Russell, Alexander (DNB00)

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RUSSELL, ALEXANDER (1715?–1768), physician and naturalist, was born in Edinburgh about 1715, being the third son, by his second wife, of John Russell of Braidshaw, Midlothian, a lawyer of repute. John Russell's first wife, all of whose children died in infancy, died in 1705; by his second wife he had nine children, three of whom reached manhood, viz. John Russell of Roseburn, W.S., F.R.S.E., author of ‘Forms of Process’ (Edinburgh, 1768) and of ‘The Theory of Conveyancing’ (Edinburgh, 1788); William Russell, F.R.S., secretary to the Levant Company; and Alexander. By his third wife, Mary, daughter of the Rev. Mr. Anderson, minister of West Calder, John Russell of Braidshaw had four sons, viz. David, Patrick (1727–1803) [q. v.], Claud—administrator of Vizagapatam—and Balfour, M.D., who died shortly after being appointed physician at Algiers.

Alexander Russell was educated at the high school and university of Edinburgh, attending lectures at the latter from 1732 to 1734, while apprenticed to an uncle, a surgeon, possibly Alexander Russel, M.D., who published ‘Tentamen medicum de medicastrorum audacitate’ (Edinburgh, 1709) and ‘Disquisitio medica de morbi causa’ (Edinburgh, 1718), with prefaces dated Elgin. The former work has been wrongly attributed to the subject of this notice. In 1734 Russell was one of the first members of the Medical Society of Edinburgh University. In 1740 he came to London, and in the same year went to Aleppo as physician to the English factory. He learnt to speak Arabic fluently, and acquired great influence with the pasha and people of all creeds. In 1750 he was joined by his younger brother, Patrick, and in 1753 he resigned, returning to England by way of Naples and Leghorn, in order to supplement his study of the plague at Aleppo by visiting the lazarettos at those places. He had sent home seeds of the true scammony to his fellow-student and correspondent, John Fothergill, M.D. [q. v.], which had been raised successfully by Peter Collinson [q. v.] and James Gordon (1780) of Mile End; and he published a description of the plant, and the native method of collecting it, in the first volume of ‘Medical Observations,’ issued in 1755 by the Medical Society of London. This society, of which Russell was a member, was founded in 1752. He also introduced Arbutus Andrachne. He reached London in February 1755, and in the following year published his ‘Natural History of Aleppo,’ which owed its origin to the suggestion of Fothergill. This work, which has been described as ‘one of the most complete pictures of Eastern manners extant’ (Pinkerton, Voyages and Travels), was reviewed by Dr. Johnson in the ‘Literary Magazine,’ and was translated into German by Gronovius. A second edition was published by the author's brother Patrick in 1794. In May 1756 Alexander Russell was elected a F.R.S., and in the following year he was consulted by the privy council with reference to quarantine regulations, owing to the outbreak of the plague at Lisbon; in 1760, having become a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and a M.D. of Glasgow, he was appointed physician to St. Thomas's Hospital. In 1767 he contributed papers to the second and third volumes of ‘Medical Observations.’ Russell died on 28 Nov. 1768 at his house in Walbrook of a putrid fever. He was attended by his friends Fothergill and Pitcairn. A eulogistic essay on his character was read by Fothergill before the Royal College of Physicians on 2 Oct. 1769. It is printed in all the collections of Fothergill's works. A portrait, engraved by Trotter from a painting by Dance, appears in Lettsom's ‘Memoirs of John Fothergill’ (1786).

[Gent. Mag. 1768, p. 109; Munk's Coll. of Phy. ii. 230.]

G. S. B.