Apr 032019

Royal College of Surgeons today

Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DW

Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn was an expert in both forensic medicine and public health. He became President of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1875 and was appointed as Edinburgh’s first Medical Officer of Health in 1862. At the time he was also a police surgeon, medical adviser to the Board of Supervision, extramural lecturer, and crown medical examiner. Littlejohn gave forensic evidence at many famous murder trials, some of which are thought to have provided inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his writing of the Sherlock Holmes series. One of Littlejohn’s first acts as Medical Officer of Health was to publish his Report on the Sanitary Condition on the City of Edinburgh in 1865 which aimed ‘to test for the first time by reference to the mortality, the sanitary conditions of the portions of the city inhabited by the richer and the poorer.’ The conclusions of the Report highlighted the connection between poverty, overcrowding and sanitary conditions in Edinburgh in a way that meant these connections could no longer be ignored by the elite and wealthy. Littlejohn’s Report was thought to be so significant that for the next 12 days the Evening Courant and Caledonian Mercury newspapers published all 120 pages of the report in its entirety.

Painting of Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn









Photo credits: Ema Smekalova, Wikipedia

Apr 032019

9 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JQ

Royal College of Physicians today

Professor William Pulteney Alison was President of the Royal College of Physicians from 1836-38 and a key figure in early debates about Edinburgh’s poor relief provision. Working as a physician in the New Town Dispensary and at the Royal Infirmary, he came into frequent contact with the poorest of the city’s population. Alison became known for his view that disease was linked to poverty and advocated that poor relief be extended to include the healthy impoverished. At the time, this suggestion was radical, as the able-bodied destitute were often viewed as indolent, sinful, and undeserving of assistance. Unlike in England, where poor relief was written into legislation, in Scotland voluntary charity was supposed to provide for the poor. In advocating for government intervention to alleviate poverty to combat disease, Alison was ahead of his time, but he lived to see public opinion move closer to his views.

Royal College of Physicians today









Historical sketch of Royal College of Physicians, 1891









Portrait painting of William Pulteney Alison









Photo credits: Ema Smekalova, Wikipedia, and the Wellcome Collection