Lives of the fellows

Robert Ferguson

b.15 November 1799 d.25 June 1865
MD Edin(1823) LRCP(1824) FRCP(1837)

Robert Ferguson, M.D., was born in India, 15th November, 1799. He was the son of Mr. Robert Ferguson of the Indian Civil service, and a grand nephew of Adam Ferguson, the author of the "History of the Roman Republic." He was educated under Dr. Crombie, author of the "Gymnasium," a standard work in Latin literature, and was at first intended for the army, but his father’s pecuniary losses made it expedient that he should devote himself to physic. He began its study in London under the guidance of his relative Dr. George Ricketts Nuttall, with whom he lived in Dean-street, Soho, whilst attending the lectures of Mr. James Wilson and others at the Hunterian school in Great Windmill-street. After passing some time at Heidelberg, where he obtained a good knowledge of German literature and habits of thought, he proceeded to Edinburgh, worked there with much diligence, and made many friends, literary as well as medical, and among these Sir Walter Scott and his distinguished son-in-law, Mr. Lockhart. He graduated doctor of medicine at Edinburgh 1st August, 1823 (D.M.I. de Vitâ Sanguinis).

Dr. Ferguson then returned to London, bringing with him letters of introduction and recommendation from Lockhart; among these one to Mr. Murray, the eminent publisher in Albemarle-street, through whose kind offices he soon became known to a distinguished literary circle. With a view to increase his practical knowledge of disease and to benefit by the bedside teaching of one of the soundest practical physicians of that day, Dr. Robert Hooper, he accepted the appointment of resident medical officer of the Marylebone infirmary. From Dr. Hooper he learnt also much of pharmacy and of the art of prescribing, and to him he owed many of those strange resources and prescriptions on which, to the surprise of many of his contemporaries, but having fully satisfied himself of their value in the treatment of disease, Dr. Ferguson was wont to rely with entire confidence, in some of the gravest emergencies of medical practice.

Dr. Ferguson was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 22nd December, 1824, and commenced business in London, devoting himself to midwifery. He had the good fortune to attract the notice and secure the friendship of Dr. Gooch, by whom he was patronised, and to a considerable portion of whose business he succeeded. Dr. Ferguson was well qualified by the attractions of person and courteous manner, by literary skill and facility of various learning,(1) and by considerable practical tact in the use of remedies to make the most of the introduction to good practice thus early afforded him. He was soon appointed physician to the Westminster Lying-in hospital, and was nominated to the chair of midwifery at King’s college on the opening of the medical department of that institution in 1831.

Dr. Ferguson was admitted a Fellow of the College of Physicians 3rd July, 1837; was Censor in 1844 and 1845, and Consiliarius in 1857, 1858, 1859. He was appointed physician accoucheur to the queen in 1840, and for several years shared with Sir Charles Locock the highest midwifery business in the metropolis. In 1857 he withdrew from that department of practice, resigned his appointment of physician accoucheur, and was gazetted physician extraordinary to the queen. His success as a general physician was fully equal to his wishes, and his business as such was only limited by his physical incapacity of doing more. His health began to give way some four years before his death, which occurred at his country residence, Ascot cottage, Winkfield, near Windsor, 25th June,1865, aged sixty-five.

"Dr. Ferguson," writes Sir Thomas Watson,(2) "was endowed by nature with a goodly presence. He possessed, moreover, a very powerful intellect, a highly cultivated mind, great literary taste and acquirements, and a remarkably strong will—gifts and attainments which, in their separate existence, conduce in no small degree to success in human affairs, and which are certain, humanly speaking, to command it when combined in the same person. And Dr. Ferguson by the mere force of his personal and mental qualities, did achieve eminent success. He broke loose early by a strenuous effort, from the advantages and from the trammels of a department of practice which, though highly useful, honourable, and honoured, is still of necessity, in its highest sphere, what in modern parlance is called a spécialité. Relinquishing very lofty ground in that department, he committed himself boldly and prosperously to the chances of general practice, as a physician, in its widest sense and highest pretensions; and he attained his object. He furnished one of very few instances of great success in that way in this town, without the previous and almost essential condition of having held the office of physician to a great general hospital. His antecedents had been propitious. He had enjoyed the intimate friendship of such men as Sir Walter Scott—as Sir Walter’s distinguished son-in-law, John Gibson Lockhart—as Dean Milman. He counted among his personal friends the poet Wordsworth, Henry Taylor, Washington Irving, and many others of like literary distinction; and thus perhaps he had become well fitted for the large practice which he ultimately obtained among the aristocratic portion of our countrymen. Most of his actual patients gave him their unbounded confidence. He had the faculty—whether it be, in a worldly point of view, a desirable faculty or no, I will not stop to consider— but he had in an uncommon degree the faculty of transforming patients into admiring friends. "I may mention," continues Sir Thomas Watson, "as one instance of this, that almost the first thing which the late Lord Palmerston said to me when he became my patient, was, 'I have lost in Ferguson not only an able physician, but a personal friend.' He was held in the same estimation, I have reason to believe, by the great chief of the other political party, Lord Derby. He was struck down suddenly, in the full exercise of an honourable and lucrative career, by an attack of epileptiform convulsions, which shattered his strength and abated his spirit, and at length, by their frequent repetition, brought his life to an untimely close in about two years from the first onset of his malady."

Dr. Ferguson is said to have set on foot the London Medical Gazette. He was a frequent contributor to the Quarterly Review.(3) He edited Dr. Gooch’s works for the New Sydenham Society; was the author of the History of Insects in the Family Library; of some admirable articles on Diseases of the Uterus in the Library of Medicine; and of An Essay on Puerperal Fever. 8vo. Lond. 1839.

William Munk

[(1) Sir James Paget.
(2) Address to the Royal College of Physicians, 36th March, 1866.
(3) The following articles in the Quarterly Review were by Dr. Ferguson:—
No. 81, Gooch on Insanity;
91, Directions in case of Pestilence;
97, Sir Henry Halford’s Essays and Orations;
113, Latham on Diseases of the Chest; 131, Public Health;
139, Colliers and Collieries;
143, Sir Charles Bell;
163, Pentonville Prisoners;
184, Pentonville;
191, Brodie’s Psychological Inquiries.
These articles were spread over twenty years, and each of them was felt at the time of publication. See Medical Times and Gazette, July 15, 1876, p. 79.]

(Volume III, page 295)

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