Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ferguson, Robert (1799-1865)

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FERGUSON, ROBERT, M.D. (1799–1865), physician, son of Robert Ferguson of Glen Islay, Perthshire, and of the Indian civil service, and grand-nephew of Adam Ferguson, the historian, was born in India in 1799. He went to school at Croydon under Dr. Crombie, author of the ‘Gymnasium,’ and began to study medicine as the pupil of one of his relatives, a practitioner in Soho, and in attendance at the lectures of the Great Windmill Street school of anatomy. After an interval of general study at Heidelberg, he joined the medical classes at Edinburgh and graduated M.D. in 1823. Through his family connections he became intimate in the circle of Sir Walter Scott, and on proceeding to London brought with him an introduction from Lockhart to Mr. Murray of Albemarle Street, who introduced him to literary circles in the metropolis. For Murray's ‘Family Library’ he afterwards compiled two volumes, anonymously, on the ‘Natural History of Insects,’ and for the ‘Quarterly Review’ he wrote ten articles from 1829 to 1854, most of them medical, and one or two of a philosophico-religious kind. His first publication, dated in 1825 from Baker Street, was a letter to Sir H. Halford proposing a combination of the old inoculation of small-pox with vaccination. After travelling abroad for a time as medical attendant, he took the post of resident medical officer at the Marylebone Infirmary, where he learned from Dr. Hooper ‘many of those strange resources and prescriptions on which, to the surprise of many of his contemporaries, he was wont to rely with entire confidence in some of the greatest emergencies of medical practice’ (Munk). With the support of Dr. Gooch he entered on special obstetric practice, was appointed physician to the Westminster Lying-in Hospital, and professor of obstetrics at the newly founded King's College in 1831. In 1827 he had been active in founding the ‘London Medical Gazette’ as an organ of conservative opinion in medical politics and of academical views in medical science. Along with Watson he attended Sir Walter Scott in 1831 when he passed through London in broken health on his way to Naples, and again in 1832 on his way back. He became a fellow of the College of Physicians in 1837, and afterwards councillor and censor. In 1840 he was appointed physician-accoucheur to the queen, in which capacity he attended, along with Sir C. Locock, at the birth of all her majesty's children. About 1857 he gradually withdrew from his extensive obstetric practice, and took the bold step of entering the field as a general medical consultant. In the opinion of Sir T. Watson his success in attaining the first rank was remarkable, considering that he had not served as physician to a large general hospital. Among his patients were distinguished leaders in politics and literature, many of whom became attached to him in private friendship. He had a fine presence and a somewhat imperious will. His professional writings belong to the earlier period of his practice: ‘Puerperal Fever,’ 1839; ‘Diseases of the Uterus and Ovaria,’ in Tweedie's ‘Library of Medicine;’ and an edition of Gooch's papers on the ‘Diseases of Women,’ with concise introductory essay, for the New Sydenham Society, 1859. He died at his cottage at Winkfield, Berkshire, on 25 June 1865. He married, first, in 1830, a lady of the French family of Labalmondière, and secondly, in 1846, Mary, daughter of Macleod of Dunvegan, by whom he had five children.

[Med. Times and Gaz. 1865, ii. 13; Sir T. Watson's Presidential Address, Coll. of Phys., Lancet, 31 March 1866; Munk's Coll. of Phys. iii. 295; Lockhart's Life of Scott, chaps. lxxxi. and lxxxiii.]

C. C.