|Dr. Sir John Pringle of Pal Mall, Bart. M.D. (1707-1782)Scottish physician and President of the Royal Society
Sir John was born at Stitchel House on April 10th 1707. He was the youngest son of Sir John Pringle of Stitchel, 2nd Bart. His mother was Magdalen Elliot, sister of Sir Gilbert Elliot of Stobs near Hawick.
His early education was at home with a private tutor, followed by attendance at St Andrew's University where he stayed with a relation, Francis Pringle, who was Professor of Greek. Having decided that being a physician was the line that he wanted to follow, he spent time at Edinburgh and then at Leyden where, in 1730, he received his diploma.
He returned to Edinburgh, and in a very short time, was so well-known and respected that he was appointed assistant and successor to the Professor of Pneumatics and Moral Philpsophy at Edinburgh University. His appointment as physician to the Earl of Stair, Commander of the Army in Flanders, soon followed, and this led to his appointment as physician to the Military Hospital in Flanders. There he was able to study a wide range of medical problems and, as a result this research, was able, later, to publish his 'Treatise on the Diseases of the Army'. When the Earl of Stair was replaced by the Duke of Cumberland, Pringle's star rose even higher and he was appointed, in March 1745, Physician-General to the forces in the Low Countries and physician to the Royal Hospitals in those countries. This meant spending so much time away from home that he resigned his Professorship at Edinburgh. Later that year he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society.
Following the Duke of Cumberland, he spent the next year with the 'Redcoat' army in Scotland, including being at the Battle of Culloden. He then returned to England, before being posted abroad again during 1747 and 1748.
After the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, he returned to London where he became Physician in Ordinary to the Duke of Cumberland, and worked as a physician in the city. As a result of his knowledge of diseases of people living in close quarters, he published a paper on Jail and Hospital Fever. This was the start of Dr Pringle the scientific researcher.
The regular publication of papers through the Royal Society gave him a great reputation in the scientific world. One on septic and antiseptic substances led to his being awarded the Sir Godfrey Copley Gold medal.
In 1752, he married Charlotte Oliver, the daughter of Dr Oliver of Bath, an eminent physician. Unfortunately she died within a few years, leaving him with no offspring. His great work on the diseases of the army was published, and in 1761 he was appointed Physician to Queen Charlotte's household. Rising through the ranks of Physician within the Royal Household led to his being created Baronet in 1766, and in 1768, Physician in Ordinary to the King's mother, the Princess of Wales, followed in 1774 by his final appointment as Physician Extraordinary to the King, George III.
In 1772, he had been elected President of the Royal Society, a singular honour.
He decided to retire in 1778 and returned to his native heath, where unfortunately he failed to settle. In 1781, having found the weather too cold and windy, and the company too limited, he returned to London where his health began to fail and on 18th January 1782, he died after a seizure.
He left the bulk of his hard-earned money to his nephew, Sir James Pringle of Stitchel, who also inherited the British Baronetcy along with that of Nova Scotia which the family already possessed.
So passed away a physician and philosophical enquirer of the first order. He is remembered by a monument in Westminster Abbey by Nollekins.
For 223 years, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh acted as custodian for a unique collection of historical archive of medical papers, according to BBC News Scotland (Nov 2004).
The documents remained hidden on the instructions of the physician who donated the material. But it was decided that the papers should be made public.
The 10-volume collection, considered to be one of the most valuable manuscript sources of historical information on the practice of medicine in 18th century Europe, belonged to the renowned Scottish physician Sir John Pringle.
He donated his personal collection to the college on the condition that his papers would never be printed, quoted in print or taken out of the college.
The college honoured the conditions from 1782 until 2004 when a fellow of the college funded legal action intended to allow the college to change the restrictive terms of the Pringle donation. The case was heard by Lady Paton and the college was granted its wish to open the collection to the public.
Iain Milne, head of library and information services at the college said "The college is very proud of the Sir John's manuscripts which provide a real insight into the practice of medecine in the 18th century. However the terms of the donation were very restrictive in the 21st century and we believed it was important to take legal action to make the material available to medical researchers, historians and the public."
The documents give an insight into medical thought and practice in the 18th century with one section devoted to the best cures at the time for diseases.
Pringle not only collected thoughts and notes from his own medical experience but also from other scientists of the time including Benjamin Franklin.
Sir John Pringle: hospital reformer, moral philosopher and pioneer of antiseptics. by Sydney Selwyn.
A Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary: Sir John Pringle, by Charles Hutton
Royal College of Physicians, Munk’s Roll: Sir John Pringle.
Sir John Pringle and his circle, by Dorothea Waley Singer
Sir John’s Memorial in Westminster Abbey
Online books by Dr John Pringle:
Observations on the diseases of the army, by Dr Sir John Pringle, Bt.
The life of General James Wolfe, the conqueror of Canada, by Dr Sir John Pringle, Bt.
Six Discourses, by Dr Sir John Pringle, Bt.
Saving the Army: The Life of Sir John Pringle by Dr Morrice McCrae.
Publication Date: 4 Sep 2014. Available to purchase on Amazon.co.uk.
The biography's launch took place in the New Library, Royal College of Physicians, 9 Queen Street, Edinburgh on Monday 3rd November 2014.