Lives of the fellows

John Dalziel Wyndham Pearce

b.21 February 1904 d.25 January 1994
MA Edin(1923) MB ChB(1927) DPM(1930) MD(1933) MRCP Edin(1933) FRCP Edin(1937) FBPsS(1943) MRCP(1954) FRCP(1959) FRCPsych(1971)

Of all the sub-specialties which go to make up the totality of psychiatry John, known as ‘Jack’, Pearce was the master of most. His regular work programme might include the psychoanalytic treatment of a disturbed child, the preparation of a report to the court on a juvenile offender, genetic counselling for anxious parents of a child suffering from a congenital physical or mental abnormality, or the treatment of adult patients with routine psychiatric problems.

Jack Pearce was an Anglo-Scot but there can be no doubt as to which side of the border his heart lay. His romantic attachment to Scotland stemmed, in all probability, from his pride in his descent through his mother from the Jacobite outlaw hero, Rob Roy McGregor. His English father, John Alfred Wyndham Pearce, was described in more prosaic terms as ‘a woollen merchant’. Pearce was born in Edinburgh and educated at George Watson’s College and Edinburgh University, where he graduated at the tender age of 19 years. He then entered medicine, pursuing his clinical studies at the Royal Infirmary. After qualification he held house posts at the Royal Infirmary and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children.

Having decided on a career in psychiatry, he headed south to England where he filled junior posts at Chartham Down, an undistinguished backward hospital in Kent and at the Towers in Leicestershire - a far more progressive hospital. At the latter he really began to spread his wings; he took on work as a pathologist but, more importantly, he also began to attend child guidance clinics and started outpatient clinics on his own initiative, both ventures which were considered, at that time, as decidedly avant-garde.

After six important and formative years in Leicester, Pearce ventured to London in 1936 where he enrolled for a short weekly course at the Tavistock Clinic which was fast gaining a reputation as the best centre in the country for psychoanalytic psychotherapy. His appetite now whetted for this approach to treatment, he felt obliged to undergo a personal analysis which he did under the distinguished analyst Emanuel Miller, himself a pioneer in child guidance. At that time Pearce took an appointment at Stamford House Remand Home and his absorption in the work he did there led to the publication of his most important book, Juvenile delinquency (London, Cassell, 1952). In this he voiced his disapproval of any form of corporal punishment for young delinquents, pointing out that there was no scientific evidence whatsoever that it had ever proved of benefit in correcting or preventing bad behaviour or crime.

With the advent of war in 1939, Pearce volunteered for service and was commissioned as a major in the RAMC where he joined a select band of seven command psychiatrists under brigadier J R Rees [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.387]. Later, with the rank of lieutenant colonel, he was posted overseas as an adviser in psychiatry, Allied Forces HQ, Central Mediterranean Force.

After demobilization in 1945, Pearce had to re-shape his life. He resumed his private practice and his remand service work and it was not long before a veritable avalanche of prestigious appointments came his way. These included: consultant psychiatrist to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children and the Royal Masonic Hospital and medical director to the Portman Clinic (Institute for the Scientific Treatment of Deliquency). Perhaps the appointments for which he will be best remembered were those to St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington; first as assistant physician in the department of psychological medicine and, later, as physician in charge of the department. Despite the resounding title of his appointment there was in fact no department in a physical sense and it was only as a result of Pearce’s persistence and guile that eventually a suitably converted house was commissioned which served his purpose well until the mid-1970s.

It was at St Mary’s that Pearce consolidated his reputation as a clinician and teacher of first class importance. His example, coupled with his personal popularity, inspired many of his students to follow in his footsteps and take up a career in psychiatry. To add to his already heavy commitments, Pearce served as an examiner for the College and for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, of which he was a founder fellow. He also examined for the University of London, as well as sitting on a variety of important boards, committees and councils.

At the age of 65, Pearce was obliged to retire from his hospital appointments, but he continued to see private patients until well into his 80s. In 1988, at the age of 84, he ended his exile in England and returned to his native Edinburgh where, as long as his deteriorating physical health permitted, he continued to paint, walk, fish and play golf. He married twice, first to Grace Fowler in 1929. This marriage was dissolved in 1964, when he married Elizabeth Draper. There were no children of either marriage.

H R Rollin

[, 1994,308,1157; Times, 16 Feb 1994; The Independent, 31 Jan 1994; The Daily Telegraph, 9 Mar 1994; Proc.roy.Coll.Physns.Edin., v.24,no.3(July 1994)]

(Volume X, page 379)

<< Back to List