Major-General and Professor Sir William Boog Leishman, pathologist and bacteriologist, died on the 2nd of June, 1926.
Lieutenant-General Sir William Boog Leishman was Director-General of Army Medical Services, from 1923 to 1926, and is noted for his discovery of the protozoan parasite responsible for ‘dumdum fever’, ‘kala-azar’ or ‘black fever’ and now known as ‘visceral leishmaniasis’. He also developed the clinical technique known as the ‘Leishman stain’, which is still used today to detect protozoan parasites such as plasmodium, which are the cause of malaria. Amongst his many accolades, Leishman is noted for his work in improving the typhoid vaccine; a significant activity that contributed to the wellbeing of many soldiers in the First World War.
It may be an understatement to suggest that Boog is an uncommon name as ‘YeahBaby.com’ doesn’t list ‘Boog’ in the more than 26,500 baby names in its database of popularity. However, as that only goes back to 1990, perhaps it’s not the best source. In contrast, you’ll find 15,440,648 entries for ‘Boog’ – both given name and surname – at ‘Ancestry.co.uk’. Boog, recorded variously as Boag, Boage, Boig, Bog and Boog, is a Scottish surname of some antiquity, according to the Internet Surname Database at ‘surnamedb.com’. Its origins may be locational and as ‘Bog’, the name appears fairly frequently in 17th Century Berwickshire. There was a priest called Edward Bog at St Andrews in 1505 and a George Bog held the position of ‘Master of the Queen’s beer celler’ in 1563. According to the ‘Urban dictionary’, Boog means: an enigma, one that cannot be defined; awe-inspiring; impressive. Guess that’s good enough.
William Leishman was born in Glasgow, on the 6th of November 1865 and followed his father into Medicine. After attending Westminster School, in London, Wullie went to the University of Glasgow, in 1880, presenting himself as fifteen in order to be accepted, to study Greek, Latin and Mathematics. The following year, when he was really fifteen, he signed up for Professor John Veitch’s Logic class. Then, in 1883, he enrolled for Medical Faculty classes in Anatomy, Zoology and Chemistry. Three years later, despite his being too young to graduate, the Faculty approved his taking Finals. Leishman had to wait until the November to graduate as medical students could not graduate until they were twenty-one. William Boog Leishman, graduated MB CM near the top of his class, with a ‘High Commendation’.
After the delay in graduating, William was raring to go and took a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Three years later, he was posted to India to receive his baptism of fire in a punitive military expedition to Waziristan on the frontier. It was there he began his lifelong research into microbiology and developed an interest in ‘kala azar’ with which his name is permanently associated. He identified its causative parasite whilst Assistant Professor of Pathology at the Army Medical School at Netley, in 1900.
Unfortunately, he delayed publication until 1903 and was forced to share his discovery with Charles Donovan. The ovoid bodies he discovered came to be known as ‘Leishman-Donovan’ bodies (‘Leishmania donovani’). The disease is now known as ‘visceral leishmaniasis’ and remains a killer in parts of Africa and India. During this time, Leishman also developed a modification of ‘Romanowsky’s stain’, which is still in use today; known as ‘Leishman’s stain’. This is a method of staining blood, using a compound of methylene blue and eosin, which makes it easier to detect such protozoan parasites as ‘Plasmodium’ (malaria).
By January 1914, Leishman was a very distinguished doctor, having been knighted, in 1909. However, his greatest accolades were yet to come. From the turn of the century, Leishman worked for the best part of a decade to improve the typhoid vaccine developed by Sir Almroth Wright, in 1896. His success made an outstanding contribution to the health of the soldiers in the First World War. When war began, in August, 1914, 170,000 doses of vaccine were issued to the troops. It is estimated that, without it, there would have been about 551,000 cases of typhoid and over 77,000 deaths. Thanks to Leishman’s vaccine, there were only 1,191 deaths from 21,139 cases.
During the Great War, Leishman was the War Office’s expert on tropical diseases, when he investigated conditions affecting the troops, such as ‘trench fever’. He was Mentioned in Despatches three times and gazetted Major-General, in October 1919. After the war, he became the first Director of Pathology at the War Office and later the Medical Director of the Army Medical Services.
Amongst the many honours conferred on him, he became a Grand Officer of the Legion d’Honneur and received the Distinguished Service Medal of the United States of America. He was a President of the Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and, in 1910, became a fellow of the Royal Society. Leishman was created Companion of the Order of the Bath, in 1915, Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George, in 1918, Knight Commander The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, in 1924, and a member of the Athenaeum, in 1925, the year before his death.
After a remarkable career in the service of his fellow man, Professor Sir William Boog Leishman died in London, on the 2nd of June, 1926, at Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital. He was buried in London’s Highgate Cemetery. Lieshman is commemorated as one of five Scots amongst the twenty-three names of the great and the good in the fields of hygiene and tropical medicine that form the frieze on the exterior of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in Keppel Street, London.