Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rutherford, John (1695-1779)

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RUTHERFORD, JOHN (1695–1779), physician, son of John Rutherford, minister of Yarrow, Selkirkshire, born 1 Aug. 1695, was educated at the grammar school of Selkirk. He entered the university of Edinburgh in 1709–10, and, after passing through the ordinary arts course, was apprenticed to Alexander Nesbit, an eminent surgeon, with whom he remained until 1716. He then proceeded to London, and attended the various hospitals, hearing the lectures of Dr. Douglas on anatomy and the surgical lectures of André. From London he went to Leyden, which Boerhaave was then rendering famous as a centre of medical teaching. He obtained the degree of M.D. at Rheims about the end of July 1719, and passed the winter of that year in Paris; he attended the private demonstrations of Winslow. In 1720 he returned to Great Britain. He settled in Edinburgh in 1721, and started, with Drs. Sinclair, Plummer, and Innes, a laboratory for the preparation of compound medicines, an art which was then little understood in Scotland. They also taught the rudiments of chemistry, and afterwards, by the advice of Boerhaave, lectured on other branches of physic. Each member of the band became a professor in the university of Edinburgh, Dr. Rutherford being appointed in 1726 to the chair of the practice of medicine, from which he delivered lectures in Latin until 1765, when he resigned. He was succeeded by Dr. James Gregory [q. v.]

Rutherford commenced the clinical teaching of medicine in the university of Edinburgh. In 1748 he was granted permission to give a course of clinical lectures in the Royal Infirmary. He encouraged his pupils to bring patients to him on Saturdays, when he inquired into the nature of the disease and prescribed for its relief in the presence of the class. The success of this innovation was so great, and the number of students increased so rapidly, that within two years the managers of the Royal Infirmary appropriated a special ward to the exclusive use of Rutherford, and they thus laid the foundation of that form of teaching in which the university of Edinburgh has long held a proud pre-eminence. Rutherford was buried on 10 March 1779 in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh. Sir Walter Scott says, in his ‘Autobiography:’ ‘In April 1758 my father married Anne Rutherford, eldest daughter of Dr. John Rutherford, professor of medicine in the university of Edinburgh. He was one of those pupils of Boerhaave to whom the school of medicine in our northern metropolis owes its rise, and a man distinguished for professional talent, for lively wit, and for literary acquirement. Dr. Rutherford was twice married. His first wife, of whom my mother is the sole surviving child, was a daughter of Sir John Swinton of Swinton. … My grandfather's second wife was Miss [Anne] Mackay,’ a descendant of the family of Lord Rae, an ancient peer of Scotland. His son by this marriage was Dr. Daniel Rutherford [q. v.]

A three-quarter length, in oils, unsigned, represents Rutherford with powdered hair, and holding a copy of Boerhaave's ‘Aphorisms’ in his left hand, at about the age of forty-five. This painting is in the possession of Mrs. Rutherford-Haldane, the wife of his great-grandson, and a copy of it hangs in the hall of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. A second portrait is in existence, of which there is a replica at Abbotsford, and a reduced watercolour copy in the possession of Mrs. Rutherford-Haldane. It represents Rutherford at least twenty years later than the previous one.

[Chalmers's Biographical Dictionary; Stewart's History of the Royal Infirmary, in the Edinb. Hospital Reports, 1893, vol. i.; Obituary Notice of Dr. Daniel Rutherford, in the Annual Biography and Obituary for 1821; information kindly given by Mr. James Haldane and Mrs. Rutherford-Haldane.]

D’A. P.