In 1786 the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh elected Pott an honorary fellow of their corporation, with the gratifying intimation that ‘he was the first gentleman of the faculty they had thought proper to bestow the honour on,’ and on 9 Sept. in the following year he was elected an honorary member of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
He resigned the office of surgeon to St. Bartholomew's Hospital on 12 July 1787, after having served it, as he used to say, man and boy for half a century, and in recognition of his work there he was elected a governor.
Pott died of pneumonia, at his house in Hanover Square, on 22 Dec. 1788. He was buried on 7 Jan. 1789 in the chancel of St. Mary's, Aldermary, in Queen Victoria Street. A tablet to his memory is on the wall of the south aisle. John Hunter was elected on 12 Feb. 1789 to fill his place in the court of assistants of the Surgeons' Company.
Pott's affection for his mother prevented him from forming during her life any attachment which might separate him from her. In 1746, after he had been released from this filial engagement, he married Sarah, the daughter of Robert Cruttenden, by whom he had five sons and four daughters. His third and second surviving son, Joseph Holden Pott, archdeacon of St. Albans and London, is noticed separately.
‘The labours of the greatest part of his life,’ says Pott's son-in-law, Sir James Earle, ‘were without relaxation, an increasing family requiring his utmost exertion; of late years he had a villa at Neasden, and in the autumn he usually passed a month at Bath or at the seaside.’ His kindness of heart was proverbial, and he is said to have had at one time three needy surgeons living in his house until he could provide them with the means of earning an independent livelihood. His high character and blameless life helped to raise the surgeon's social standing in this country.
Wadd says of him that ‘he predominated early in life in a profession which has been said not to procure its members bread until they have no teeth to eat it, particularly as a consulting surgeon, a post generally occupied by veterans. He was the first surgeon of his day, and a scientific writer remarkable for the classic purity of his style, the scrupulous precision of his definitions, and the unerring closeness of his argument.’ Pott appears to have done for surgery what Glanville did for science: he introduced a wholesome scepticism. He always professed the utmost respect for the early writers on the art of surgery, and read their voluminous works with diligence; yet in his practice he relied entirely upon his own observations, and was guided by his common sense. In this way he broke through the trammels of authority, and may be regarded as the earliest surgeon of the modern type. Like Wiseman, too, he was of necessity a clinical rather than a scientific surgeon, for pathology as yet had no existence. The descriptions of his cases are so clear, and the facts are so well stated, that it is generally possible to recognise them, and to draw conclusions from them by the light of modern knowledge, while the cases narrated by many of his contemporaries and successors are incomprehensible from their manner of intermingling theories with facts. As a practical surgeon, Pott was as far in advance of his chief predecessor, Wiseman, as that surgeon had been in advance of Thomas Gale (1507–1587) [q. v.] and William Clowes the elder (1540–1604) [q. v.], the chief surgeons of Elizabeth's reign, or of Woodall under James I. In practical surgery he takes rank, too, before his pupil Hunter; but as a scientific surgeon the pupil was much greater than his master, although in power of expression and literary style Pott was Hunter's superior. ‘In practical surgery’ (according to Sir James Paget), ‘Pott generally appears more thoroughly instructed, a more “compleat surgeon;” but with the science and the exposition of principles Hunter alone deals worthily.’
Pott's works are: 1. ‘A Treatise on Ruptures,’ London, 8vo, 1756; 2nd edit. 1763; 3rd ed. 1769; 4th ed. 1775; one of the works upon which the reputation of Pott rests. Mr. C. B. Lockwood, to whom the writer of this notice referred the treatise, said that ‘it may still be read with advantage and instruction. The narrative bears the imprint of truthfulness and sincerity, and his views of the anatomy and pathology of hernia are luminous and correct. He quotes few authorities, but it is evident that, in advocating early operations for strangulated hernia, he was in advance of most of his contemporaries, while he carried operations upon non-strangulated herniæ as far as they could legitimately go without the aid of antiseptics.’ 2. ‘An Account of a particular kind of Rupture frequently attendant upon new-born Children,’ London, 8vo, 1757; 2nd edit. 1765; 3rd edit. 1775; this paper led to a short controversy with Dr. William Hunter, who claimed priority of discovery. One of the specimens illustrating the tract is still preserved, as Pott left it, in St. Bartholomew's Hospital museum; it is No. 2138. 3. ‘Observations on that Disorder of the Corner of the Eye commonly called Fistula