Alexander Monro (Primus)

(19 September 1697 – 10 July 1767)
College Role: 


Alexander Monro, the only surviving child of John Monro, army surgeon, was born in London. The Monros settled in Edinburgh when Alexander was three and John went to great lengths to ensure his son’s education. Monro attended the University of Edinburgh from 1710-1713 but did not obtain a degree. He went on to apprentice for his father, whose ambition for Alexander was to create a medical school based on Leiden. In 1717, Monro travelled to London where he attended natural philosophy and anatomy lectures. From London, Monro went on to Paris in the spring of 1718, where he attended various courses at the Jardin du Roi and the Hotel-Dieu. In November 1718 Monro enrolled as a medical student at the University of Leiden, where he remained for another year, studying chemistry and clinical medicine with Herman Boerhaave.

Monro returned to Edinburgh in September 1719 and quickly passed examinations for the admission to the Incorporation of Surgeons. In 1720 Monro was appointed Professor of Anatomy. His lectures were very popular with students and were unusually delivered in the vernacular as opposed to the usual Latin. Large numbers of students were attracted to Monro’s lectures, causing a shortage of cadavers for dissection. Upon Monro’s petitioning, the chair of anatomy was removed from the Incorporation of Surgeons and became a part of the University of Edinburgh.  

Monro achieved his MD in January 1756, “on the narrative of his past Services.” Also in 1756, Monro obtained his license to practice from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and became a fellow in that same year. In 1757, Monro was entitled to attend as a physician in the Royal Infirmary. In 1758, Monro handed over all his teaching obligations to his son, Alexander Monro secundus.

On 3 January 1725, Monro married Isabella Macdonald and together they had four surviving children. Monro was unusually industrious and conscientious in his teaching. He wrote frequent and lengthy commentaries on authoritative published works. From 1750 until his death, Monro lived in a house on Covenant Close, off the High Street of Edinburgh. In 1757 he was appointed an extraordinary director of the Bank of Scotland. Monro died in his home on 10 July 1767 and is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Notable Achievements

In 1722, Monro was granted a lifetime professorship appointment.

In 1723, Monro was elected fellow of the Royal Society of London.

In 1725, Monro was formally inaugurated as a university professor.

In 1729, Monro established what would later become the Edinburgh Infirmary.

In 1731, Monro helped found the Society for the Improvement of Medical Knowledge (precursor of the Royal Society of Edinburgh)

Key Publications

  • De Origine et Utilitate Anatomiae (1725)
  • The Anatomy of the Human Bones (1726)
  • Medical Essays and Observations (1732-44)
  • An Account of the Inoculation of Small Pox in Scotland (1764)


Alexander Monro (Secundus)

(20 May 1733 – 2 October 1817)
College Role: 


Alexander Monro secundus was the third son of Alexander Monro primus. He was born in Edinburgh on 20 May 1733 and received his early education at James Mundell’s private school. From an early age, Monro was designated as his father’s successor as professor of medicine and Monro primus took the education of his son seriously. At age twelve, Monro enrolled in the faulty of arts at Edinburgh University, studying Latin, Greek, philosophy, mathematics, physics and history. He began his medical studies in 1750. In 1753, Monro took over teaching his father’s anatomy lessons. At the petition of Monro primus, Monro achieved joint professorship, without qualifications, in 1754. Monro graduated MD in 1755 with a thesis ‘De testibus et semine in variis animalibus’.

Monro joined his brother in London where he studied anatomy under William Hunter, before travelling to Paris. In 1757, Monro returned to Edinburgh to take his father’s place teaching anatomy, owing to Monro primus’s recurring illness. Monro became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1759. Monro took up the anatomy lectureship in the academic session of 1758-59, a post he would hold for the next fifty years. His lectures were extremely popular and the number of students in attendance steadily increased over time. In his fifty years as lecturer, Monro became the most influential anatomy professor in the English speaking world. In conjunction with a full teaching schedule, Monro had a thriving private practice.

Monro was an active member of Edinburgh’s intellectual and civic life. He married Katherine Inglis on 25 September 1762 and they had five children. In 1813, Monro had an attack of apoplexy and died four years later, on 2 October 1817.

Notable Achievements

In 1777, Monro succeeded in established and holding the chair of medicine, anatomy and surgery at Edinburgh.

Monro was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1779 to 1782.

Key Publications

  • De venis lymphaticis valvulosis (Berlin, 1757)
  • A state of facts concerning the first proposal of performing the paracentesis of the thorax … and the discovery of the lymphatic valvular absorbent system of vessels, in oviparous animals. In answer to Mr Hewson (1770)
  • Observations on the Structure and Functions of the Nervous System (1783)
  • The structure and physiology of fishes explained, and compared with those of man and other animals (1785)
  • A Description of all the Bursae murcosae of the Human Body (1788)
  • Experiments on the nervous system, with opium and metalline substances, made chiefly with the view of determining the nature and effects of animal electricity (1793)
  • Observations on the muscles, and particularly on the effects of their oblique fibres: with an appendix, in which the pretension of Dr. Gilbert Blane, that he first demonstrated the same effect to be produced by oblique muscles … is proved to be unfounded (1794)
  • Three Treatises. On the Brain, the Eye, and the Ear (1797)

Alexander Monro (Tertius)

(5 November 1773 – 10 March 1859)
College Role: 


Alexander Monro was born to Alexander Monro secundus in their home in Edinburgh on 5 November 1773. He attended the Royal High School and in 1790 entered the medical school at Edinburgh University. Some of his notes as a student survive today and are untidy and unmethodical, perhaps foreshadowing Monro’s inability to live up to his family name. He graduated MD in 1797 with a thesis titled ‘De dysphagia.’ Quickly upon his graduation, Monro became Licentiate and then Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh before travelling to London to continue his studies. Monro went to Paris in 1800 where he studied for a short time before returning home.

Back in Edinburgh, Monro was appointed conjoint professor of medicine, surgery and anatomy with his father. However, it quickly became apparent that Monro did not measure up to the standards set by his father and grandfather. From 1808, Monro delivered the whole course and upon his father’s death in 1817 was duly appointed sole professor. Monro published extensively, although his works were largely unpopular and display unclear reasoning. Like his father, Monro was a practicing physician, although his practice was never as prolific as his father’s.

Monro married in 1800 to Maria Agnes, daughter of Dr James Carmichael Smyth. Together they had twelve children. However, Maria Agnes died in 1833. Monro remarried in 1836 to Jessie Hunter although the marriage was childless. In 1846, Monro thought it would be expedient to retire from the Chair of Medicine and Anatomy, ending 126 year tenure of the chair by the Monro family. Monro died in his home on 10 March 1859, survived by his second wife. Monro was wildly unpopular in his lifetime and his reputation was never that of his father and grandfather.

Notable Achievements

Monro was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1825 to 1827.

Key Publications

  • Observations on Crural Hernia (1803)
  • Morbid Anatomy of the Human Gullet, Stomach, and Intestines (1811)
  • Outlines of the Anatomy of the Human Body (1813)
  • Engravings of the Thoracic and Abdominal Viscera (1814)
  • Observations on the Different Kinds of Small-Pox (1818)
  • Morbid Anatomy of the Brain, volume 1
  • (1827)
  • Anatomy of the Pelvis of the Male (1827)
  • The Anatomy of the Brain (1831)
  • Essays and Heads of Lectures of A. Munro secundus, with Memoir (1840)
  • Anatomy of the Urinary Bladder and Perinaeum in the Male (1842)

Alexander Morison

(1 May 1779 – 14 March 1866)
College Role: 


Alexander Morison was born in Bailie Fyfe’s Close, in Anchorfield, near Edinburgh in 1779. Like so many fellows and past presidents of the College, he attended Edinburgh’s Royal High School, before spending five years at the University of Edinburgh. His successful MD, De Hydrocephalo Phrenitico reflected the interest in cerebral and mental illness that he would develop throughout his life, a specialism which would be recognised today as a forensic psychiatry.

In 1808 Morison moved to London and decided to specialise in mental illness, but found it difficult to establish himself. Morison’s first appointment was as Inspecting Physician of Lunatic Asylums in Surrey in 1810. While working in London, Morison was appointed President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1827 to 1829. In 1835, Morison was appointed Physician to the Bethlehem Hospital. In 1838, Morison was appointed personal physician to Princess Charlotte and, later, to her husband Prince Leopold. He was knighted the same year.

He was eager to return to Edinburgh, preferably to a chair in mental illnesses but no post was available or was created for him. Nevertheless, he returned to his home city and gave highly popular ‘unofficial’ courses of lectures. Some of these were included in his books, probably his greatest contribution to psychiatry and forensic psychiatry.

The most famous portrait of Morison was done by a patient of his, Richard Dadd. Dadd, an artist and portrait painter, created the artwork based on sketches sent to him by Morison’s daughter. Dadd was admitted to Morison’s care after being convicted of murdering his father, whom he believed to be the devil. The portrait was in the possession of the College for many years before it was sold to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Morison and his first wife had 16 children, the first born and christened on board the ship Royal Albert off Cape Town. He died at Balerno Hill House, Currie in 1866, leaving behind his second wife. He bequeathed his property ‘Larchgrove’, and land in Newhaven to the College, who then sold it to create a lectureship in his name as well as fund prizes for long-serving psychiatric nurses. Several of his papers, drawings and diaries are held in the College archives as well as references to the Dadd portrait. Perhaps the greatest compliment paid to him and one that would have given him much pleasure was that in the History of Bedlam, ’the asylum reformer par excellence.’

Notable Achievements

From 1827 to 1829, Morison was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

In 1838, Morison was appointed physician-in-ordinary to Princess Charlotte of Wales.

Morison was knighted in 1838.

Key Publications

  • Outlines of Lectures on Mental Diseases (1826)
  • Cases of Mental Disease, with Practical Observations on the Medical Treatment (1828)
  • The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases (1840)