Hospital.

Above William John Penny, one of Joseph Lister's men at Kings College Hospital. Image courtesy of King's College Hospital.

During the 1891 census a 34 year old William J. Penny was a lodger with the Farthing family at 6 Westbourne Place, Clifton, Bristol.

Above left map (1901) of 6 Westbourne Place, Clifton. Above right photo of 6 Westbourne Place, Clifton.

Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (Vol. 2, 1930) contains a brief biography. The last paragraph reads: “… after eight years as Surgeon, ill health forced him to retire to his birthplace, Crewkerne, and in his forty-eight year he died unmarried near Mombasa in British East Africa on December 25th, 1904." This entry would have been mainly based on a longer obituary published in the Bristol Medico-Chirurgical Journal in 1905. (23, p92) which said


Consulting Surgeon to the Bristol General Hospital

We regret to have to record the death of Mr. W. J. Penny, formerly residing in Clifton. He died near Mombasa, in British East Africa, on the 15th December last. Mr. Penny was the eldest son of Mr. William Penny, of Crewkerne, Somerset, and he received his prefessional education at King's College, London, where as a student he had a prosperous and brilliant career, popular alike with his fellows and teachers, as coulkd be readily imagined by those who knew him in these early days and for some years after. He was an able and industrious student, and he had the good fortune to be at King's during the time that Professor (now Lord) Lister was actively carrying out and developing his great work of antiseptic surgery. Mr. Penny attracted the attention of Lord Lister by his skill and care in which he mastered the details of the antiseptic treatment of wounds; nothing could exceed the devotion and enthusiasm with which he followed the teachings of his great master. Mr. Penny held many appointments at King's College Hospital: he was house-surgeon, surgical registrar, and finally assistant-surgeon, when he seemed to have the prospect of a great professional future. At this period of his life Mr. Penny was a most congenial companion, with many social qualities which gained him many friends. He possessed a decision of character and a firmness of purpose which made strangers immediately feel they were in the presence of a strong man to an extent which those who knew him at a later period would find it difficult to understand. Mr. Penny was rather above the middle height, had a good presence and a well-knit and strongly-built frame. He looked one of the most robust of men, but in spite of this he early broke down, and died in his 48th year.

As an athlete Mr. Penny was greatly distinguished in football, being captain of his Hospital XV. He played constantly for the United Hospitals and Somerset County, and on several occasions for England. He was considered to by those who knew of these matters to be the best "full-back" of his time.

Locally Mr. Penny is best known for the good work he did for many years at the Bristol General Hospital. He was appointed house-surgeon to that institution in 1881, and held this office for the full period for three years to the satisfaction of all who were connected with the hospital. At the close of his term of office as house-surgeon he started in practice at Clifton. Soon afterwards he was elected assistant-surgeon, and in 1889 full surgeon; but after some seven years' work in this capacity he was compelled to resign from broken-down health, when he was placed on the consulting staff. There is no doubt that had his health remained good Mr. Penny would have had one of the largest surgical practices in the West of England. He was obliged to give up work at the age of 37, when he retired to the country, and of late has been seldom seen by his old friends and colleagues. Mr. Penny was unmarried. He took the F.R.C.S.Engg. in 1885, was a member of the Bristol Medico-Chirurgical and other societies, and for a time was demonstrator of anatomy at University College, Bristol.

The Medical Directory for 1900 says:
William John Penny
Coombe, West Crewkerne, Somerset.
FRCS Eng 1885, M 1879. LRCP Lond. 1881. (King's Coll).
Associate of King's College
Member of the Clinical Society of London, the Bristol Medico-Chirurgical Society, and the British Medical Association.
Honorary and Consultative Surgeon to the Bristol General Hospital.
Late Surgeon, Assistant Surgeon and House surgeon to the Bristol General Hospital.
Demonstrator of Anatomy at Bristol Medical School
Assistant Surgeon, Sambrooke Surgeon, Registrar, House Surgeon and Resident Accounteur at King's College Hospital.
Prosector at RCS England
Surgeon to RMS "Dublin Castle"
"On Rhinitis" Bristol Medical Chirurgical Journal 1887
"On Bone Setting" British Medical Journal 1888
"Antiseptic Treatment of Wounds" Lancet 1887
Inventor of New Empyema Tube - Lancet 1887 

Penny is listed in the Calendar of Grants (Wills) as follows: "Penny, William John of Coombe Farm, West Crewkerne, Somersetshire, died 17 December 1904 at sea. Probate London, 14 April to William Penny, farmer. Effects 4224 10s 3d".

His brother, Jeremiah, married Theodora Bradford at Rangoon Cathedral on 8th October 1923. She was originally from 32 Primrose Hill, London and the eldest daughter of Job Bradford, a barrister-at-law.

Above his brother Lt Col Jeremiah Penny, one of Joseph Lister's men at Kings College Hospital. Image courtesy of King's College Hospital.

His brother Jeremiah died on 7th July 1934. Lt Col Jeremiah Penny (1864-1934), MRSC, LRCP (1887), DPH Camb (1891), IMS. Medical education at King’s College London. House Accoucher (1889), House Surgeon (1889-1890). Associate of King’s College London (1889). Indian Medical Service (1891-1934), reached the rank of Lt Col. He was retired when he died on the voyage to England from his home in Kokine, near Rangoon. He was married to Helena Theodora (nee Bradford). She died on 8th February 1968 at the age of 98 at Thorney, near Langport, Somerset. She was buried at Muchelney.

Above Muchelney Parish Church which is situated next to the ruins of Muchelney Abbey,