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Biographical entry Watkins-Pitchford, Wilfred (1868 - 1952)

MRCS 12 November 1891; FRCS 10 June 1897; MB London 1894; MD 1902; LRCP 1891; DPH Oxford 1901; Hon LLD Witwatersrand 1927; J P Shropshire.

4 June 1868
Tattenhall, Cheshire
29 September 1952
Bacteriologist and Pathologist


Born at Tattenhall, Cheshire on 4 June 1868 the fourth son of the Rev J Watkins-Pitchford, Vicar of St Jude's, Southwark, and his wife Louisa Read of Westbury, Wilts, he was educated at St Olave's Grammar School, Southwark and St Thomas's Hospital, where he served as house surgeon. By the time he took the Fellowship in 1897 he had already become interested in public health, and was being employed as an expert bacteriologist by the Natal Government to report on European bacteriological laboratories. His elder brother Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Watkins-Pitchford was chief veterinary officer in Natal and subsequently government bacteriologist there. In 1898 he was special plague officer for the Government of Bombay to report on disinfectants.

He served as a civil surgeon in Natal and the Transvaal with No 7 General Hospital during the Boer war. Coming back to England, he took the Oxford Diploma in Public Health 1901 and the London MD in State Medicine 1902, and acted as consultant to the LCC and to Holborn Borough during a smallpox epidemic. He returned to Natal as assistant government bacteriologist in 1903, was appointed public analyst in 1907, and in 1911 transferred to Johannesburg on his appointment as government pathologist and bacteriologist for the Transvaal, public analyst to the Municipality, and pathologist to the General Hospital. During the Zulu rebellion of 1906 he was adjutant to the Natal Medical Corps.

The South African Institute for Medical Research was founded at Johannesburg in 1912, with Watkins-Pitchford as its first Director. He held the post till 1926, and established the Institute on the right lines and with the highest standards; he was also editor of the publications of the Institute. During the war of 1914-18 he was acting editor of the Medical Journal of South Africa. He established the Miners Phthisis Medical Bureau in 1916 with Dr Louis Irvine, and was its chairman till 1926; this was the first of its kind in the world. He served on the Council of Public Health of the Union of South Africa and on its Leprosy Advisory Commit-tee, and was chairman of the South African Chamber of Mines Medical Committee on Tuberculosis. At the University of the Witwatersrand he was a member of the executive committee and honorary Professor of bacteriology and pathology. He was active in the British Medical Association in South Africa, as secretary of the Pietermaritzburg division 1906 and chairman 1910, secretary of the Natal branch 1908 and President 1911, and President of the Witwatersrand branch 1917. After his return to England he served on the Central Council of the Association 1928-38 and on its Dominions committee, and was elected a Vice-President in 1923.

Watkins-Pitchford retired in 1926 at the age of 58 owing to ill-health. He settled at Littlebrug, Bridgnorth, Salop, where with improving health he became a magistrate, a member of the council of the Shropshire Archaeological Society, and chairman of the Bridgnorth Playing-fields Association. He married in 1905 Olive Mary, third daughter of the Rev T B Nicholl, rector of Llanegwad, Carmarthenshire, who survived him with a son John Watkins-Pitchford MD and a daughter. He died in the Queen Victoria Nursing Institution, Wolverhampton on 29 September 1952 aged 84. He had made an outstanding contribution to scientific medicine in South Africa. He concealed a character of noble generosity and friendly helpfulness to sincere workers behind a facade of unsmiling reserve.

A case of rapidly fatal diabetes mellitus in a boy aged ten. Brit med J. 1892, 1, 1136. An alcohol bath for burns. Lancet 1899, 1, 335.
The treatment of dysentery. Brit med J. 1900, 2, 1370.
Abscess of the lung; operation; recovery. Brit med J. 1901, 1, 842.
Intussusception in convalescence from typhoid fever, death, necropsy. Brit med J. 1902, 2, 703.
On Indian snake-stone, with H Watkins-Pitchford. Brit med J. 1904, 1, 438.
The relations of meteorological conditions to the prevalence of enteric fever in Natal Transvaal med J. 1907, 2, 7.
An unusual case of oesophageal obstruction. Transvaal med J. 1908, 3, 252.
Light, pigmentation, and new growth; an essay on the genesis of cancer. Transvaal med J. 1909, 4, 239.
The industrial diseases of South Africa. Med J S Afr. 1914, 9, 196 and 222.
On the nature of the doubly refracting particles seen in microscopic sections of silicotic lungs, and an improved method for disclosing siliceous particles in such sections, with J Moir. Pub S Afr Inst med Res. 1916, 7.
The prevalence of cancer amongst the native races of Natal and Zululand during the four years 1906-1909, with a note on the nature of cancer. Med J S Afr. 1925, 25, 257.
The silicosis of the South African gold mines and the changes produced in it by legislative and administrative efforts. J industr Hyg. 1927, 9, 109.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet 1952, 2, 890 with appreciation by A J Orenstein; Brit med J. 1952, 2, 834, 998 shorter appreciation by Dr Orenstein, and p 1261 by Prof A Pijper; information from Mrs Watkins-Pitchford].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England