William R. Chew, medical practitioner and naturalist, qualified as a Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery at the University of Edinburgh in 1887. For some time he was a demonstrator in physiology and pathology at that university, assistant demonstrator in anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, and house surgeon at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh. He was licensed to practice in the Cape Colony on 5 March 1890 and settled in Grahamstown. Although he requested an appointment as district surgeon at Glen Grey in the Transkei in 1893 he remained in Grahamstown until 1898. He was a member of the British Medical Association, and of the Caledonian Medical Association, was medical officer for small-pox in the Division of Albany, medical officer of the Port Alfred Railway, acting district surgeon of Albany, and visiting surgeon at the Albany General Hospital. In 1896 he contributed a paper on "Hydatids" (cysts formed by larvae of Taenia ecchinococcus), to the South African Medical Journal. The University of the Cape of Good Hope admitted him to the degree Bachelor of Medicine (MB) in 1897, on the basis of his qualifications from the University of Edinburgh. He joined the Eastern Province Branch of the British Medical Association, and was elected its vice-president in February 1898.
Dr. Chew was a leading figure in organised natural history during his entire stay in Grahamstown. In November 1890 he attended a preliminary meeting to establish the (second) Albany Natural History Society, and was one of its founding members. He delivered a lecture on animal life around Grahamstown to its members in August 1891, and on Coccinellidae (lady birds) in December of that year. He was elected a member of the society's committee in March 1892. However, during this year the society amalgamated with the Eastern Province Literary and Scientific Society, which had just been revived, forming the latter's Natural History Section. Chew was a member of the committee of the latter society to at least 1896, serving also on its sub-committee for natural history. Furthermore, in February 1891 he had been elected a member of the management committee of the Albany Museum. Then, in 1892, the Literary, Scientific and Medical Society of Grahamstown, which had established the museum in 1855, was also revived and for the next eleven years its committee was responsible for the management of the museum. Dr. Chew was elected a member and first honorary treasurer of this committee (and of the society) in July 1892 and retained these positions for the rest of his stay in Grahamstown. Finally, he also served on the committee of the Grahamstown and Albany Horticultural Society, which was founded in 1896 and held its first show the next year.
Dr. Chew donated many insects, particularly beetles, to the Albany Museum in 1890 and 1891. In 1897 he presented the museum with a collection of 2816 South African beetles, most from around Grahamstown, but also some good specimens from Natal, the Free State and Transvaal. He moved to Port Elizabeth during the next year, and was still listed as practising there in 1915, and residing at 22 Havelock Street in 1916. During World War I (1914-1918) he served in the South African Medical Corps with the rank of Captain from March 1915 until he was invalided out in March 1918.