Crichton, Alexander (DNB00)

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CRICHTON, Sir ALEXANDER (1763–1856), physician, second son of Alexander Crichton of Woodhouselee and Newington in Midlothian, was born in Edinburgh 2 Dec. 1763. He was educated in his native city, and at an early age apprenticed to Alexander Wood, surgeon, Edinburgh. In 1784 he came to London, and in the summer of the following year, passing over to Leyden, proceeded doctor of medicine there 29 July 1785. After studying at Paris, Stuttgard, Vienna, and Halle, he returned to England, and in May 1789, after becoming a member of the Corporation of Surgeons, he commenced business as a surgeon in London; but, disliking the operative part of his profession, he got himself disfranchised 1 May 1791, and was admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians on 25 June. He was elected physician to the Westminster Hospital in 1794, and during his connection with that institution lectured on chemistry, materia medica, and the practice of physic. In 1793 he was chosen F.L.S., on 8 May 1800 F.R.S., and in 1819 F.G.S. His work on ‘Mental Derangement’ appeared in 1798, and gained him reputation in England and abroad. Soon after he became physician to the Duke of Cambridge, and in 1804 was offered the appointment of physician in ordinary to Alexander I of Russia. Crichton was well received in St. Petersburg, and soon gained the full confidence and esteem of the emperor. Within a few years he was appointed to the head of the whole civil medical department, and in this capacity was much consulted by the dowager empress in the construction and regulation of many charitable institutions. His exertions to mitigate the horrors of an epidemic which was devastating the south-eastern provinces of Russia in 1809 were fully acknowledged by the emperor, who conferred on him the knight grand cross of the order of St. Anne and St. Vladimir, third class, and in 1814 that of the second class. Having obtained leave of absence on account of his health, he returned to England in 1819, but in the following year was recalled to Russia to take charge of the Grand Duchess Alexandra, whom he accompanied on her convalescence to Berlin, where he stayed for a short time, and then returned to his family. On 27 Dec. 1820 Frederick William III of Prussia created him a knight grand cross of the Red Eagle, second class, and on 1 March 1821 he was knighted by George IV at the Pavilion, Brighton, and obtained the royal permission to wear his foreign orders. He received the order of the grand cross of St. Anne from the Emperor Nicholas in August 1830, and died at The Grove, near Sevenoaks, Kent, 4 June 1856, and was buried in Norwood cemetery. He married, 27 Sept. 1800, Frances, only daughter of Edward Dodwell of West Moulsey, Surrey; she died 20 Jan. 1857, aged 85. Crichton was the author of:

  1. ‘An Essay on Generation,’ by J. F. Blumenbach, translated from the German, 1792.
  2. ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Mental Derangement,’ 1798.
  3. ‘A Synoptical Table of Diseases designed for the use of Students,’ 1805.
  4. ‘An Account of some Experiments with Vapour of Tar in the Cure of Pulmonary Consumption,’ 1817.
  5. ‘On the Treatment and Cure of Pulmonary Consumption,’ 1823.
  6. ‘Commentaries on some Doctrines of a Dangerous Tendency in Medicine and on the General Principles of Safe Practice.’

He also published an essay in the ‘Annals of Philosophy,’ ix. 97 (1825), ‘On the Climate of the Antediluvian World,’ and in the ‘Geological Transactions’ three papers, ‘On the Taunus and other Mountains of Nassau,’ ‘On the Geological Structure of the Crimea,’ and ‘An Account of Fossil Vegetables found in Sandstone.’

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. (1878 ed.), ii. 416–18; Proc. of R. Soc. of Lond. iii. 269–72 (1856); Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. xiii. pp. lxiv–lxvi (1857).]

G. C. B.