Lives of the fellows

Robert (Sir) Sibbald

b.c.1643 d.c.1712
MD Leyden(1661) FRCP(1686)

Sir Robert Sibbald, MD, was the son of David Sibbald, keeper of the great seal under chancellor Hay, and was born near Leslie, in Fifeshire, about the year 1643. He was educated at the university of St Andrew’s, after which he travelled for improvement in France and Italy, and then going to Leyden was entered on the physic line there 28th April, 1660. He graduated doctor of medicine at Leyden in 1661 (DMI de variis Tabis speciebus).

On his return to Scotland he settled as a physician in Edinburgh, and through the interest of the earl of Perth was nominated physician and geographer to Charles II, from whom he received the honour of knighthood, and a commission to write the history of that kingdom. He it was who first suggested, and was mainly instrumental in obtaining, the foundation of the College of Physicians of Edinburgh, of which college he was appointed president 4th December, 1684. During his year of office the Pharmacopæia Edinburgensis was compiled and the first edition published.

In 1685 Sir Robert Sibbald applied himself to the establishment of a medical school in Edinburgh, and was the first appointed professor of medicine in the university of that city. His appointment to the office bears date 5th March, 1685, and he was formally installed and admitted to the exercise of that charge on the 25th next ensuing. Sir Robert Sibbald was the most learned antiquary in Scotland, and had lived a course of philosophical virtue, but in great doubt as to revealed religion. Bred in the kirk of Scotland, he was ostensibly a member of that communion, but was at length prevailed upon by the earl of Perth to join the church of Rome. The grounds upon which he had done so appearing to him on further examination unsatisfactory, he quitted Scotland for a time, and withdrew to London, where he entered on a course of theological study of some months’ duration. In sequel thereto, he renounced the church of his adoption, and then, returning to Scotland, published his recantation openly in a church.

His religious versatility, and some other causes, brought upon him the sarcasms of the Jacobite physician Archibald Pitcairne, whose Dissertatio de legibus Historiæ Naturalis, Edinb, 1696, contains an unreasonably severe criticism of Sibbald. In imitation of his friend, Sir Andrew Balfour, MD, Sibbald had collected an extensive museum of Scotch antiquities and of such natural curiosities as were indigenous or were calculated to throw light upon the natural history of the kingdom. This collection he presented to the university of Edinburgh in 1697 under the modest title of “Auctarium Musei Balfouriani è Museo Sibbaldiano,” as if had been only an appendix to Dr Balfour’s. The catalogue of the collection compiled by the donor and printed at the expense of the university was dedicated to the magistrates and citizens of Edinburgh as a testimony of gratitude for the honours which had been conferred upon him. Sir Robert Sibbald, whose benevolence was equal to his industry, bequeathed to the university of Edinburgh a valuable collection of portraits, comprising Charles I and II, James II, who, when duke of York, was a great patron of Sibbald; James Drummond, earl of Perth, in his robes as chancellor of Scotland; one of, perhaps his earliest patron, Drummond of Hawthornden; Sir George Mackenzie, the founder of the library of the Faculty of Advocates, and some others.(1)

Sir Robert Sibbald, as physician to James II, on the 29th March, 1686, during his retirement in London, was admitted a Fellow of the College of Physicians here. He died about 1712; and was the author of
Scotia Illustrata, sive Prodromus Historiæ Naturalis Scotiæ Fol. Edin. 1684.
Phalainologia Nova: sive Observationes de rarioribus quibusdam Balaenis in Scotiæ littus nuper ejectis 4to. Edin. 1692.
Auctarium Musei Balfouriani; sive Enumeratio et Descriptio Rerum rariorum tam naturalium quam artificialium quos R Sibbaldus Acad: Edinb. donavit 8vo. Edin. 1697.
Memoria Balfourianæ 12mo. 1699.
Regulæ bene et salubriter vivendi 8vo. Edin. 1701.
The Liberty and Independence of the Kingdom and Church of Scotland 4to. Edinb. 1702.
Commentarius in Vitam Georgii Buchanani 8vo. Edin. 1702.
De Gestis Gulielmi Vallæ, Herois Scoti, Collectanea Varia 8vo. Edin. 1705.
In Hippocratis Legem, et in ejus Epistolam ad Thessalum Filium, Commentarii 8vo. Edin. 1706.
Historical Inquiries concerning the Roman Monuments and Antiquities in the North part of Britain called Scotland Fol. Edinb. 1707.
A Letter to Dr Archibald Pitcairn 8vo. Edinb. 1709.
Miscellaneæ quædam eruditæ Antiquitatis quæ ad Borealem Britanniæ majoris partem pertinent Fol. Edin. 1710.
The History, Ancient and Modern, of the Sheriffdoms of Fife and Kinross Fol. Edinb. 1710.
The History, Ancient and Modern, of the Sheriffdoms of Linlithgow and Stirling Fol. Edinb. 1710.
Account of the Writers, Ancient and Modern, printed, and MSS not printed, which treat of the Description of Scotland Fol. Edinb. 1710.
Vindiciæ Prodromi Naturalis Historiæ Scotiæ Fol. Edinb. 1710.
Description of the Islands of Orkney and Zetland Fol. Edinb. 1711.
Introductio ad Historiam Rerum a Romanis Gestarum, in eâ Borealis Britanniæ parte, quæ ultra Murum Picticum est Fol. Edin. 1711.
Portus Coloniæ et Castella Romana ad Bodotriam et ad Taum Fol. Edin. 1711.

William Munk

[(1) Bower’s History of the University of Edinburgh. 2 vols. 8vo. Edin. 1817.]

(Volume I, page 439)

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