Russell A. Palmer

(9 December 1905 - 22 December 1999)
College Role: 


Russell A. Palmer was born in the Yukon territory in north west Canada on 9 December 1905. He practiced internal medicine in Vancouver between 1935 and 1985, excepting the time he spent in a medical division during World War Two.

Whilst a faculty member of the University of British Columbia Palmer was instrumental in developing an artificial kidney machine and a catheter for prolonged peritoneal dialysis. He was recognised by both the Kidney Foundation of Canada and the AMA for his pioneering work in haemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.

Palmer  was the first honorary member of the Canadian Society of Nephrologists. He also held the position of Governor of the British Columbia Chapter of the American College of Physicians. Palmer died on 22 December 1999, aged 94.

Notable Achievements

BA Columbia 1926, MD McGill 1931, MRCPE 1946, FRCP Can. 1947, Fellowship 1956 FACP 1948 (Master 1975)



Alexander Peddie

(3 June 1810 – 1907)
College Role: 


It might have been expected that Alexander Peddie would become a minister since his was another of those dynastic families so often encountered in medicine and divinity: his father James and brother William between them served one parish for 110 years. Instead, following private schooling and Edinburgh High School, Peddie began working for a bank when he was 16.

Disappointed with this career choice, however, Peddie was advised by Dr John Abercromby to study medicine. Peddie became an apprentice to the up-and-coming surgeon James Syme who at that time was being boycotted by a group trying to prevent his appointment to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Syme’s response was to rent Minto House and use it as a private hospital with 24 beds, staffed by 13 apprentices. The boycott failed, and in 1833 Syme was appointed surgeon to the Royal Infirmary. He had to give up his use of Minto House but converted it into a 12-bed private hospital with Peddie, still a medical student, as superintendent.

In the previous year, 1832, Peddie had his first paper published (‘Some cases of dropsy and gangrene’), and continued with other papers in the following few years: ‘Some cases of poisonous fungi’, ‘Spinal apoplexy’, ‘The contagious nature of puerperal fever and its intimate connexion with erisipelatous and phlebitis inflammation’. The latter paper was published in 1845, two years after Wendall Holmes’ seminal paper on the subject – of which Peddie was unaware. He subsequently wrote on ‘The mammary secretion and its pathological changes’, ‘Diseases of Childhood’ and numerous papers on alcoholism and delirium tremens.

In 1834, however, Peddie had contracted typhus fever in a poor district of the city during one of the recurrent epidemics. He gave up his responsibilities in Minto House and, in the following year, graduated MD and obtained the Licence of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. After a walking holiday on the continent he spent the next winter in Paris. On his return to Edinburgh he negotiated with Syme to take over the lease of Minto House until it expired 15 years later, running it as a very successful, entirely self-supporting private hospital, unique in Scotland at that time. All his clinical work thereafter focused on Minto House and a large private and consulting practice, including 35 years as principal medical officer for the Life Association of Scotland.

Peddie was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1845, served as its President from 1878 to 1879 and in 1863 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was also a member of the Edinburgh Chirurgical Society, a Fellow of the Obstetrics Society and President of the Harveian Society. Over the course of his long and distinguished professional life, Peddie met and often worked with such men as Christison, Brown, Bennett, MacLagan, Fergusson, Begbie, Syme, Lister and Knox the anatomist.

Alexander Peddie will go down in history as someone who recognised what needed to be done and did not rest until he had helped to bring it about. He urged the formation of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh (1867) and the Edinburgh Dental Hospital (1878). In 1878, as its President, he represented the RCPE at the opening of the new Royal Infirmary, and the following year attended the opening of the Simpson Memorial Unit.

Peddie’s membership of the Scottish Church meant much to him, but there was another side to his life that is less often mentioned – his skills in fishing, painting and singing. Many Edinburgh citizens who consulted Robert Christison, John Hughes Bennett, Douglas MacLagan or Peddie were probably unaware that, away from the wards, they formed the musical group known as ‘The Singing Doctors’ or ‘Doctors’ Glee Club’. Moreover, Peddie was for 20 years secretary of the Amateur Vocal Club in Edinburgh. Another of his hobbies was swimming, but on one occasion he almost drowned in an Edinburgh indoor pool, only to be rescued and resuscitated by none other than his own son.

In 1844 Peddie married Clara Elizabeth Sibbald, the eldest daughter of a Selkirk surgeon, Thomas Anderson. They had four daughters and four sons, and celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1894, nine years before Clara’s death.

Notable Achievements

He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1863.

Peddie was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1878 to 1879.

Key Publications

  • ‘Some cases of dropsy and gangrene’ (1832)
  • ‘Some cases of poisonous fungi’
  • ‘Spinal apoplexy’
  • ‘The contagious nature of puerperal fever and its intimate connexion with erisipelatous and phlebitis inflammation’ (1845)
  • ‘The mammary secretion and its pathological changes’
  • ‘Diseases of Childhood’

Previously published in the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (2008), 38: 190
Author: Derek Doyle.

James Bell Pettigrew

(26 May 1832 – 30 January 1908)
College Role: 


James Bell Pettigrew was born on 26 May 1832 in Lanarkshire to Robert Pettigrew and Mary Bell. His early education was in his hometown of Airdrie and at the University of Glasgow, where he studied arts from 1850 to 1855. Pettigrew moved to Edinburgh in 1856 where he began his medical studies. Pettigrew was intellectually brilliant and manually dexterous and established himself as an outstanding scholar in anatomy. In 1858 to 1859, Pettigrew was awarded a gold medal for the best treatise on anatomy. This treatise led Pettigrew to be appointed Croonian lecturer at the Royal Society of London in 1860. Pettigrew was awarded many medals for competitive essays in this period.

Pettigrew graduated MD from Edinburgh in 1861 and received a gold medal for his inaugural dissertation on ‘the ganglia and nerves of the heart and their connection with the cerebrospinal and sympathetic systems in Mammalia.’ Also in 1861, Pettigrew became House Surgeon to James Syme at the Royal Infirmary. In 1862, he was appointed assistant in the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, a position he held until 1867. In 1867, Pettigrew became ill and was obliged to take a year of convalescence; however he continued to contribute dissections to the collection and wrote papers on various anatomical subjects. In this period also, Pettigrew experimented with artificial flight. Pettigrew continued his anatomical, physical and physiological researched, especially those on flight, and in 1870 published a memoir.

In 1872, Pettigrew contributed a course of lectures on physiology to the Edinburgh College Fellows. In 1875–7 he delivered special courses of lectures on physiology in Dundee, and University College, Dundee, owes its origin largely to his efforts. In 1877 he was elected by the universities of Glasgow and St Andrews to represent them on the General Medical Council. After 1886, when a new medical act enabled each of the Scottish universities to return its own member, Pettigrew represented St Andrews alone on the council. By 1889, when he gave the Edinburgh Harveian Oration, Pettigrew had become known internationally for his belief that, throughout the animal and plant kingdoms, at all orders of size, movements were often helical or spiral.

Pettigrew married in 1890 to Elsie, the second daughter of Sir William Gray, although the marriage was childless. Pettigrew spent the last ten years of his life working on Design in Nature, which was published posthumously. Around 1903, shortly before the Wright brothers made their first flights, Pettigrew secretly had his own petrol engine-driven aeroplane constructed. He flew it for 60 feet down a St Andrews street before it crashed, breaking his femur. He died in his home in St Andrews on 30 January 1908. A museum for the botanic gardens was erected in his memory by his widow as an adjunct to the Bute medical buildings of St Andrews University.

Notable Achievements

Pettigrew was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1869.

In 1869, Pettigrew was appointed Pathologist at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh and curator of the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Pettigrew was elected fellow of both the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1873.

In 1874 he was awarded the Godard prize of the French Académie des Sciences for his anatomico-physiological researches and was made a laureate of the Institut de France.

In 1875 he was appointed Chandos professor of medicine and anatomy and dean of the medical faculty in the University of St Andrews.

In 1883 he received the honorary degree of LLD at Glasgow.

Key Publications

  • ‘On the physiology of wings, being an analysis of the movements by which flight is produced in the insect, bird and bat’ (Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 26) (1870)
  • Animal Locomotion, or, Walking, Swimming, and Flying, with a Dissertation on aeronautics (1873)
  • Design in Nature (1908)

Robert William Philip

(29 December 1857 – 25 January 1939)
College Role: 


Robert William Philip was born in Glasgow on 29 December 1857, the youngest son of a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. In 1866, his father was transferred to Edinburgh and the family moved. Philip attended the University of Edinburgh where he obtained an MA before graduating MB, CM with honours in 1882. That same year, he travelled to Leipzig and Vienna to study embryology and gynaecology. In Vienna, Philip encountered the work of Robert Koch, shortly after his discovery of the tubercle bacillus. Philip returned to Edinburgh in 1883 and set up his medical practice. That same year he became house physician to John Wyllie at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. In 1885 he became assistant physician to the New Town Dispensary and in 1887 he was appointed assistant to the professor of medicine at the university.

Philip retained his interest in tuberculosis and set out on a series of investigations resulting in a thesis titled, ‘A study in phthisis, etiological and therapeutic’, which in 1887 earned him the Edinburgh University MD degree and gold medal. Tuberculosis in this time was seen as a major public health issue. In 1887, Philip opened the Victoria Dispensary for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest.

In 1888, Philip married Elizabeth Motherwell, who was one of his supporters in opening the dispensary. As with his research for his MD degree, the methods Philip developed at the Victoria Dispensary were informed by his understanding that tuberculosis was both a transmissible and a systemic disease. Philip argued that the best way to treat tuberculosis was to build up the immune system of patients to enable them to resist the infection. He advocated fresh air, nutritious diet and clean surroundings. In 1891, his dispensary was able to grow and moved to a new location. In 1894 the Victoria Hospital for Consumption was opened at Craigleith, to provide institutional treatment for more advanced cases of tuberculosis.

Philip continued advocating for reforms surrounding tuberculosis and his views on surveillance and hygienic supervision became commonplace in public health thinking by the end of the First World War. He was knighted in 1913, acknowledging all the work he had done. A national tuberculosis scheme was adopted in Edinburgh and Philip remained a consultant and expert advisor. In 1917, a trust endowed a chair of tuberculosis at Edinburgh University and Philip became its first occupant. Following his knighthood, Philip was appointed honorary physician to the king in Scotland.

Philip’s first wife died in 1937 and he remarried in 1938 to Edith Josephine, who died in 1939. Edith was also a champion of tuberculosis and had opened the first tuberculosis dispensary in England at Paddington in 1909. Philip also died in 1938, on 25 January in his home in Edinburgh. Philip fought tuberculosis until the very end of his life.

Notable Achievements

Philip was elected fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1887.

In 1890 Philip was appointed to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh as a chest physician.

In 1913 Philip was knighted.

In 1917, Philip took up the world’s first chair in tuberculosis at the University of Edinburgh.

He was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1918 to 1922.

In 1927, Philip was president of the British Medical Association.

In 1933 he was elected fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London

Key Publications

  • Pulmonary Tuberculosis, Etiological and Therapeutic; Based on an Experimental Investigation (1891)
  • Selections of writings (1911)
  • The control and eradication of tuberculosis: a series of international studies (1911)
  • The Actual Position of Tuberculosis To-Day (1923)
  • Collected Papers on Tuberculosis (1937)

Archibald Pitcairne

(25 December 1652 – 23 October 1713)
College Role: 


Archibald Pitcairne was born in Edinburgh on 25 December 1652 to Alexander Pitcairne, a merchant and magistrate. Pitcairne entered the University of Edinburgh in 1668 and graduated MA on 20 March 1671. His early studies included law and divinity, which he abandoned due to ill health. Pitcairne travelled to Paris where his focus shifted to medicine. In 1675 he began to study mathematics, in which he rapidly became proficient. Pitcairne graduated MD from Reims on 13 August 1680 before returning to Edinburgh. Back in Edinburgh, Pitcairne quickly joined the circle of elites, including Robert Sibbald, who frequently held meetings modelled after the Royal Societies of Europe. Pitcairne, with Sibbald, was one of the founding members of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, which obtained its charter on 29 November 1681. In about 1680, Pitcairne married Margaret Hay, although they had no surviving children. Margaret died in 1690.

Pitcairne was close friends with David Gregory, a precocious mathematician. They jointly wrote mathematical papers and this background led to Pitcairne championing what became known as the iatromechanical theory of physiology. This hypothesis was based on the assumption that bodily functions, such as circulation, were determined by mechanical factors and could better be explained by Newtonian physics rather than the imbalance of humours. Pitcairne’s enthusiasm for this theory led to him publishing Solutio problematis de historicis; seu inventoribus, a monograph supporting the claim that William Harvey, rather than the ancient Greeks, had discovered the circulation of the blood. This publication was largely responsible for Pitcairne being appointed (jointly with Robert Sibbald and James Halket) Professor of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. In this position he became one of the more eminent protagonists of iatromechanical theory and, in 1691, he was invited to the prestigious Chair of the Practice of Medicine in the University of Leiden. On the journey there, he visited Isaac Newton at Cambridge.

Pitcairne moved to Leiden in April 1692 and in his inaugural lecture attempted to outline his new theory of medicine based on Newton’s principles. Pitcairne wrote a series of four dissertations based on the natural philosophy of Newton.

His stay at Leiden was short because his future wife Elizabeth Stevensone did not wish to settle there. Pitcairne and Elizabeth married on 8 August 1693 and had four surviving children. Upon his return to Edinburgh he became embroiled in an ongoing controversy over fever treatment. Andrew Brown, a follower of Thomas Sydenham, had advocated a new method of treating continual fevers (bloodletting, purging and a paregoric like laudanum), a view not shared by the traditionalist Edinburgh physicians of the day, whose treatment was based on emetics and particularly diaphoretics. The fact that Brown was an outsider, an empiricist and a Whig, further heightened opposition within the College. As College Censor, Pitcairne’s role was to defend the College line against such medical heresy. But his Newtonian view in Dissertatio de curatione febrium, that purgatives and bloodletting formed part of febrile treatment because of their mechanical effects, was viewed with outrage by some colleagues.

By remaining a devoted Episcopalian and Jacobite, at a time of great friction between them and the Presbyterian establishment, and by his outspoken and scathing criticism of all things Presbyterian, he made more enemies. A fight between rival factions, one around Pitcairne, the other around Robert Sibbald, fuelled the ‘riot in the College’. After this, Pitcairne was excluded from the College, along with others including his father-in-law, Sir Archibald Stevensone, the first president of the College.

In 1701 he was admitted to the Incorporation of Surgeons where he promoted the study and teaching of anatomy. He provided the summing-up at the first two successful public demonstrations of anatomical dissection performed in the ‘new’ Surgeons Hall. Pitcairne was the most distinguished member of the Incorporation at that time and his influence led to the appointment of Robert Elliot, the Incorporation’s ‘public dissector of anatomie’, and one of his Leiden pupils. Elliot became the first professor of anatomy at the University of Edinburgh, the first such chair in Britain.

Pitcairne was a loyal Jacobite and wrote poetry, although he did not advocate the cause further as he was on good terms with many politicians, both Whig and Tory. Little is known about the last years of Pitcairne’s life. He published little, although his collected works were compiled and published posthumously. Pitcairne had apparently been in poor health for some time and died in Edinburgh on 23 October 1713. He is buried in Greyfriars churchyard.

Pitcairne was one of the most scholarly doctors of his day, yet iatromechanical theory essentially died with him. His greatest legacies were his influence on some outstanding pupils and providing the most important early link between Leiden and Edinburgh, a link crucial in the establishment of the University of Edinburgh Medical School.

Notable Achievements

In 1691, Pitcairne was appointed Chair of the Practice of Medicine at the University of Leiden.

Key Publications

  • Solutio problematis de historicis, seu, De inventoribus dissertatio (1688)
  • Epistola Archimedis ad regem Gelonem (1710)
  • Pitcairne’s published works collected and translated into English (1715)
  • Pitcairne’s Leiden lectures compiled (1717)

William Porterfield

College Role: 


William Porterfield, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh between 1748 and 1750, has variously been called the ‘father of ophthalmology’, Edinburgh’s first professor of physiology and the first to describe and name phantom limb. As we shall see, none of these claims are strictly accurate.

Porterfield was born in Ayrshire in 1696 and is said to have studied medicine in Glasgow before going to Rheims and Leiden. In fact, Glasgow did not have a faculty of medicine at that time and Porterfield is far more likely to have studied mathematics, for which Glasgow was famous. Most of his time would have been spent in Leiden before he graduated MD in Rheims (1717), a combination of universities used by many Scots students of the time.

In June 1721 Porterfield was formally examined and admitted as a Licentiate of the Edinburgh College and elected to its Fellowship later in the year. Within a few years he was himself one of the College examiners and in 1724 a professor.

Why or when he developed his interest in optics is not known. His name was made with A treatise on the eye: the manner and phenomena of vision (1759), described by one ophthalmic historian in 1936 as ‘a remarkable and extraordinarily able work, far ahead of any other of similar scope then available in English. In it are theorems amply elucidating the problems of optics, many of which are held as good today, and thus give evidence of the thoroughness of the author’s powers of observation.’

The books were based on two articles Porterfield had written many years before and published in the Edinburgh Medical Essays and Observations. The first (1737) was about what he termed the external motions of the eye; the second (1738) was about the internal motions. This pioneering work on the physiology of the eye led some to refer to him as the father of ophthalmology. However, there is no evidence that Porterfield ever practised clinical ophthalmology or studied its pathology.

Neither was he strictly a professor of physiology, for there was no such department in the Edinburgh of his day. In 1723, at the invitation of the town council, the President and censors of the Edinburgh College unanimously agreed that his name should be submitted to be professor, teaching physiology, materia medica and physic as well as the practice of medicine. The nomination was applauded by 15 Fellows at a subsequent meeting. Quoting from Council minutes, ‘they granted him all powers, privileges and immunities enjoyed by any other professor but at the same time no salary.’

In 1685 Archibald Pitcairne, Robert Sibbald and James Halkett, all founding Fellows of the College, had been appointed to teach medicine in the university. Not only had they too no salary, no rooms and almost no students, they never gave a single lecture or tutorial. If the Council was hoping that Porterfield would succeed where the others had failed, they were mistaken. He too never taught anyone, although, as one writer has said, ‘he seemed disengaged from the necessary business of all other public professions.’ (Porterfield is known to have been so wealthy that he needed no financial incentives.) There is no record of him tendering his resignation, but two successors were appointed a year and a half after Porterfield took up his post.

Porterfield was well qualified to write about ‘phantom limb’, having had a leg amputated in his youth. However, he did not coin the phrase; that was done by George Dedlow in 1872. Porterfield’s claim to fame in this respect rests on him being the first doctor to describe it from personal experience:

‘All things perceived must therefore be present with the Mind and in the Sensorium where the Mind resides… the Sense of Feeling is diffused thro’ all the body. Nay, in some cases it behived to be extended beyond the Body itself as in the case of Amputations… Having had this Misfortune myself, I can the better vouch for the Truth of this fact from my own Experience, for I sometimes still feel Pains and Itchings, as if in my tows, Heel or Ancle and tho’ it be several years since my leg was taken off.’

Before then most papers had relied on second- or third-hand reports. Not surprisingly, Porterfield saw similarities between the visual sensation and that experienced after amputation. He graphically described the sensations of pain and itching, but for some reason did not refer to the papers and reports of others, including Déscartes who so eloquently described the suffering of a girl after a limb amputation.

Porterfield was a man who attracted unfavourable, even scathing, criticism, but that was common at the time. Apart from the fact that Porterfield married a Mrs Elizabeth Brown, widow of David Henderson of Tunnochside, in March 1743, we know little else about his private life.

Notable Achievements

Porterfield was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1748 to 1750.

Key Publications

  • A treatise on the eye: the manner and phenomena of vision (1759)


Previously published in the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (2010), 40: 188
Author: Derek Doyle.

Isabella Pringle

(1 December 1876 – 27 May 1963)
College Role: 


Isabella Pringle was born in Edinburgh on 1 December 1876. She grew up in Morningside and her mother, widowed some years earlier, was listed as the head of the family in the 1891 census.

After several years in a range of academic secretarial jobs Pringle attended classes at Edinburgh University and graduated MBChB in 1909 at the age of 33. After her residency she travelled to Manchuria to work as a medical missionary until 1916. A combination of ill health and her developing special interest in Scottish maternity and child welfare led her to take on further residencies - at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. She then passed the Scottish DPH examinations and moved to Paisley, becoming responsible for the new maternity and child welfare scheme. Under her leadership this became one of the most comprehensive of its kind in Scotland, fully two decades before the inception of the NHS.

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh debated the role of women in medicine in their quarterly meeting in November 1918. Efforts to acknowledge and support women doctors were incorporated into a supplementary charter in January 1920. Subsequently, Pringle completed her MD in 1921 and, in 1925, passed the membership examination. She then moved to Edinburgh to become senior assistant medical officer in the maternity and child-welfare service of the City Corporation. Her colleague and mentor was Dr T Y Finlay. The partnership of these two committed doctors ensured steady development and improving services in the city. Pringle became a Fellow of the Edinburgh College in 1929, the first woman to receive this honour.

Isabella Pringle died on 27 May 1963 in Chalmers Crescent, Edinburgh. She never married but, as a colleague pointed out, ‘Dr Ella Pringle was one of that devoted group of lady doctors in this country who pioneered and gave their all for the furtherance of maternal and child health’.

Notable Achievements

In 1929, Pringle became the first female fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.