The Council minutes of 13 December 1859 record that the members had discussed purchasing a bust of Alison for the College. A sub-committee was consequently established, comprising the President and three other members, who were to inspect ‘an excellent model in clay and stucco in the studio of Mr. Brodie’. A receipt from May 1861 shows that the College decided to purchase the bust in marble from Brodie at the cost of £84.

Receipt from William Brodie acknowledging a payment of £84 from the RCPE for his bust of Alison.

William Pulteney Alison (1790 - 1859)

Alison received his M.D. from the University of Edinburgh in 1811 and in 1815 he was appointed to the post of physician at the recently established New Town Dispensary. Alison also worked at the Royal Infirmary and both of these positions brought him into contact with the poorest sections of Edinburgh’s population, an encounter which inspired his active interest in the health and living conditions of the poor. Reflecting this interest he wrote Observations on the Management of the Poor in Scotland (1840). Alison argued that there was a definite and strong link between poverty and the virulent outbreaks of fever in Edinburgh and other cities in Scotland, contending that poverty was not the cause of the outbreaks but one of the factors which aided its spread through the population.

Alison also reviewed the poor relief provisions that were in place in Scotland at the time, arguing that the upper circles of Scottish society were doing less than their European counterparts to alleviate the situation since, in Scotland, voluntary charity (rather than relief prescribed by legislation as was the case in England) was supposed to provide for the poor. By 1845 many of the suggestions made by Alison had become part of Scottish legislation.

Alison was also involved in the University of Edinburgh where he worked for a time with his uncle, James Gregory, whose daughter, Margaret, he later married. Alison became Regius Professor of medical jurisprudence at Edinburgh in 1820, then in 1822 he became Professor of the Institutes of Medicine, gaining the right, which was attached to this post, to practise as professor of clinical medicine at the Royal Infirmary, a position that he held for twenty years. In 1842, Alison reached what was then the summit of the hierarchy of the medical faculty at Edinburgh, when he was appointed to the chair of the Practice of Medicine. In his lectures he was particularly interested in physiology (the Chair of the Institutes of Medicine in Edinburgh was the chair of physiology) and in 1831 his lectures were published as Outlines of Physiology. He was president of the RCPE for the period 1836 – 1838.