Lives of the fellows

Sydney Ringer

b.1835 d.14 October 1910
MB Lond(1860) MD MRCS LSA FRCP(1870) FRS

Sydney Ringer was born at Norwich, the second son of strict nonconformist parents, John M. Ringer, a tradesman, and his wife Harriet. His father having died when he was very young, he was brought up in poor circumstances, but the generosity of a relative enabled him to enter University College, London, after a period of apprenticeship in Norwich. He was a brilliant student and at the age of twenty-five contributed a paper on sound to the Transactions of the Royal Society. After taking his M.B. degree in 1860 and visiting Paris, he obtained junior posts at University College Hospital, the Brompton Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children. He became assistant physician at the first of these in 1863 and full physician in 1865. He was also assistant physician at the Hospital for Sick Children from 1864 to 1869. He occupied successively three chairs at University College — materia medica, pharmacology and therapeutics (1862-68), medicine (1878-87) and the Holme chair of clinical medicine (1887-1900).

Ringer was probably not at his best as a lecturer, and his real interests were in clinical work and physiology. His divided allegiance may, to some extent, have prevented him from reaching the fame as a physician that might have been his. But he was one of the first to study the action of drugs from a scientific, rather than a purely empirical, standpoint and to place pharmacology on a new and firmer basis. His Handbook of Therapeutics (1869) went into fourteen editions. He was also a pioneer in establishing the importance of the inorganic constituents of the body in its vital processes. "Ringer’s Solution", moreover, became a textbook phrase and was to be found in every laboratory. Many physiologists and biochemists were to build on foundations laid by Ringer. Personally, he was a hardworking, reserved man, who avoided entertainments and society, and always retained some of the puritan characteristics that had been so strong in his parents. He married Ann, daughter of Henry Darley of Aldby Park near York, and had two daughters. He died at Lastingham, Yorkshire. The Ringer Lectures at University College Hospital were founded in his memory.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1910; B.M.J., 1910; D.N.B., 2nd Suppl., iii, 200]

(Volume IV, page 186)

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