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

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PIRRIE, WILLIAM (1807–1882), surgeon, the son of George Pirrie, a farmer, was born near Huntly, Aberdeenshire, in 1807. He was educated at Gartly parish school; at Marischal College and University, Aberdeen, where he graduated M.A. in 1825; at the university of Edinburgh, where he graduated M.D. in 1829; and in Paris, where he studied surgery under Baron Dupuytren. Returning to Aberdeen in 1830, he was appointed lecturer on anatomy and physiology in the joint medical schools of King's and Marischal colleges. On the separation of the schools in 1839 he became the first regius professor of surgery in Marischal College; and when they were again united in 1860 he continued to teach as professor of surgery in the university of Aberdeen. In 1875 the university of Edinburgh conferred on him the honorary degree of LL.D. He resigned his chair in the summer of 1882, and died on 21 Nov. in the same year.

Holding office for fifty-two years, Pirrie was well known to three generations of Aberdeen medical students, his portly figure and somewhat assertive manner, together with his fondness for recalling his Parisian experiences under Dupuytren, gaining for him the sobriquet of ‘The Baron.’ His lectures were essentially demonstrative, and he possessed in a high degree the faculty of inspiring enthusiasm in his audience. To him and to his colleague in the chair of anatomy, Dr. John Struthers, is due the credit of establishing the reputation of the Aberdeen medical school, which had never been so largely attended as at his death. At his solicitation his old schoolfellow and steadfast friend through life, Sir Erasmus Wilson, founded a chair of pathology in the university.

An intrepid and successful operator, he was during the latter half of his public career recognised as the foremost surgeon in the north of Scotland. He published, in addition to numerous contributions to the medical press, a treatise on ‘The Principles and Practice of Surgery,’ 1852, which passed through several editions, and long held its ground as a textbook; and, with Dr. William Keith, a work ‘Acupressure, an excellent Method of arresting Surgical Hæmorrhage and of accelerating the Healing of Wounds,’ 1867.

[Aberdeen Journal, 22, 24, 27 Nov. 1882; Lancet and Brit. Med. Journal, 2 Dec.; personal knowledge.]

P. J. A.