Lives of the fellows

James (Sir) Purves-Stewart

b.20 November 1869 d.14 June 1949
KCMG(1918) CB(1916) MB CM Edin(1894) MA MD FRCP(1906)

James Purves-Stewart was born in Edinburgh, the son of John Stewart, J.P, master tailor, and educated at the Royal High School and the University. He graduated in arts in 1889 and then took up the study of medicine, of which he proved an outstanding student, winning the Ettles scholarship when he graduated as M.B, C.M, in 1894. He stayed in Edinburgh for a further year, in house appointments at the Royal Infirmary and as assistant to the professors of physiology and medicine. His next house appointment was at the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic, where he laid the foundations of his career as a neurologist. Having served in the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital during the South African campaign of 1900-01, and visited the Jena and Frankfurt medical schools, he returned to London to become assistant physician to the Westminster Hospital; there he lectured first on pharmacology and therapeutics and then on diseases of the nervous system, and, when he retired in 1931, he was made a consulting physician. Purves-Stewart also held honorary appointments at the West End Hospital for Nervous Diseases, the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and the Central London Throat and Ear Hospital. During the first World War he served as consulting physician in the Mediterranean and Near East theatres, being created C.B. in 1916 and K.C.M.G. in 1918.

It was a success of a different kind, however, that made Purves-Stewart’s name known to the medical world. In 1906 he published Diagnosis of Nervous Diseases, which, forty-one years later, reached its tenth English edition and which was translated into French, German, Spanish and Arabic. Among his other works of note were Nerve Injuries and their Treatment (1916), in which Arthur Evans collaborated, and Inter cranial Tumours (1927). Purves-Stewart was highly individual, not to say perverse, in his character. His ward rounds were marked by a volubility and by gesticulations that seemed hardly native; he was an outstanding linguist who delighted to welcome foreign savants in his own country and to travel abroad to meet them in theirs. But he was also intensely patriotic and almost aggressively proud of his military service and of his achievements. Purves-Stewart married, firstly, in 1910 Elizabeth Phipps, daughter of William Franks of Liverpool, and, secondly, in 1948 Jose, widow of Arthur Reiss. He made his home in retirement in the Belle Toute lighthouse on Beachy Head, but died in London.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1949; B.M.J., 1949; Sir J. Purves-Stewart, Sands of Time, 1939]

(Volume IV, page 477)

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