CodeDS/UK/6
Person NamePringle; John (1710-1782); Sir; military physician
Dates1710-1782
TitleSir
Epithetmilitary physician
HistoryPringle was born on 10 April 1707 at Stichill House, in Roxburghshire, the youngest son of Sir John Pringle, baronet, and his wife, Magdalen, sister of Sir Gilbert Elliott, baronet, of Stobs. After receiving private tuition at home Pringle attended St Andrews, Scotland's oldest university, where his uncle Francis was professor of Greek, Pringle matriculated in 1722 in St Leonard's College, and in 1727 entered Edinburgh University.

It appears that Pringle was intending to pursue a career in commerce and was sent to Amsterdam to gain some knowledge of business. During his stay there he paid a visit to Leiden and heard a lecture by the renowned physician Hermann Boerhaave, which made him decide to follow a career in medicine. He then went to Leiden to take his studies further. Pringle graduated MD at Leiden in 1730, his thesis diploma, 'De marcore senili', being signed by Boerhaave, C. B. Albinus, and W. J. Gravesande. He then completed his medical studies in Paris. Four years after graduating MD and starting practice in Edinburgh, Pringle was appointed joint professor of pneumatics (metaphysics) and moral philosophy in Edinburgh University.

The earl of Stair appointed him his physician. Lord Stair was then general officer commanding the British army on the continent. Through the offices of the earl of Stair Pringle was appointed physician to the army in Flanders in 1742. After the duke of Cumberland appointed him physician-general in 1744 he resigned his professorship in Edinburgh. It was probably owing to his efforts that military hospitals were first recognized as neutral territory and safely set up near a battlefield. At the battle of Dettingen in 1743, British and French hospitals under a temporary red cross and with the agreement of the duc de Noailles, the French commander, were set up side by side, each taking wounded from the other army if the occasion arose.

Although Pringle left the physician-general's post in 1748 he did not publish his Observations on the Diseases of the Army until 1752. His special contributions were the first scientific account of epidemiology in the field and prevention of cross-infection. Pringle also began to think in terms of 'septic' and 'antiseptic' and even considered the systemic use of such 'antiseptics'.

From 1748 Pringle settled in London and continued in medical practice. In 1749 he became physician-in-ordinary to the Duke of Cumberland. In 1750 he published Observations on the Nature and Cure of Hospital and Jayl Fevers, and, in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 'Experiments upon septic and antiseptic substances, with remarks relating to their use in the theory of medicine'. For the latter he received the Copley gold medal in 1752 from the society, of which he had been admitted a fellow in 1745. Pringle became a council member of the Royal Society in 1753, LRCP in 1758, FRCP in 1763, speciali gratia, physician to the queen in 1761, president of the Royal Society in 1772, and in 1766 was created a baronet. He was gazetted physician-in-ordinary to the king in 1774.

In 1778 Pringle resigned as president of the Royal Society. He returned briefly to Edinburgh, but Edinburgh did not cheer his spirits. While there he presented a manuscript collection of his 'Medical and physical observations' in ten volumes to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and to St Andrews. In 1781 he was back in London, and soon after, on 14 January 1782 had a probable stroke. He died on 18 January 1782, aged seventy-four.

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