Armstrong, Alexander (DNB01)

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ARMSTRONG, Sir ALEXANDER (1818–1899), naval medical officer, descended from a family originally of Cumberland, and from Major-general John Armstrong (1673–1742 [q.v.]), was the son of Alexander Armstrong of Croghan Lodge, Fermanagh. He studied medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, and at the university of Edinburgh, where he graduated with honours in 1841, and entered the navy as an assistant surgeon in March 1842. After a few months at Haslar Hospital and in the flagship at Portsmouth, he was appointed in June to the Polyphemus, a small steamer in the Mediterranean, and in 1843 was placed in medical charge of a party landed for the exploration of Xanthus. For his scientific observations on this expedition he received the official thanks of the trustees of the British Museum, and by his sanitary arrangements won the approval of the commander-in-chief, who recommended him for promotion. On his return to England in April 1846 he was appointed to the Grappler, fitting out for the west coast of Africa; but before she sailed Armstrong was moved into the royal yacht, from which, on the occasion of the queen’s visit to Ireland, he was promoted to the rank of surgeon on 19 Oct. 1849. Two months later he was appointed as surgeon and naturalist to the Investigator, going out to the Arctic under the command of (Sir) Robert John Le Mesurier McClure [q. v.], and in her he continued the whole time till she was abandoned in 1853, He returned to England with McClure in 1854. A great part of the comparatively good success of the voyage was properly attributed to the excellent arrangements made and carried out by Armstrong, with the result that no scurvy appeared on board till the spring of 1852, and at no time did it assume dangerous proportions. For his journal during this voyage he was awarded the Gilbert Blane gold medal—a reward for the best journal kept by surgeons of the royal navy. In February 1855 he was appointed to the Cornwallis, in which he served in the Baltic during that year’s campaign, and afterwards, till August 1856, on the North American station. On 19 July 1858 he was promoted to be deputy inspector-general of hospitals and fleets, and from 1859 to 1864 was in medical charge of the hospital at Malta. On 15 Nov. 1866 he was promoted to the rank of inspector-general, and from 1869 to December 1871 he was director-general of the medical department of the navy. On 17 June 1871 he was nominated a military K.C.B., and on 12 June 1873 he was elected F.R.S. He retired from active service in December 1871, living, for the most part, in the Albany, or at the Elms, Sutton-Bonnington, near Kegworth, where he died on 4 July 1899. In 1894 he married the widow of Sir William King Hall [q.v.] Armstrong was the author of ‘Personal Narrative of the Discovery of the North-West Passage’ (8vo, 1857), and of ‘Observations on Naval Hygiene’ (8vo, 1858).

[O’Byrne’s Naval Biogr. Dict. (2nd edit.); Times, 7 July 1899; Edinburgh Graduates in Medicine, 1867, p. 125; Armstrong’s Works; Navy Lists.]

J. K. L.