Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Pitts, Bernard (1848 - 1914)

MRCS Jan 29th 1875; FRCS Aug 6th 1877; MA MB Cantab 1875; MC 1877.

29 June 1848
Sowerby, Yorkshire
13 December 1914
General surgeon


Born at Sowerby, Yorkshire, on June 29th, 1848, the son of the Rev T Pitts, Vicar of St George's, Sowerby, and younger brother of the Rev Thomas Pitts, Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Rector of Loughborough and Honorary Canon of Peterborough.

Pitts went to school at Hipperholme Grammar School, near Halifax, and then entered Jesus College, Cambridge, in October, 1868. After reading mathematics for a year, he took a pass degree preparatory to medicine. During the year 1872 he worked at medicine in Edinburgh under Lister, and then again at Cambridge. He entered St Thomas's Hospital in 1873, was Clinical Clerk to Dr John Syer Bristowe, and Dresser to Sydney Jones (qv). After qualifying in 1875 he was Resident Clinical Assistant at Bethlehem Hospital.

Of sturdy build and great physical strength, he was by nature whilst young an athlete, playing cricket and football for his College at Cambridge, continuing cricket and adding racquets and golf until incapacitated by illness.

Early in 1876 he became House Surgeon at St Thomas's Hospital. The turning-point in his career came when at forty-eight hours' notice in the following August he went under the Red Cross Society to the Turko-Serbian War, serving for two and a half months under bad conditions, with rice and black bread for food, the surgical work being overwhelming. Chloroform and morphia had not been made use of until the Red Cross unit arrived. The St Thomas's men were Armaud Leslie, killed later by the Dervishes near Suakin; Haydon White, of Nottingham; and R Parker, afterwards Lieutenant-Colonel RAMC, as dresser.

Pitts returned to St Thomas's Hospital in November, 1876, as Resident Accoucheur, and in October, 1877, he was appointed Demonstrator of Anatomy. In 1878 he went out to the Cape on a Union Castle liner, and on his return was made Resident Assistant Surgeon. After holding the post for four years, in 1882 he was elected an Extra Assistant Surgeon to St Thomas's Hospital and also Assistant Surgeon to the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. In 1892 he became Surgeon to both hospitals.

At St Thomas's Hospital he was Lecturer on Practical Surgery, and then on Surgery. He was Examiner in Surgery at Cambridge, Durham, the Society of Apothecaries, and a Member of the Court of Examiners at the Royal College of Surgeons from 1899-1909. At the College he was Hunterian Professor of Surgery and Pathology in 1893, his subject being "The Surgical Affections of the Air Passages in Childhood". A paper on "Cases of Abdominal Surgery" in St Thomas's Hospital Reports (1882, xi, 75) indicates that he was early in the field when that subject was developing. At the debate at the Clinical Society in 1885, when Sir Henry Thomson still advocated the perineal route for removal of villous tumours of the bladder, Pitts advocated the suprapubic operation. A year later Thomson published a small book on the suprapubic operations without mentioning Pitts. In 1901 he opened the Discussion on the Operation of Laparotomy for Intussusception at the Cheltenham Meeting of the British Medical Association.

In 1904 a severe illness incapacitated him for six months. Not long before his death he wrote to a friend: "How hard it is to get credit unless you are constantly writing and almost advertising. I have always had a dread of this, but ought to have written more." He delivered his last lectures at St Thomas's Hospital on June 25th, 1908, on "Some Recollections of Surgery and its Teaching" (St Thomas's Hosp Gaz, 1908, xviii, 142). He resigned on reaching the age limit of 60, and he also resigned from the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, in 1912, becoming Consulting Surgeon at both hospitals.

Pitts took great interest in the welfare of nurses, and almost from the first was a Member of the Council of the Nurses' Co-operation, which in 1915 numbered 500 members. He had practised at 109 Harley Street. He died after a long and painful illness in the Nursing Home, 4 Upper Wimpole Street, on Dec 13th, 1914.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The two biographies in St Thomass Hosp Gaz, 1908, xviii, 137, and 1915, XXV, 5, each with the same portrait, include an early and later biography and a full bibliography of forty-four papers. Brit Med Jour, 1914, ii, 1122].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England