This marble bust was made by William Brodie (1815 -1881) and purchased by the College in 1871. As can be seen in this bust, Brodie worked in the liberally classicising tradition established by Sir Francis Chantrey. However, whilst this work is evidently influenced by neoclassical art, contemporary influences are also suggested by Brodie's depiction of Simpson in what appears to be a shirt and academic robe, rather than a classical garment.

Sir James Young Simpson, Bart.  (1811 -1870)

Simpson studied at the University of Edinburgh from 1825 until 1832, becoming a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1830. In 1836 Simpson gained a position at the City Lying-in Hospital in Edinburgh and he began practicing midwifery. By 1839 Simpson held the chair of midwifery at the University of Edinburgh and his practice grew rapidly, catering for both obstetrics and general medicine.

Simpson was enthused by the success of Robert Liston’s trial off ether as a surgical anaesthetic in University College Hospital, London in December 1846. In January of the following year he used ether in a case of complicated labour and began to advocate its general adoption. By the end of 1847 he was routinely using ether and had even designed his own inhaler. However, ether had numerous disadvantages and Simpson sought an alternative, which led to him experimenting with chloroform, first on himself along with two assistants, before starting to utilise it on his patients. Simpson was criticised for his use of anaesthetics in cases of normal, uncomplicated labour, with contemporaries from both within and outside of the clergy arguing that the pain was healthy or divinely sanctioned. Nonetheless, the use of anaesthesia, particularly chloroform, became standardised obstetric practice and Simpson gained international fame.

Simpson also worked on other improvements to obstetric practice, including the refinement of the obstetric forceps and the development of the vacuum extractor. He was also concerned with infections such as puerperal fever, and advocated the increasingly common practice amongst surgeons of cleaning hands and instruments. He also suggested improvements to the design of hospitals, such as the division of hospitals into smaller isolated units.

Outside of his medical work he a liberal who supported the anti-slavery movement and the medical education of women. Simpson was president of the RCPE from 1850 - 1852. He was also the first practicing doctor in Scotland to receive a baronetcy and he received the freedom of the city of Edinburgh in 1868. Further to this Simpson was also the recipient of numerous international honours, including the order of St Olaf from the King of Sweden.

Following his death Simpson’s bust was placed in Westminster Abbey and his statue was erected on Princes Street. Further to this, the Simpson Memorial Maternity Hospital was also established in Edinburgh by his friends and admirers.