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Biographical entry Prichard, Augustin (1818 - 1898)

MRCS Oct 30th 1840; FRCS Dec 7th 1849; MD Berlin 1841.

16 July 1818
5 January 1898
General surgeon and Ophthalmic surgeon


Born at 39 College Green, Bristol, on July 16th, 1818, the second son of James Cowles Prichard, FRS, a physician, famous as the author of The Natural History of Man. His mother was the daughter of Dr Estlin, Unitarian Minister and Co-Pastor at Lewin's Mead Chapel, a scholar and friend of Coleridge, Southey, and Robert Hall. Prichard's eldest brother and his two younger brothers were distinguished Fellows of their College at Oxford.

The Prichards were a family of Welsh origin, having a marked facial type, of strong individuality and intellectual distinction. Augustin Prichard went to a private school, then to Bristol College, where Francis Newman, brother of Cardinal Newman, was an Assistant Master. In 1834 he was apprenticed at the age of 16 to his uncle, John Bishop Estlin, founder of the Dispensary for the Cure of Complaints of the Eyes. He served his apprenticeship at the Bristol Infirmary and Medical School under John Harrison, entering St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1839, where he was Dresser to Sir William Lawrence, studied medicine under Latham and Burrows, and midwifery under Rigby. He caught scarlet fever when attending the Fever Hospital under Dr Tweedie, and might have succumbed had he not been nursed by his fellow-student, Dr Goodeve. He went to Berlin and studied under Johannes Müller, Schönlein, and Dieffenbach, who was operating for strabismus by a new method. He took the MD Berlin with a Thesis on "Iritis". Next in Vienna he attended the pathological teaching of Rokitansky and of Jaeger, the best operator for cataract. Prichard learnt the value of, and always used, Baer's triangular knife, and never employed a speculum or caught hold of the conjunctiva with forceps; nor did he adopt the assistance of an anaesthetic. In the spring of 1842 he attended in Paris the lectures of Cruveilhier, Civiale, and Claude Bernard, and in the autumn he began to practise in the old Elizabethan house, Red Lodge, which his father had vacated on being appointed a Commissioner in Lunacy.

Prichard joined his uncle, Estlin, as Surgeon to the Eye Dispensary, and gained a wide reputation for his operative skill on the eye. In 1843 he was appointed Lecturer on Anatomy at the Bristol Medical School and continued until 1854; in 1850, after a severe contest, he was elected Surgeon to the Royal Infirmary. He lectured on Surgery from 1849-1864. In 1857 he read to the Bristol Branch of the British Medical Association a paper on the membrana pupillaris and the persistence of a small central portion as the cause of anterior central capsular cataract. In 1853 he delivered the address in surgery at the Annual Meeting of the Association on the extirpation of a blind and diseased eye in the interest of the remaining eye, and he did much in this country to establish the procedure. In his Address at the Bristol Meeting in 1863 he recommended the insertion of potassa fusa into a carbuncle, followed by pressure.

An expert lithotomist, he popularized the use of the wrist and ankle buckle and straps for holding the patient in the lithotomy position. He developed the custom of publishing a collection of cases: Ten Years' Operative Surgery in the Provinces - being the Record of 875 Operations performed between 1850 and 1860 - Parts I and II (12mo, London, 1862, 1863). For lithotomy he recommended Allarton's median operation. His cataract operations were done with great dexterity in the fashion mentioned, but in a haphazard way, regardless of surroundings, as described by anecdotes in his Some Incidents in General Practice.

Prichard acquired a large private practice in Bristol and Clifton, and in 1853 removed to 4 Chesterfield Place, Clifton, where he continued in active practice after retiring from the Infirmary under the rule, after twenty years' service. He was a man of great natural gifts, improved by untiring industry, tall and handsome, with a firm expression. He was well read in the classics, a fine draughtsman, devoted to sketching, and a pioneer in photography.

He was President of the Surgical Section at the Worcester Jubilee Meeting in 1882, and for the last time was present at the Annual Meeting in 1894 and able to entertain friends although affected by increasing deafness. He was taken ill before Christmas, 1897, underwent three operations with some temporary relief, but died on Jan 5th, 1898.

He married in 1845 Mary Sibellah, daughter of the Rev Thomas Ley, Vicar of Rame, Cornwall, by whom he had four sons and three daughters. Mrs Prichard died in 1892, aged 73. Two of their sons were in the medical profession, one being Surgeon to the Bristol Infirmary.

A portrait accompanied his biography in the British Medical Journal (1898, I, 250), and the "In Memoriam", Bristol Medico-Chirurgical Journal (1898, xvi, 1), in addition to reminiscences by contemporaries, included a bibliography of 71 entries. He wrote two books of permanent interest, the first being Some Incidents in General Practice, with portrait and autograph (Bristol, 1898), the second being a series of reminiscences with the title, A Few Medical and Surgical Reminiscences (12mo, Bristol, 1896).

The Royal College of Surgeons of England