James Hamilton, the younger

College Role: 


James Hamilton was the son of Professor Alexander Hamilton (1739–1802), the fourth incumbent of the Chair of Midwifery at the University of Edinburgh, and the grandson of a retired army surgeon who had practised in Kincardineshire, Scotland. He is referred to as ‘the younger’ to avoid confusion with the earlier Edinburgh physician James Hamilton the elder (1749–1835). It is said that Alexander Senior not only wanted his son to be a doctor but actively trained him to follow him into the Chair of Midwifery in due course. Like so many Scots of that period, he studied in Leiden and Paris, as well as attending classes for five years at St Andrews, where in 1792 he graduated MD. Before that, however, he had become a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1788 and four years later he became a Member of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. For the next 12 years he assisted his father then succeeded him in the Chair when Alexander retired in 1800.

There was much to admire about James Hamilton. He and his father founded and used a ‘lying-in’ hospital in Park Place for the poor of Edinburgh as well as for clinical instruction of his students. When invited to visit and care for a wealthy lady when a poor one needed his help, he invariably attended the latter. Small of stature with a permanent stoop, he is said to have had a harsh voice and an unsophisticated Scots accent. His lectures were legendary and, though optional because midwifery was not yet an examinable subject for the MD, were always packed. His midwifery courses, given three times a year, were attended by no less than 423 students in 1815. Their popularity and success were to spark one of the many conflicts associated with Hamilton.

In that year Hamilton submitted to the Senatus Academicus that midwifery be made a compulsory, examinable subject, something his father had long fought for. Two of his opponents, Thomas Hope and James Gregory, opposed this. In 1824 Hamilton bypassed the Senatus and went to the Edinburgh Town Council who at that time still had ultimate authority in University matters. In November 1825 the Lord Provost and town councillors ‘visited’ the Senatus and, far from discussing the matter in a diplomatic manner, simply told the academics that from thenceforth midwifery would be compulsory and examinable. The Senatus could not proceed with its planned action against Hamilton but he now had more enemies and fewer friends than ever.

The vitriolic relations between Hamilton and Gregory, men with very similar personalities, came to a head on one occasion when they met in the street. Gregory attacked Hamilton with his walking cane, was charged with assault and eventually ordered to pay a £100 fine whereupon he is reputed to have said he would gladly pay double that for the chance to thrash Hamilton again. Not surprisingly he is said to have had few friends, either professionally or socially (even his wife was persona non grata in Edinburgh society).

How he came to be elected President of the Edinburgh College (1812–1815) remains a mystery. There is no question that Hamilton made a huge contribution to midwifery and what today would be called neonatology. In his major work Practical Observations on Various Subjects Related to Midwifery (1836), he covered the anatomy and physiology of the placenta, induction of labour, haemorrhage during pregnancy, diseases of women unrelated to pregnancy, the dangers of opioids, puerperal fever and the diagnosis of pregnancy from the breast signs. Curiously, he made no use of fetal heart rate during pregnancy and delivery.

James Hamilton died in 1839, aged 71 and was succeeded in the Chair of Midwifery by James Young Simpson. He was brilliant, compassionate, knowledgeable, all his work patient-centred, but ruthless in his criticism of and contempt for any who disagreed with him for, in his mind, he was never wrong.

Notable Achievements

In 1788 Hamilton became a Fellow of Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Hamilton was appointed to Chair of Midwifery at the University of Edinburgh in 1800.

From 1812 to 1815 Hamilton was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

Key Publications

  • A collection of engravings designed to facilitate the study of midwifery (1796)
  • Hints for the treatment of the principal diseases of infancy and childhood (1809)
  • Practical observations on various subjects relating to midwifery (1836-1837)

Francis Home

(17 November 1719 – 15 February 1813)
College Role: 


Francis Home was born on 9 November 1719 in Edinburgh, son of James Home, an advocate. After receiving his early education, Home was apprenticed to Mr Rattray, an Edinburgh surgeon. He then enrolled at Edinburgh University at the new medical faculty where he was an early member of the influential Royal Medical Society. Before he graduated however, Home served as a surgeon in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession. During the campaign Home drew up regimental orders for the prevention of fevers, which stated that the soldiers should not drink water unless it had been boiled. Home took advantage of the winter breaks during the campaign to study medicine at Leiden, which was still flourishing as a medical school twelve years after Boerhaave’s death.

In 1750, after the war ended, Home finally obtained his MD from Edinburgh, where he settled. Over the next twenty years his interests varied widely and he published extensively. By 1751, Home was a fellow at the College of Physicians of Edinburgh and was developing his private practice. A measles epidemic broke out in Edinburgh in 1758 and Home began experimenting with the use of a measles vaccine.

His 1756 essay, Experiments on Bleaching, won Home a gold medal and was used for the improvement of manufactures in Britain. In 1757, Home’s research benefitted agriculture as he applied chemistry to farming. This was some of the earliest work on the chemical principles underlying plant nutrition. Home published the first edition of his scientific history of disease, Principia medicinae in 1758. This work elevated Home’s reputation and was widely used as a textbook, going through several editions, until the nineteenth century.

In 1768 Home obtained the first professorship of materia medica in the University of Edinburgh. The subject had previously been studied as a subset of botany. To meet the student need for a syllabus of drugs Home published in 1770 Methodus materia medicae based on his lecture notes. During this period Edinburgh University had an official relationship with the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (established in 1756) and Home was one of the professors responsible for patient care and bedside teaching in its teaching ward.

Home died on 15 February 1813 and was buried in Berwickshire.  

Notable Achievements

In 1768 Home obtained the first professorship of materia medica in the University of Edinburgh.

Home was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1775 to 1777.

Home is known for making the first attempt to vaccinate against measles.

In 1783, he was one of the founders of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Home was physician to the king in Scotland.

Key Publications

  • Experiments on Bleaching (1756)
  • The Principles of Agriculture and Vegetation (1757)
  • Principia medicinae (1758)
  • Medical Facts and Experiments (1759)
  • An Inquiry into the Nature, Cause and Cure of the Croup (1765)
  • Methodus materia medicae (1770)
  • Clinical Experiments Histories and Dissections (1780)




John Hope

(10 May 1725 – 10 November 1786)
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John Hope was born in Edinburgh on 10 May 1725 to Robert Hope, a surgeon. He received his early education locally before attending Edinburgh University. In 1748 he was in Paris studying botany at the Jardin du Roi. Hope graduated MD from Glasgow University in 1750. In 1760, Hope married Juliana Stevenson, whose father was professor of physic at Glasgow. In 1762, he was elected fellow of the College of Physicians in Edinburgh. Hope had a private practice in Edinburgh and was appointed physician to the Royal Infirmary. He was active on the town’s council in improving the city’s sanitation.

Hope’s intellectual passion was botany and he did tremendous work on plant classification and physiology. In 1761 he was appointed as professor of botany and materia medica, king's botanist for Scotland and superintendent of the royal garden in Edinburgh. During the winter sessions, Hope lectured on materia medica, and in the summer on botany. With Thomas Martyn of Cambridge, Hope was the first in Britain to teach the Linnaean system. In 1768, Hope was appointed regius professor of medicine and botany. By this time, Hope’s annual income was quite significant for the period. Apart from his medical income, he was receiving £300 from course fees, £77 from his chair, and £50 from the garden post, now assured for life. Upon his death, Hope’s personal fortune was £12,000, all of which went to his widow.

Hope established a botanical garden, replaced existing gardens in Edinburgh, to the north of Leith Walk with the help of grants from the Treasury. This garden, a predecessor of the Royal Botanic Gardens, was used for the demonstration of materia medica, had greenhouses and ponds, and was arranged on botanical principals. Hope introduced Linnaean nomenclature and commissioned Robert Adam, at his own expense, to design a monument to Linnaeus. In 1763, Hope organized the first British syndicate for importing plant material.

Hope’s most significant contribution to science was the establishment of an influential school of botanists and one of the leading botanical gardens of Europe. Although Hope published very little and consequently is not well known, but his attempts to develop a natural classification of plants was inherited by his pupil, Daniel Rutherford. Hope’s lectures were well-attended; in 1780 he had 59 students attend his botany course. Hope died in Edinburgh on 10 November 1786.

Notable Achievements

Hope was elected fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1767.

Hope was one of the founders of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783.

Hope was president of the College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1784 to 1786.



Thomas Charles Hope

(21 July 1766 – 13 June 1844)
College Role: 


Thomas Charles Hope was the third son of John Hope, professor of botany at Edinburgh University, and was born on 21 July 1766. In 1779 he entered Edinburgh University where he focused primarily on botany and chemistry. Hope graduated MD in 1787 and became a lecturer in chemistry and materia medica at Glasgow, continuing with just chemistry until 1791. In 1791, Hope was appointed chair of medicine at Glasgow, a post he held until 1795. Hope continued to conduct private research in chemistry and in 1793 presented his paper on the first known compound of strontium. Joseph Black, impressed so much by this paper, appointed Hope as assistant professor in November 1795. Hope succeeded Black as professor in 1799.

At Edinburgh, Hope continued to lecture also on clinical medicine. In 1805, Hope published his discovery that water reaches its maximum density at 4°C. In 1813 he investigated the water supply of Edinburgh so thoroughly that in 1817 he was given the freedom of the city. Hope wrote the chemical part of the tenth edition of the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia (1817).

After 1806, Hope wanted to focus on improving his teaching. Since he did not receive a salary for his teaching, Hope was wholly dependent on the fees paid by students. By 1820, he had reached immense popularity, with lectures attracting an audience of over 500 with fees of £2000 per annum. Numerous foreigners, from princes to ancient historians, were impressed by his chemical drama. In spring 1826 he reached the apex of his popularity when he gave a course to which women and their beaux were admitted; the fees from the audience of over 600 enabled him in 1828 to give £800 to found a university chemistry prize.

Up until 1823, Hope offered no opportunities for students to attempt practical chemistry. In 1833 attempts to found a chair of practical chemistry were vehemently opposed by Hope who wanted to maintain his professional monopoly. After this dispute Hope’s popularity dropped tremendously. Despite the dramatic reduction of his class sizes, Hope was by this point a wealthy bachelor and a leading figure in Edinburgh’s polite society. Hope died after a long illness on 13 June 1844 in his home in Edinburgh’s New Town.

Notable Achievements

Hope is credited with the discovery of the element Strontium in 1793.

In 1810, he was elected fellow of the Royal Society of London.

Hope was president of the College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1815 to 1819.