Lives of the fellows

Henry Alfred (Sir) Pitman

b.1 July 1808 d.6 November 1908
BA Cantab(1832) MB(1835) MD FRCP(1845)

Henry Pitman was born in London, the son of Thomas Dix Pitman, solicitor, by his wife Ann Simmons. He was educated at private schools at Tooting and Ealing and with a tutor at Ware before he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1827. Graduating in arts in 1832, he spent a year in Continental travel with a college friend and then, after a brief period in a solicitor’s office, decided to take up medicine. After a further year’s study at Cambridge, he became a student at St. George’s Hospital and King’s College, London, graduating as M.B. in 1835. In 1842 he spent nine months as the Duke of Grafton’s private physician, and in 1846 he was elected assistant physician to St. George’s Hospital and lecturer on materia medica. In 1857 he became full physician and lecturer on medicine and in 1866 the first consulting physician to the Hospital.

It was probably, however, by his work for the Royal College of Physicians that Pitman was best known to his professional colleagues. Having already served as Censor, he began, in 1858, a long tenure of office as Registrar. He was responsible for administering the provisions of the new Medical Act affecting the College. In 1869 the first edition of the Nomenclature of Diseases was produced, and the new Diploma of Public Health owed its institution chiefly to his efforts. During his registrarship, the Bradshaw and Milroy Lectures were established and the Baly Medal and Murchison Scholarship came into being. It was Henry Pitman who was the chief instrument in bringing about the Conjoint Board examination; he received the honour of knighthood in 1883 in recognition of this achievement. In 1876 he was appointed as the College representative on the General Medical Council, to which he subsequently became treasurer. On retiring in 1889, he was given the title of Emeritus Registrar of the College. On his hundredth birthday he received a telegram of congratulation and good wishes from the King. A few months later he died, the oldest member of the Royal College of Physicians. His wife, Frances, daughter of Thomas Wildman of Eastbourne, whom he had married in 1852, and by whom he had three sons and four daughters, survived him by two years. Pitman had been born a year before the birth of Darwin and had known thirteen successive Presidents of the College. He had lived to see introduced into the practice of medicine the stethoscope, the microscope, the clinical thermometer, and the routine testing of urine and blood. He was a modest man, a great administrator, and one to whom medicine, on the educational side, and the Royal College of Physicians in particular, owed a deep debt.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1908; B.M.J., 1908; D.N.B., 2nd Suppl., iii, 118]

(Volume IV, page 43)

<< Back to List