William Francis Ainsworth

William Francis Ainsworth (9 November 1807 – 27 November 1896) was an English surgeon, traveller, geographer and geologist, known also as a writer and editor.


Ainsworth was born on 9 November 1807 at Exeter, the son of John Ainsworth of Rostherne in Cheshire, captain in the 15th and 128th regiments. The novelist William Harrison Ainsworth was his cousin; at his cousin's request he adopted the additional Christian name Francis, to avoid confusion.

In 1827 he became a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, where he filled the office of president in the Royal Physical and the Plinian societies. He then went to London and Paris, where he became an intern at the École nationale supérieure des mines. While in France he also gained practical experience of geology in the Auvergne and Pyrenees. After studying at Brussels he returned to Scotland in 1829 and founded, in 1830, the Edinburgh Journal of Natural and Geographical Science, which was discontinued in the following year.

In 1831 there was an outbreak of cholera at Sunderland; Ainsworth went there to study it, and published his experiences in Observations on the Pestilential Cholera, London, 1832. This book led to his appointment as surgeon to the cholera hospital of St. George's, Hanover Square. On another outbreak, in Ireland he acted successively as surgeon of the hospitals at Westport, Ballinrobe, Claremorris, and Newport.

In 1836 Ainsworth, after studying under Sir Edward Sabine, was appointed surgeon and geologist to the expedition to the River Euphrates under Francis Rawdon Chesney. Shortly afterwards he was placed in charge of an expedition to the Christians of Chaldaea, which was sent out by the Royal Geographical Society and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. He went to Mesopotamia, through Asia Minor, the passes of the Taurus Mountains, and northern Syria, reaching Mosul in the spring of 1840. During the summer he explored the Kurdistan mountains and visited Lake Urimiyeh in Persia, returning through Greater Armenia; and reached Constantinople late in 1840. This expedition had financial troubles, and Ainsworth had to find his way home at his own expense.

After his return to England in 1841 Ainsworth settled at Hammersmith, and assisted his cousin, William Harrison Ainsworth, in the conduct of several magazines, including Ainsworth's Magazine, Bentley's Miscellany, and the New Monthly Magazine. In 1871 he succeeded his cousin as editor of the New Monthly, and continued in the post until 1879.

For some years he acted as honorary secretary to the Syro-Egyptian Society, founded in 1844, and he was concerned to promote the Euphrates and Tigris valley route to India, with which Chesney's expedition had been connected. He was one of the founders of the West London Hospital, and its honorary treasurer until his death at 11 Wolverton Gardens, Hammersmith, on 27 November 1896. He was the last survivor of the original fellows of the Royal Geographical Society from its formation in 1830, was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries on 14 April 1853, and was also a corresponding member of several foreign societies. He married, and left a son and two daughters.