Pugsley was born in Mildura, Victoria and educated at Scotch College, the University of Melbourne, where he earned a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree (1931), and the University of Adelaide where he was awarded a Doctor of Science degree in 1954 for his research on disease resistance in plants. He was a plant pathologist at the Victorian Department of Agriculture (1931–1939) and plant geneticist at the University of Adelaide's Waite Agricultural Institute, South Australia (1939–1953).
Pugsley was awarded the William Farrer Medal in 1953 for his services to agriculture, and made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1981. From 1978–1986 he served as an honorary Senior Associate in Plant Sciences at the University of Melbourne, and was a granted an honorary Doctorate of Agricultural Science by the university in 1981.
The wheat variety "Pugsley" was named in his honour.