Lives of the fellows

James (Sir) McGrigor

b.1770 d.2 April 1858

Sir James McGrigor, Bart., M.D., K.C.B., was the eldest son of Mr. Colquhoun McGrigor, a merchant of Aberdeen by his wife Ann, the daughter of Lewis Grant, Esq. of Lethendrey in Strathspey, Invernessshire. He was educated at the grammar school of Aberdeen and at Marischal college, where he took a degree in arts in 1788. He studied medicine for three years at Aberdeen, and then at Edinburgh. In 1793 he came to London, and purchased his surgeoncy in the 88th regiment or Connaught rangers, and with them proceeded first to Bergen op Zoom and Nimeguen, and subsequently to the West Indies.

In December, 1798, he embarked for India, whence he was ordered to Egypt, and on the cessation of hostilities with France returned to Bombay. He returned to England in 1803, graduated doctor of medicine at Aberdeen 20th February, 1804, and on the recommendation of his friends, Sir Walter Farquhar and Sir Gilbert Blane, published his Medical Sketches of the Expedition to Egypt, from India. 8vo. Lond. 1804. About this time he was appointed deputy inspector of hospitals, and was sent to Walcheren to succeed Sir John Webb as head of the medical staff there.

In 1811 he proceeded to the Peninsula in the like capacity as chief of the medical staff under Lord Wellington; was present at the capture of Badajoz, at the storming of Burgos and St. Sebastian, and at the battles of Vittoria and of the Pyrenees. His services in the Peninsula were cordially acknowledged. The Duke of Wellington in a despatch to the Earl of Liverpool dated 8th April, 1812, wrote of Dr. McGrigor thus:—" I have every reason to be satisfied with the manner in which he conducted the department under his direction, and I consider him one of the most industrious, able, and successful public servants I have ever met with."

He received the honour of knighthood, and the medical officers of the army who had served under him in the Peninsula evinced their sense of his merits by presenting to him in 1814 a costly service of plate of the value of one thousand guineas. It bore the following inscription:—
Jacobo McGrigor, Equiti, M.D.
Coll: Reg: Med: Edin: Soc:
Societ: Reg: Edin: Sod:
Nosocomiorum Regalium Inspectori Generali
Viro admodum insignito
sive acumen ingenii nativum respicias
sive strenuam illam atque indefessam
muneribus inspectoriis navatam operam;
in quibus apud Lusitaniam, Hispaniam, Galliam
longe lateque fungendis
non bono solum publico cum integritate prope singulari,
verum etiam sociis suis co-operantibus
comitate quadam et benignitate propria
nunquam non consuluerit;
cui denique sacros Hygeiæ fontes aperire
atque Artis medendi divina studia
vim æmulam ingenuas apud scientias eliciendo
promovere feliciter omnino contigerit:
hocce monumentum, quale quale pignus!
summæ in ducem suum dignissimum observantiæ
sacrum ac perenne vult
Status Major Nosocomiensis
Anno Dom: 1814.(1)

Sir James McGrigor’s services abroad were now concluded, and he made arrangements for settling in London, where he proposed practising as a physician. But in 1815 he was appointed a member of the Army Medical Board, and a few months after when that Board was thoroughly remodelled, was placed at the head of it as Director-General of the Army Medical Department. In this responsible position he continued for the long period of thirty-four years. Sir James McGrigor when installed as Director-General, proceeded at once to carry out a long-cherished idea of instituting a system of medical reports and returns, essentially statistical in character, with the view to make them of permanent use to the service, and form therewith a collection of constantly available records, calculated to advance the interests of science and the general improvement of the medical officers of the army. He pursued this course with persistent zeal during the whole of his long tenure of office, and when he resigned the director-generalship he left a most valuable collection of records amounting to some three hundred and fifty folio volumes.

Sir James McGrigor took early measures for the formation at Fort Pitt, Chatham, of the Museum of anatomy and natural history, and to his unremitting exertions and liberality that museum is chiefly indebted for its prosperous condition. About the year 1822 he attached a library to the museum at Fort Pitt, made to it repeated gifts of books, and on one occasion bestowed upon it no less than fifteen hundred volumes.

It was Sir James McGrigor, too, who originally planned and largely aided in the establishment of the Army Medical Friendly Society, and, somewhat later, of the Army Medical Benevolent Society, the benefits of which to the medical officers of the army and their families have been great.

Sir James McGrigor retired from his directorship in 1851, when a valedictory address, indicating many of the benefits which he had conferred on the department, and signed by upwards of five hundred army medical officers, was presented to him in the presence of a large circle of friends. Sir James McGrigor died in London 2nd April, 1858, within a few days of completing his eighty-eighth year.

During his tenure of office Sir James McGrigor received numerous honours. He was permitted by his sovereign to wear the Turkish order of the Crescent for the part he bore in the Egyptian campaign, and was made a knight commander of the Tower and Sword of Portugal for his services in the Peninsula. In 1831 he was created a baronet, and in 1850 was invested with the order of a knight commander of the Bath.

He was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 26th June, 1815, and a Fellow 25th June, 1825, the day on which the new building in Pall Mall East, was formally opened. He was appointed physician extraordinary to the king, and in 1837 physician extraordinary to the queen. Three times was he elected Lord Rector of his Alma Mater, the university of Aberdeen, viz., in 1826, in 1827, and in 1841. So thoroughly had he won the esteem and attachment of the students, that they presented to the university a portrait of Sir James, by Mr. Dyce, which is now in the public hall. A second portrait of him, by Sir David Wilkie, is in the library at Fort Pitt; and a third, by J. Jackson, R.A., presented by his brother officers to lady McGrigor, is in the possession of his family.(2)

William Munk

[(1) Gent.Mag., for 1815, vol. lxxxv, pt. i, p. 79.
(2) The Autobiography and Services of Sir James M‘Grigor, Bart., 8vo. Lond. 1861.]

(Volume III, page 309)

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