This bust of James Warburton Begbie (1826 – 1876) was given to the College by Sir W. H. Gibson Carmichael, Bart. in 1878, around two years after Begbie’s death.

The marble bust is the work of the highly regarded Scottish sculptor Sir John Steell (1804-1891). Steell’s work is characterised by his fusion of classical and contemporary elements with subjects, like Begbie, usually wearing contemporary garments. However, it has been argued that the fall of the sitters' clothes in works by Steell recalls the fall of classically draped garments, thus Begbie's bust provides an interesting comparison with the neo-classical style busts in the College's collection.

James Warburton Begbie (1826 – 1876)

James Warburton Begbie was born in Edinburgh, the second son of the physician James Begbie and Elizabeth Speirs. He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy before becoming a medical student at the University of Edinburgh in 1843. During his time at university he was twice president of the Royal Medical Society, a prestigious student society. In 1847 he graduated MD and following this studied at Paris as well as undertaking a European tour accompanied by only son of John Hope, Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland.

By 1852 Begbie had settled in Edinburgh where he worked as a family practitioner and became one of the medical officers attached to the New Town Dispensary. In the same year Begbie became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. In 1854 he became physician to Edinburgh’s cholera hospital and the following year he took up a ten year position as physician to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where he also delivered clinical lectures. Further to this, by efficient use of the railway system, Begbie developed the largest consulting practice in the country. Overall, Begbie’s interests appear to have been centred around his practical teaching and work as a physician rather than on formal lecturing

In his obituary of Begbie in the Edinburgh Medical Journal the editor, Joseph Bell, wrote:

‘it must in fairness be owned he was no orator … Begbie as a teacher was greatest at the bedside. His clinical visits were masterpieces both in precept and example…he was great both in diagnosis and prognosis; and with a rarer power still had the patience to use and profit by the use of remedies—not merely drugs but diet’. (Edinburgh Medical Journal, 21, 1876)