Joseph Bigger was born in Belfast to Dr (later Sir) Edward Coey Bigger and his wife, Maude Coulter Warwick.
In 1900 the family moved to Dublin as his father had been appointed a medical inspector under the Local Government Board of Ireland, so Joseph was educated at its St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College and then at Trinity College, where he was both Begley student and Purser medallist. Shortly after graduation he was appointed demonstrator in pathology and bacteriology at Sheffield University, but returned to Dublin in 1919 to become pathologist and medical inspector under the Local Government Board and professor of forensic and preventive medicine at the Irish College of Surgeons.
Much of the success of the ‘clean-milk’ campaign carried out in Dublin soon afterwards was due to his pioneer work. In 1924 he resigned both posts on his election to the chair of preventive medicine and bacteriology at Trinity College, where he was also dean of the medical school from 1936 until the outbreak of war in 1939.
For four years, as a lieutenant-colonel in the R.A.M.C., he was assistant director of pathology to Northern Command at York. There, despite most unfavourable conditions, he published a series of papers on researches on antibacterial substances (Lancet, 1944, 2, 142-5, 400-02, 497-500).
Shortly after his return home he was elected a university representative of the Senate. He got through a formidable amount of work. In addition to the extra duties of pathologist to St. Patrick Dun’s and the Royal City of Dublin Hospitals he served on many learned bodies, including the Medical Registration Council, the Medical Research Council of Ireland, the General Medical Council and the council of the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland.
He was the obvious choice as first director of the Moyne Institute which owes a great debt to his enthusiasm, but he did not see its completion since the foundation stone was laid on the day of his retirement. He was a prolific writer and a clear exponent and advocate of the application of his researches to clinical medicine. In committee he was a master of compromise, but fearless in debates on principle, as in his speech in the Senate on what he considered breaches of faith in the establishment of the Republic of Southern Ireland.
In 1916 he married Patricia Mai Curtin. They had one son and one daughter.
Richard R Trail
[Brit.med.J., 1951, 2, 500; Lancet, 1951, 2, 407-08.]