Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pitcairn, David
PITCAIRN, DAVID, M.D. (1749–1809), physician, born on 1 May 1749 in Fifeshire, was eldest son of Major John Pitcairn, who was killed at the battle of Bunker's Hill. Robert Pitcairn (1747?–1770?) [q. v.] was his brother. He was sent to the high school of Edinburgh, thence to the university of Glasgow, and after some years to the university of Edinburgh, from which he went in 1773 to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he graduated M.B. in 1779 and M.D. in 1784. In 1779 he began practice in London, and was elected a fellow of the College of Physicians on 15 Aug. 1785. He was five times censor, and in 1786 was also Gulstonian lecturer and Harveian orator. On the resignation of his uncle, William Pitcairn [q. v.], he was, on 10 Feb. 1780, elected physician to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and held office till 1793, when he resigned. He rapidly attained a large private practice. Dr. John Latham, M.D. [q. v.], mentions, in his treatise on gout and rheumatism, that David Pitcairn was the first to discover that valvular disease of the heart was a frequent result of rheumatic fever, and that he published his discovery in his teaching at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. On 11 April 1782 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He had frequent attacks of quinsy, and failing health, accompanied by hæmoptysis, in 1798, forced him to give up work and spend eighteen months in Portugal. He returned to England and continued to practise, but on 13 April 1809 had an attack of sore throat, followed by acute inflammation of the larynx, with consequent œdema of the glottis, of which he died on 17 April 1809, at Craig's Court, Charing Cross. Dr. Matthew Baillie [q. v.], who had lived in intimate friendship with him for thirty years, attended him, and has described his case, with the similar one of Sir John Macnamara Hayes [q. v.], who died of the same disease three months later. Pitcairn's body was examined by Sir Benjamin Collins Brodie the elder [q. v.], in the presence of Matthew Baillie, Everard Home, and W. C. Wells.
He was buried in the family vault in the church of St. Bartholomew the Less, without the walls of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London. A tablet to his memory was erected in the church of Hadham Magna, Hertfordshire. His portrait, by Hoppner, is in the College of Physicians, and shows him to have been a handsome man, with a peculiarly frank and open countenance. He married Elizabeth, daughter of William Almack, and she bequeathed this picture to the college. There is a good engraving of it by Bragg.[Munk's Coll. of Phys. ii. 353; MacMichael's Gold-headed Cane, London, 1828; Latham's Rheumatism and Gout, London, 1796; manuscript minute-book of St. Bartholomew's Hospital; M. Baillie in Transactions of a Society for the Improvement of Medical and Chirurgical Knowledge, London, 1812, vol. iii.]