Lives of the fellows

Robert Farquharson

b.21 June 1836 d.8 June 1918
MD Edin(1858) Hon LLD Aberd LRCS Edin FRCP(1877) JP DL MP

The son of Dr. Francis Farquharson, a well-known ophthalmic surgeon, Robert Farquharson was educated at Edinburgh Academy before entering Edinburgh University as a medical student in 1854. After graduating as M.D. in 1858, he joined the army as an assistant surgeon, being attached to the Royal Artillery in 1859 and to the Coldstream Guards from 1859 to 1868. His next post was that of medical officer at Rugby School, but when Dr. Temple ceased to be headmaster in 1869, he decided to practise in London. After visiting the medical schools of Paris, Berlin and Vienna, he became assistant physician and lecturer on materia medica at St. Mary’s Hospital. In 1875 he was made physician to the skin department and in 1877 physician to outpatients. He was also physician to the Belgrave Hospital for Children. During his stay in London, he produced two works, On the Past, Present and Future of Therapeutics (1874) and A Guide to Therapeutics (1877), the second of which ran into five editions in fourteen years and was published in America.

Farquharson’s career as a doctor ended abruptly when, on his father’s death in 1878, he succeeded to the family estates in Aberdeenshire. Two years later he was elected M.P. for West Aberdeenshire, a constituency he represented as a Liberal until 1906. As a backbencher, he came to be recognised as an authority on medical and scientific affairs and was always assured of a fair hearing when he addressed the House on such subjects as the status of army medical officers, the feeding of recruits, the lunacy laws, or cremation. He once produced in the House a bottle containing the ashes of a cow. He served on committees dealing with the Contagious Diseases Act, the Midwives Bill, the Shop Hours’ Regulation Act, and similar legislation. He was chairman of the Private Bills Committee for six years, and chairman of the Scottish Liberal Party in his last session. He was also, from 1898 to 1899, chairman of the Parliamentary Bills Committee of the B.M.A, an office he held concurrently with the presidency of the Aberdeen Branch of the Association. When he withdrew from Parliament in 1906, he was made a Privy Councillor. Farquharson resigned his Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians when he became a member of the board of Bovril in 1897.

In his retirement, he wrote two volumes of reminiscences, In and Out of Parliament (1911) and The House of Commons from Within (1912). He contributed articles to Blackwood's Magazine and, as the brother of an artist — Joseph Farquharson, R.A. — with artistic feeling himself, he wrote reviews of the Royal Academy exhibitions. He was a man of all-round attainments, without distinction in any particular field, popular, homely, sincere; a colourful figure, with his walrus moustache and kilt. He was unmarried.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1918; B.M.J., 1918; Roll of Army Medical Service, 5835]

(Volume IV, page 245)

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