John Richmond

(30 May 1926 – 27 March 2008)
College Role: 


John Richmond was a distinguished physician who held several high offices in medicine: Professor and Dean of the medical school at the University of Sheffield, Senior Censor and Vice-President at the Royal College of Physicians of London and, between 1988–91, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

The son of a Scottish mining engineer he was educated at Doncaster Grammar School, excelling both academically and on the sports field. He elected to study medicine in Edinburgh, rejecting a place at St John’s College, Cambridge. It was the right choice as the Royal Infirmary had some outstanding clinical teachers in Derrick Dunlop, Stanley Davidson, James Learmonth, David Henderson and Rae Gilchrist, who made a lasting impression on the young Richmond.

He gained a ‘blue’ in diving as an undergraduate and qualified with distinction in July 1948, one week after the inception of the National Health Service. After a period as a resident house officer at the Deaconess Hospital, later to become the Headquarters of Lothian Health, he was called up and spent the greatest part of his National Service as Medical Officer to the 1st Nyasaland Battalion of the King’s African Rifles based in Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia. It was there that he met his wife, Jenny Nicol.

After demobilisation there followed an unexpected spell in general practice in Dumfriesshire as a result of an uncle’s illness, and a few months as a senior house officer in medicine in Kettering before returning to the Royal Infirmary in 1953 where he was soon taken under the wing of Professor (later Sir) Stanley Davidson. He was encouraged to develop an interest in haematology and oncology and spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar in New York at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, becoming a Senior Lecturer in Medicine and Honorary Consultant Physician in 1963.

When accepting the Chair in Sheffield in 1973, John Richmond was one of the last of the professors of medicine appointed on the basis of all-round excellence in clinical practice, teaching, research and administration rather than because of any potential to attract large research grants. His own research, principally in the field of disorders of the spleen, was very significant. When in Sheffield he became interested in postgraduate medical education and examinations at the Royal College of Physicians of London and became Chairman of the Examining Board for the MRCP(UK). He was unique in having held such high offices in a sister college when he was elected as President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1988.

About half of the Fellows of the Edinburgh College live and work overseas, mainly in the British Commonwealth, and John Richmond and his wife were outstanding ambassadors. He never ceased to be impressed by the global influence of Scottish medicine with its emphasis on a good history and clinical examination in reaching a diagnosis. It gave him no pleasure to have foreseen the problems in training for young doctors before the European Working Time Directive was implemented. He was appointed CBE for services to Medicine in 1993.

Notable Achievements

Richmond was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh between 1988 and 1991

He was appointed CBE for services to Medicine in 1993


Previously published in the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (2012), 42: 91
Author: Tony Toft.


Ronald Foote Robertson

College Role: 


Ronald (Ronnie) Foote Robertson was educated at Perth Academy where he was dux, and at the Edinburgh University medical school where he graduated in 1945 with honours and was awarded the Ettles Scholarship and the Leslie Gold Medal as the most distinguished student of his year.

He became clinical tutor in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, where he soon acquired an impressive reputation for his teaching and clinical skills. He was awarded the degree of MD with high commendation in 1953. In the 1950s competition for consultant posts was intense and Robertson spent just over ten years as clinical tutor/senior registrar. As Chairman of the SE Scotland Hospital junior staff group he worked tirelessly to improve service conditions and job security of trainees, for whom he was an eloquent and effective spokesman, an activity which may have harmed his own career prospects but which earned the gratitude of his peers.

His appointment as consultant physician to the Deaconess and Leith Hospitals saw his reputation as a sagacious clinician and as an inspiring teacher reach even greater heights. A combination of professional excellence and a warm genial personality made him universally popular, especially with patients who found in him a clinician who inspired total confidence.

He relished the social occasions at these small hospitals such as the Christmas Day festivities at the Deaconess where he featured prominently in the consultants’ wheelchair race along the Pleasance and the augmented sixteensome reels in the hospital courtyard.

His appointment in 1976 as consultant physician to the Royal Infirmary was an indication of the esteem in which he was held by his colleagues as was the large number of doctors who consulted him for advice about their own health problems or those of their families.

Robertson became FRCPE in 1953 and he gave superb service to the College over the next 30 years. His presidency during 1976–79 saw an impressive enhancement of College prestige and influence under his dynamic leadership. His high professional standing was further recognised by appointment as Physician to the Queen in Scotland, his appointment as CBE in 1980 and his Presidency of the British Medical Association in 1983–84. He went on to become a very effective chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Medical Training (JCHMT) of the three British Royal Colleges of Physicians. Between 1977 and 1989 he received the Honorary Fellowship of seven Colleges and Academies of Medicine and many invitations to give prestigious lectures in the British Isles and overseas.

Robertson’s own recreational interests were fishing and curling, both of which he pursued with enthusiasm and considerable proficiency. He greatly enjoyed the conviviality of medico-social life in Edinburgh and was a polished and highly entertaining after-dinner speaker. He cultivated a rather solemn and portentous style in recounting hilarious and somewhat irreverent anecdotes and reminiscences often featuring famous Edinburgh medical personalities and usually including choice items from his huge repertoire of Scottish tales, jokes and comic verses. Robertson was a superb raconteur and a fervent connoisseur of literary humour with a special taste for O Henry, Dorothy Parker, Damon Runyon, PG Wodehouse and Saki but his favourite was the Canadian academic and humourist Stephen Leacock to whom he paid a special tribute in a sparkling discourse on the nature of humour which he gave as Chairman of the Aesculapian Club Dinner in March 1989. The oration entitled ‘the Humours of Harvey’ which he gave as the Harveian President in June 1986 was another tour-de-force in which wit and scholarship were delightfully combined.

Over the years Robertson’s teaching was hugely appreciated by overseas-trained doctors attending courses in Edinburgh and as College Overseas Postgraduate Director he was able to place many of them in Scottish hospital training posts. His friendships with those doctors were renewed and strengthened when he met them during Presidential visits to medical schools in many different parts of the world. He was probably better known overseas than any other Edinburgh physician of his time and wherever he travelled he was cordially welcomed by Fellows who had experienced not only his teaching but also the warm hospitality of his home.

Ronnie’s Presidential portrait, which hangs in the College, is a good likeness in which his wisdom, his humour and his kindliness have been admirably captured. It is a fitting memorial to a great President, a caring compassionate doctor, a brilliant teacher and a good, kind, gentle man.

Notable Achievements

Robertson was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1976 to 1979

He was appointed physician to the Queen in Scotland

Robertson was appointed CBE in 1980

Robertson was president of the British Medical Association from 1983 to 1984

William Russell

College Role: 


William Russell was born at Douglas, Isle of Man, where his father, a native of Wick, served as an officer controlling fisheries. His mother, née McPhail, also hailed from Caithness. He studied medicine at Edinburgh, qualifying MD, a gold medallist, in 1875, four years before the opening of the new (Victorian) Royal Infirmary buildings.

In 1894, at 42, he married Beatrice Ritchie, one of his pupils in the extramural school. They had six children, four of whom qualified in medicine. A son (Ivan) died in infancy of ‘surgical’ tuberculosis: the pandemic of tuberculous mastitis in its urban cows had made Edinburgh the world capital of surgical (bovine) tuberculosis before the 1914 war. Their third daughter, who went to Russia as a relief worker and married a White Russian, emigrated to Canada, where she died in the 1960s or 70s.

William Russell’s early publications dealt with interesting case histories, the nature of heart murmurs, successful treatment of empyema by aspirations. In his 1885 lecture on pathology he refers to his ‘great teacher, Lister’, and the importance of Koch’s new bacteriology; in 1892 he spent some time in Koch’s domain in Berlin to study a cholera epidemic.

In 1890 his experience of pathology, alongside clinical medicine, made him publish a paper on ‘a characteristic organism of cancer . . . Fuchsine bodies . . . a yeast-like fungus in 43 out of 45 cases . . .’, and reverted to this in The Lancet in 1899. Russell’s Fuchsine bodies were accepted into the literature of pathology, but were interpreted otherwise after his death, by PAS staining etc., as polysaccharide containing inclusion bodies in the round cell infiltrates at the periphery of malignant tumours, in plasmacytomas and chronic granulomas.

The early years of the century brought numerous papers by him on blood pressure, arterial constriction, on peripheral resistance, and on the relationship of arterial ‘hypermyotonia’ and spasm to the eventual emergence of arteriosclerosis. He would have approved of the later demonstration of spasm by angiography, and of modern investigations of the arterial wall, where he had groped blindly by traditional palpation of the pulse.

The stomach seems to have been his other main clinical interest, viz. papers on acid secretion, on pyloric stenosis and the use of X-rays in the diagnosis of stomach cancer. In retrospect, it is easy to belittle the limited therapeutics of the time, and the reliance placed on changes in diet, even in acute vascular events.

In academic politics he was an early protagonist of women in medicine; he taught at the women’s schools, and was the first ‘chief’ to open his wards to them at the Royal Infirmary before the First World War. In a 1901 paper he extolled the extramural school of the Royal Colleges as the best training ground for professors and lecturers in the Empire, no less than 50 at that time, despite all lack of endowments. It is perhaps surprising that Edinburgh University then made him the first Moncrieff Arnott professor of clinical medicine in 1913.

He was elected President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1916, but declined re-election in 1918 on account of ill health.

He was much concerned with the social dimensions of medicine, and opened a debate at the College on Lloyd George’s National Insurance Act of 1912. When he became President in 1916 the Great War dominated the scene, and during his presidency the College agitated for the proper care of disabled soldiers. It also supported plans for a Ministry of Health, but not until after the end of the war. He initiated constitutional changes to allow women to become members of the College.

Russell vacated his chair in 1919. In 1921, in his presidential address to the Caledonian Medical Society, he welcomed social progress seen during his own lifetime, referring back to 50 years before his birth when Scottish miners had still been serfs who were liable to be sold with their coal mine. Despite the disasters of 1914–18, he remained politically optimistic and put his faith in the League of Nations in his last book which he published, aged 80, in 1932. In this work, Old Beliefs and New Knowledge, he wrote of his religious difficulties, of the need to purge the Old Testament and accommodate modern archaeology and science in a non-fundamentalist way.

His daughter-in-law recalls him as a little remote, but as a very likeable man who was not an obsessive churchgoer, but who practised his Christianity by supporting ‘lame ducks’ and entertaining them with his wife at their house. His obituarist Edwin Bramwell, a close friend and his successor in the chair and the College presidency, described Russell as ‘somewhat egotistical at times . . . an attractive trait, for one never knew whether or not he was laughing at himself’.

He died in 1940 after two years of dementia. His daughter Helen wrote at the end of her life ‘. . . my father had a streak of that terrible thing, love which is not blind’.

Notable Achievements

In 1880, Russell was appointed late house physician and pathologist, General Hospital, Wolverhampton.

In 1882, Russell was appointed honorary physician, Carlisle Dispensary.

In 1885, Russell was made lecturer on pathology, School of Medicine, Edinburgh.

In 1890, he was appointed pathologist, Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh.

Russell was made assistant physician at the Royal Infirmary in 1892.

In 1908, he was appointed physician and lecturer on clinical medicine at the Royal Infirmary.

In 1913, he was appointed Moncrieff Arnott professor of clinical medicine.

Russell was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1916 to 1918.

Russell was made emeritus professor in 1919.

Key Publications

Russell wrote extensively on blood pressure, arterial constriction, peripheral resistance etc.


Previously published in the Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (2001), 31: 342-351
Author: E H Jellinek.

Beatrice Russell

College Role: 


Beatrice Russell was born in Perth. The family tree, drawn by her daughter Helen, and reaching back to the eighteenth century, shows men in the various professions in Scotland, and some in India, but no close relations who were doctors, offering no clue as to why Beatrice chose medicine. Her father, James Ritchie (1822– 1913), a civil engineer, lived and practised in Perth, and was involved in building the railway network in the Highlands.

At a time of great prejudice against women in medicine Beatrice studied at Edinburgh at the Jex Blake School of Medicine for Women, where she was taught by her future husband, the pathology lecturer. Clinical teaching was at the Leith Hospital. Elsie Inglis was a contemporary. Beatrice took the Triple Qualification of the Scottish Royal Colleges in 1894, the year of her marriage, and proceeded to become MD with distinction at Brussels in 1895. Her husband’s anonymous obituarist in The Lancet described her in 1940 as a ‘brilliant Edinburgh licentiate’; however, while she had married William Russell, at the time an assistant physician at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary of three years standing, she never practised medicine herself, although she did lecture alongside Elsie Inglis to the Edinburgh Health Visitors Association around 1908, between the births of her two sons in 1903 and 1912. She supported her husband in his increasing eminence by keeping an open but not lavish house in Walker Street, and reared an exceptionally gifted family. Her daughter Helen wrote years later:

. . . I suppose my parents were the mainstay, brought up without any superiority of sex, and medicine was the great profession in which we could all work together. My mother was ambitious for her daughters, and later for her sons . . . she did much to speed us on our way. We were a very affectionate family, surrounded by care.

When war broke out in 1914 Beatrice was swept along by her charismatic friend and neighbour Elsie Inglis into the organisation of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals; the War Office would not have women doctors in the RAMC until very much later in the war (the War Office banned the care of British casualties by these women until the grave military crisis of 1918), and Elsie Inglis’ urge for surgical action was coupled with the wish to demonstrate the equal worth of female doctors as a vindication of the non-violent suffragettes’ beliefs. The organisation was, of course, entirely voluntary; the collection of funds apart, Beatrice Russell took the most exposed part as chairman of the personnel committee. They started in October 1914, and the first volunteers were in France by December to deal with the French sick and wounded.

The Royaumont Hospital eventually had hundreds of active beds, and the women more than proved their case. Elsie Inglis took a smaller band to help the Serbs in the Balkans; when Serbia was overrun, Elsie Inglis was captured and repatriated before taking another hospital to Romania, where the remnants of the Serbian army were fighting. At the time she was dying, most probably of cancer. The hospital staff were caught up in the Russian revolution, and were eventually evacuated from Archangel to Newcastle upon Tyne. Inglis died two days after arrival.

Beatrice Russell stayed in Edinburgh during the war, for her son Scott was only two in 1914. The archives of the organisation of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals have been preserved, and document a monumental enterprise. The organisers and many of the executors were ‘well connected’, including the Commander-in-chief Sir John French’s sister Mrs Harley, who was killed at Monastir in 1917. Russell had to deal with innumerable problems; squabbles, pay, uniforms, supplies and even politics. The organisation tried to get the Foreign Office to intervene actively in the evacuation of the unit from revolutionary Russia and (more debatably) to give more support to the Serbian government in exile, the progenitor of the ill-fated Yugoslavia.

Russell went abroad only in the aftermath in 1919 when she went to Belgrade to wind up the hospital and plan the future use of the remaining funds. Dr Isabel Emslie (later Lady Hutton CBE), who had been at the sharp end of the organisation wrote to her mother about Russell and her colleague Miss Kemp ‘. . . Poor old girls, they are such genteel Edinburgh West Enders that I am very sorry for them . . . they were very pleased about it all and thought themselves no end of heroes coming out here . . .’. In 1928, she wrote about them in a book:

. . . both of them had done unceasing work . . . Our Committee was not composed of the kind of women who work for a few months . . . they worked on quietly and unostentatiously from beginning to end . . . they had a wonderful understanding of the situation . . . great appreciation of the good points of the Serbs and wonderful patience with their bad ones.

As the Scottish Women’s War Hospitals organisation was wound up, Russell became involved with the foundation of the Elsie Inglis Memorial Hospital in Edinburgh, run by women for women and babies, which flourished as a voluntary hospital from 1925 until it was taken over by the NHS and finally closed in 1992 as part of the centralisation policy of the Edinburgh hospitals.

Her daughter-in-law, Jean, remembers Beatrice as a warm and lovable person with many interests, both medical and non-medical. Beatrice cared for her husband in his old age and mental decline. She, too, eventually suffered from the dementia that afflicted her husband before dying at the age of 88.

Notable Achievements

Russell helped found the Elsie Inglis Memorial Hospital in Edinburgh in 1925.


Previously published in the Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (2001), 31: 342-351
Author: E H Jellinek.

John Rutherford

(1 August 1695 – 1779)
College Role: 


John Rutherford was born on 1 August 1695 to John Rutherford, a minister in Selkirkshire. He enrolled at the University of Edinburgh in 1709 and studied an ordinary arts course. Rutherford was apprenticed to Alexander Nesbit, an Edinburgh surgeon, until 1716. Rutherford moved to London and attended various hospitals, studying anatomy and surgery. From London, Rutherford travelled to Leiden where he studied under Boerhaave. He obtained his MD from Rheims on 31 July 1719 before travelling to Paris.

In 1720, Rutherford returned to Britain and settled in Edinburgh in 1721. Together with other eminent physicians, Rutherford helped establish a laboratory for the preparation of compound medicine. He also taught the rudiments of chemistry and lectured on other branches of physic, based on the teachings of Boerhaave. On 9 February 1726, he was appointed professor at the University of Edinburgh. Rutherford had also been elected chair of the practice of physic.

Rutherford was the first to pioneer clinical teaching of medicine at Edinburgh, and was the first in Britain to do so. In 1748, Rutherford began giving clinical lectures at the Royal Infirmary. He encouraged his students to bring patients to him and then would make a diagnosis and prescribe a course of treatment in the presence of his class. This was so innovative and successful that the number of students increased rapidly.

Rutherford was married twice. The daughter from his first marriage, Anne, married Walter Scott, and their son was Sir Walter Scott, eminent author. Rutherford’s second marriage produced Daniel Rutherford, who discovered nitrogen. Rutherford died in Edinburgh in 1779 and was buried in Greyfriars kirkyard.

Notable Achievements

Rutherford was appointed to the chair of the practice of physic at Edinburgh University in 1724.

He was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1752 to 1756.



Daniel Rutherford

(3 November 1749 – 15 November 1819)
College Role: 


Daniel Rutherford was born in Edinburgh on 3 November 1749 to Dr John Rutherford. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh under William Cullen and Joseph Black. Rutherford obtained his MD in 1772. His dissertation, titled “De aere fixo dicto aut mephitico,” established a distinction between carbonic acid gas and nitrogen. Rutherford is most famous for his discovery of the isolation of nitrogen and his inaugural dissertation.

After the publication of his dissertation and completion of studies, Rutherford travelled to France in 1773 and Italy. Rutherford returned to Edinburgh in 1775 where he set up a private practice. Rutherford had considerable involvement in the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, becoming licentiate, fellow and president. (see below) He also acted as secretary of the College for eleven years and censor for six.

In 1786, Rutherford was appointed Professor of Botany and keeper of the Royal Botanic Gardens. In 1791, Rutherford succeeded Henry Cullen as physician in ordinary to the Royal Infirmary where he delivered clinical lectures in tandem with Andrew Duncan and Francis Home. Furthermore, Rutherford was the first Professor of Practice of Physic at the University of Edinburgh and played a significant role in the development of clinical teaching at the university’s medical school.

Rutherford was the uncle of novelist Sir Walter Scott. He was also a member of the Aesculapian, Harveian, and Gymnastics clubs.

He died on 15 November 1819 in Edinburgh.

Notable Achievements

Rutherford was president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1 December 1796 to 5 December 1798.

On 1 December 1786 Rutherford succeeded John Hope as Professor of Botany in the university and keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden at Edinburgh.

In 1788, Rutherford was elected fellow of the Philosophical (afterwards the Royal) Society of Edinburgh.

In 1796, Rutherford was elected fellow of the Linnean Society.

Key Publications

  • De aere fixo dicto aut Mephitico (1772)
  • Characteres generum plantarum ex systemate vegetabilium Linnaei et Horto Kewensi praecipue excerpti (1793)