Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pitcairn, William

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PITCAIRN, WILLIAM, M.D. (1711–1791), physician, eldest son of David Pitcairn, minister of Dysart, Fifeshire, was born at Dysart in 1711. He studied at the university of Leyden, where he entered on the physic line on 15 Oct. 1734, and attended the lectures of Boerhaave. He took the degree of M.D. at Rheims. His mother, Catherine, belonged to the Hamilton family, and he became private tutor to James, sixth duke of Hamilton, stayed with him at Oxford, and travelled abroad with him in 1742. The university of Oxford gave him the degree of M.D. at the opening of the Radcliffe Library in April 1749. Soon after he began practice in London, and was elected a fellow of the College of Physicians on 25 June 1750. In 1752 he was Gulstonian lecturer, and in 1753, 1755, 1759, and 1762 a censor. He was elected president in 1775, and every year till he resigned in 1785. He was elected physician to St. Bartholomew's Hospital on 22 Feb. 1750, and resigned on 3 Feb. 1780. He lived in Warwick Court, near the old College of Physicians in Warwick Lane, in the city of London, and had a very large practice as a physician. On 4 March 1784 he was elected treasurer of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and thenceforward lived in the treasurer's house in the hospital. He had a country residence, with a botanical garden of five acres, in Upper Street, Islington. He was long remembered in St. Bartholomew's, where a ward is still called after him. His sagacious use of opium in fevers was remarkable, and in enteric fever, the entity of which was not then recognised, he no doubt saved many lives which had otherwise been lost by diarrhœa or by hæmorrhage. He died at Islington on 25 Nov. 1791, and was buried in a vault in the church of St. Bartholomew the Less, within the hospital walls, 1 Dec. 1791. His portrait, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, is in the censor's room at the College of Physicians; it was engraved by John Jones in 1777. Another engraved portrait, by Hedges, is mentioned by Bromley. Pitcairn received Radcliffe's gold-headed cane from Anthony Askew [q. v.], and his arms are engraved upon it.

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. ii. 174; The Gold-headed Cane, London, 1827; Norman Moore's Brief Relation of the Past and Present State of St. Bartholomew's Hospital; Original Minute Books of St. Bartholomew's Hospital.]

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