Lives of the fellows

William Boog (Sir) Leishman

b.6 November 1865 d.2 June 1926
KCB(1924) KCMG(1918) CB(1915) MB CM Glasg Hon LLD Glasg McGill MRCP Edin FRS FRCP(1914) Hon FRFPS

William Leishman was born in Glasgow, the third son of William Leishman, Regius professor of midwifery in the University, by his wife, Augusta Selina, daughter of George Drevar of Blackrock, Dublin. He was educated at Westminster School and Glasgow University, and in 1887 joined the Army Medical Service as a surgeon, having graduated a year earlier. His first three years after passing out of Netley were spent at home stations. In 1890, however, he was sent to India and from 1894 to 1895 served in the Waziristan campaign. He returned to Netley in 1899 and succeeded David Semple as assistant professor of pathology in the year following. He now engaged in original research and quickly made a name for himself as one of the leading investigators into the origins of certain tropical diseases. He introduced the stain for blood which is given his name and used it to detect the kala-azar parasite, Leishmania donovanvi; a large group of parasitic disorders henceforth were known as examples of " leishmaniasis ".

In 1903 he took Almroth Wright’s place as professor of pathology in the Army Medical School, now at Millbank. He devoted the next ten years to improving the anti-typhoid vaccine developed by Wright; and the value of his work was shown by the low incidence of the disease during the ensuing war years. He also did much, by his own example, to raise the standard of instruction in the School. In early 1914 Leishman was appointed to the Army Medical Advisory Board with the title of War Office expert in tropical diseases, but, after the outbreak of hostilities, he was sent to France as an adviser on pathology with the British Expeditionary Force. In this capacity he undertook multifarious duties that included the supervision of laboratories and the chairmanship of committees on trench fever and trench nephritis. He was recalled to the War Office in 1918 and given the new post of director of pathology in 1919. Finally, in 1923, he was raised to the office of director-general of Army Medical Services, with the rank of lieutenant-general, in which he proved that his scientific skill and his teaching ability were matched by administrative talents.

Among the honours received by Leishman were a knighthood in 1909 and the C.B. in 1915; he was created K.C.M.G. in 1918 and K.C.B. in 1924. Abroad, he was made a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour and awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of the U.S.A. He was one of the original members of the Medical Research Committee (later Council), from 1913 to 1923, and was re-elected to it in 1926. He was Horace Dobell Lecturer at the Royal College of Physicians in 1920 and delivered the Linacre lecture at Cambridge in 1925. He examined for both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Leishman devoted his leisure to landscape painting and music. He married in 1902 Maud Elizabeth, daughter of Lt.-Col. Edward Gunter, East Lancashire Regiment, and had one son, A. W. D. Leishman, F.R.C.P, and three daughters. He died in Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital, Millbank.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1926; B.M.J., 1926; D.N.B., 1922-30, 502; Roll of Army Medical Service, 7262]

(Volume IV, page 538)

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