Lives of the fellows

Alexander Gordon (Sir) Biggam

b.14 April 1888 d.22 March 1963
OBE(1920) CB(1944) KBE(1946) MB ChB Edin(1911) MD Edin(1924) DTM&H Eng(1935) Hon LLD Punjab(1960) MRCP(1922) FRCP(1932) FRSE(1950) Hon FRCPE(1946)

Biggam was born in the parish of Leswalt, near Stranraer in Wigtownshire. He was the tenth of eleven children of John Biggam, farmer, and Barbara McWilliam, daughter of a farmer in Leswalt.

He went to school at the Stranraer Academy and later at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, and then proceeded to the medical school at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in 1911. He obtained appointments as house physician and house surgeon at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, and joined the R.A.M.C, in 1912.

After a few months’ service in India, on the outbreak of war in 1914 he went to France with the B.E.F. He was promoted captain in 1915 and from 1919 to 1921 served on the North-West Frontier with the Waziristan Field Force in the Afghan campaign. For this he was awarded the O.B.E, and was twice mentioned in dispatches. On his return to England he became assistant professor of tropical medicine at the Royal Army Medical College at Millbank and found time for post-graduate studies in various hospitals in London.

In 1926 he was seconded to the Egyptian University in Cairo as professor of clinical medicine and director of the medical unit at the Kasr-el-Aini Hospital. These appointments he held for seven years, during which he examined at the Kitchener School of Medicine in Khartoum and the American University in Beirut. He returned to this country in 1933. On the outbreak of the Second World War he saw service in India and Burma for a short period before returning to London as consulting physician to the Army and professor of tropical medicine at Millbank.

He visited the U.S.A. at the request of the Medical Research Council in connection with supplies of quinine substitutes and of D.D.T. In 1945 he became Commander of the Legion of Merit and also Commander of the Order of the Nile. When he retired from the Army Medical Service in 1947 he obtained the newly created post of director of the post-graduate board of medicine in the University of Edinburgh, and from 1950 to 1954 held the appointments of senior lecturer in diseases of tropical climates and of consulting physician in charge of the tropical diseases unit. He engaged also in private consulting practice in tropical medicine, and finally retired in 1959 at the age of seventy-one.

Biggam was essentially a physician and a teacher of tropical medicine, and for both of these activities his experiences in the Near East had given him opportunities of which he had taken full advantage. He read extensively and was an accurate clinical observer. Devoted to his profession he was all his life a hard worker, seeking help and advice from everyone whom he thought could assist him and ready to give wise advice to those who consulted him. He was a quiet modest man with a kindly smile and a quiet laugh, always friendly and ready to recognise the good points in others and turn a blind eye to their faults. With these characteristics and his experience of medical education he was well qualified to direct post-graduate studies and to advise the numerous graduates from all over the world who came to Edinburgh. In addition to the usual formal instruction which Edinburgh provided, he organised for them clinical attachments to appropriate units. He did not indulge in sports or take much exercise except in walking, but retained his slim boyish figure to the end.

During his years as professor of clinical medicine in Cairo Biggam contributed numerous articles on clinical tropical subjects to the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and in 1937 was co-author of authoritative articles on bacillary dysentery and pellagra in the British encyclopaedia of medical practice.

In 1924 he married Margaret Frances Patch, daughter of Lt-Col. B. G. Patch, R.A.M.C., and had two children, a daughter, and a son who qualified in medicine.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1963, 1, 955-6, 1239 (p); Lancet, 1963, 1, 727-8; Scotsman, 26 Mar. 1963; Times, 26, 29 Mar. 1963.]

(Volume V, page 37)

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