Burns, John (DNB00)

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BURNS, JOHN, M.D. (1774–1850), author of the ‘Principles of Midwifery,’ the eldest son of the Rev. John Burns, minister of the Barony parish, Glasgow, and the grandson of John Burns, author of ‘Burns's English Grammar,’ was born in Glasgow in 1774. His father was ordained 26 May 1774, and died 26 Feb. 1839, in the ninety-sixth year of his age and the sixty-fifth of his Glasgow ministry. He wrote the account of Barony parish for Sinclair's ‘Statistical Account of Scotland’ (Hew Scott's Fasti, iii. 40). The son's original intention was to become a manufacturer, but a disease of the knee-joint having unfitted him for learning the loom, as was then the usual custom, he began the study of medicine at Glasgow University. At the opening of the Royal Infirmary of Glasgow for the reception of patients in 1792 he was appointed surgeon's clerk. Instead of commencing as a general practitioner, he began a course of extramural lectures to students in anatomy. His lectures soon became extremely popular, but it was discovered that he had made use of subjects for dissection which had not been procured in a legitimate manner, and the magistrates agreed to quash proceedings against him only on condition that he discontinued his lectures on the subject. This he accordingly did, but they were taken up by his brother Allan [q. v.], while he himself commenced to lecture on midwifery. His earliest publication of importance was the ‘Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus,’ 1799. This was followed in 1800 by a ‘Dissertation on Inflammation,’ in two volumes, which raised him to a high position as a medical writer. At an early period he became surgeon to the Royal Infirmary, and subsequently he began a general practice, which in time grew to be large. In 1809 he published the ‘Principles of Midwifery,’ which greatly extended his reputation, and, besides reaching numerous editions, was translated into several foreign languages. In 1811 he published ‘Popular Directions for the Treatment of the Diseases of Women and Children.’ He was also a contributor to the ‘Edinburgh Encyclopædia.’ On the institution of the professorship of surgery in Glasgow University in 1815, he was nominated by the Duke of Montrose for the chair. In this position he was remarkably popular as a lecturer, but his ‘Principles of Surgery,’ published in 1830, did not meet with much success. He also published ‘Principles of Christian Philosophy’ (1828). He perished in the wreck of the Orion steamer (belonging to the Cunard Company, of which his brothers were founders and partners), near Portpatrick, on 18 June 1850. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, London, and a member of the Institute of France.

[Old Country Houses of the Glasgow Gentry, p. 219; Gent. Mag. 2nd ser. xxiv. 332–3; Anderson's Scottish Nation.]