Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cleghorn, George

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CLEGHORN, GEORGE, M.D. (1716–1789), physician, born at Granton, near Edinburgh, on 18 Dec. 1716, was the youngest of five children. He began his education in the grammar school of his native parish of Cramond, and entered the university of Edinburgh as a student of physic under Dr. Alexander Monro in 1781, and lived in his house. In the same year, when Dr. Fothergill went to Edinburgh, he made Cleghorn's acquaintance, and they became friends and correspondents for life. In 1736 Cleghorn was appointed surgeon to the 22nd regiment of foot, then stationed in Minorca, and he remained in that island till Offarrell's regiment was ordered to Dublin in 1749. Cleghorn had corresponded in Latin with Fothergill on the medical observations which he made in Minorca, and on his return from the Mediterranean was persuaded by his friend to collect and arrange the contents of those letters. The work was ready for the press in 1750, and while Cleghorn was superintending its publication in London he attended the anatomical lectures of Dr. William Hunter. The book appeared in 1751, and is called 'Observations on the Epidemical Diseases in Minorca from the year 1744 to 1749.' After an introduction, giving a general account of the climate, natives, and natural history of the island, with meteorological tables and lists of the plants and animals, with the native names of the several species, Cleghorn summarises his observations on the diseases of the natives and of the British troops in seven chapters. These are all full of original observation, and entitle the book to a permanent place among English medical treatises. The author made many post-mortem examinations, and a copy of his book in the library of the College of Physicians, which belonged to Dr. Matthew Baillie, bears internal evidence that the great morbid anatomist valued it. Cleghorn recognised the fact that many otherwise inexplicable statements in the Hippocratic writings become clear when studied by the light of clinical observations on the Mediterranean coasts, and that the obscurity depends upon the circumstance that diseases, both acute and chronic, are there often modified in a way rarely seen in the north, by their concurrence with malarial fever. The pathology of enteric fever and acute pneumonia was unknown in Cleghorn's time, but his book gives a clear account of the course of enteric fever complicated with tertian ague, with dysentery, and with pneumonia, and he keeps so strictly to what he really observed at the bedside, that the usefulness of his observations is scarcely impaired by the facts that he regarded the incidental pleurisy as the chief feature of inflammation of the lungs, and that he held the doctrine forty years later demolished by Baillie, that polypus of the heart was a frequent cause of death. Any one going to practise in Minorca may still read Cleghorn's book with profit. Four editions were published during the author's lifetime, and a fifth with some unwarrantable alterations in 1815. Cleghorn settled in Dublin in 1751, and began to give lectures in anatomy, and a few years later was made first lecturer on anatomy in the university, and afterwards professor. The index or summary of his lectures shows that they were not confined to the mere details of human anatomy, but included both comparative and surgical anatomy and the general principles of physiology (Index of Lectures, Dublin, 1766). Cleghorn was successful in practice, and in his later years spent much of his time on a little farm of his own near Dublin. His general learning was considerable, and he was one of the original members of the Royal Irish Academy. He had no children of his own, but devoted his means and care to the nine children of a deceased brother. One of these, William Cleghorn, took the degree of M.D. at Edinburgh in 1779, published a thesis on the theory of fire, and gave promise of distinction, but died a few years after his graduation. In Lettsom's 'Memoir' there is a portrait of Cleghorn from an original drawing. It represents him as a stoutly built man, with a road and deep forehead, and a most kindly expression of face. He died in December 1789.

[Lettsom's Memoirs of Fothergill, Cleghorn, and others, London, 1786; Dr. Baillie's copy of Diseases in Minorca; Cleghorn's Index of Lectures, Dublin, 17S6 and 1767.]

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