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