Burnes, James (DNB00)

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BURNES, JAMES (1801–1862), physician-general of Bombay, a kinsman of the poet Burns, was born at Montrose, where his father, James Burnes, was provost, on 12 Feb. 1801, and after being trained for the medical profession at Edinburgh University and Guy's and St. Thomas's hospitals, London, arrived at Bombay, in company with his brother Alexander [see Burnes, Sir Alexander], in 1821. He filled various minor posts in the Indian medical service, and was successful in the open competition for the office of surgeon to the residency of Cutch. He accompanied, as a volunteer, the field force which, in 1825, expelled the Sindians who had devastated Cutch, and had forced the British brigade to retire upon Bhúj. The amírs of Sind then invited him to visit them as ‘the most skilful of physicians and their best friend, and the cementer of the bonds of amity between the two governments,’ and on his return he was complimented by the government on the zeal and ability he had displayed at Cutch and Hyderabad. His narrative of his visit to Sind, sent in as an official report to the resident at Cutch, is still the best account we possess of the country, and was a valuable contribution to the geography of India. It was republished in book form, with the title ‘Narrative of a Visit to Scinde,’ in 1830. During a visit to England on sick leave in 1834 Burnes was made an LL.D. of Glasgow University and a fellow of the Royal Society, and received the knighthood of the Guelphic order from William IV. On his return to India in 1837 he was at once appointed garrison surgeon of Bombay, afterwards secretary of the medical board, superintending surgeon, and finally physician-general. He was also a member of the board of education, and took an active interest in the diffusion of medical training among the natives. Impaired health compelled him to resign in 1849, after twenty-eight years' service; and his departure was commemorated at Bombay by the foundation of four medals to be competed for at the Grant Medical School, Bombay, the Montrose Academy, and the boys' and girls' schools at Byculla. Burnes was a zealous freemason, and held the office of grand master for Western India, in which capacity he opened a lodge for natives at Bombay in 1844. Besides his ‘Narrative’ he wrote a ‘Sketch of the History of Cutch’ (lithographed for private circulation, 1829), and a short history of the Knights Templars. On his return home he occupied himself with the affairs of his county, where he was a justice of the peace; removed to London, and died on 19 Sept. 1862. He married Esther Pryce in June 1862.

[Laurie's Memoir in Burnes's Notes on his Name and Family, Edinburgh, printed for private circulation, 1851.]

S. L-P.