Lives of the fellows

Gilbert (Sir) Blane

b.29 August 1747 d.27 June 1834
MD Glasgow(1778) LRCP(1781) FRS(1785)

Sir Gilbert Blane, Bart., M.D., was the son of Gilbert Blane, esq., of Blanefield, co. Ayr, and was born 29th August, 1747. He was intended for the church, and received a good preliminary education; but, his original views having undergone a change, he devoted himself to medicine, and spent five years in its study at Edinburgh. He took his degree of doctor of medicine at Glasgow, 28th August, 1778. Whilst at Edinburgh, Dr. Blane had obtained the notice and friendship of Dr. Robertson, Dr. Blair, and Dr. Cullen, by the last of whom he was introduced to Dr. William Hunter, then at the zenith of his reputation in London. To the kindness of lord Holdemesse and the warm recommendation of Dr. Hunter, Dr. Blane was indebted for an introduction to lord Rodney, with whom he sailed in the capacity of private physician, but without any public appointment. He was soon however, appointed by lord Rodney physician to the fleet, and performed the duties of that office with so much ability and satisfaction to all concerned, that, although the mode of his appointment precluded him from enjoying half-pay, yet, in consequence of the unanimous application to the Admiralty of all the principal officers who had been on the station, he was rewarded by a pension from the Crown, which pension at a later period was doubled by the recommendation of the Lords of the Admiralty. Returning to England, Dr. Blane settled in London; was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 3rd December, 1781; and in 1783, through the warm recommendation of lord Rodney and the friendly assistance of his countrymen Sir Walter Farquhar, M.D., and Dr. Saunders, was elected physician to St. Thomas’s hospital. In 1785, on the application of the duke of Clarence, Dr. Blane was appointed physician extraordinary to the prince of Wales, and in the following year physician to his royal highness’s household. He was at a later period selected by the Prince to proceed to Spa, to attend the duke of Cumberland, then dangerously ill at that watering place. So highly to the satisfaction of the Prince was this mission executed, that he had next, as a mark of royal favour, the higher appointment of physician in ordinary. He was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society 13th January, 1785.

The Government during a series of years had recourse to Sir Gilbert Blane on many important occasions. When the Admiralty was under lord Spencer, he was appointed one of the commissioners for the sick and wounded. His arrangements for the provisioning of fleets on foreign stations were of a very superior description, particularly in supplying them with abundance of lemon-juice, and making it a regular ingredient of diet; in consequence of which scurvy was soon banished from the fleet. He was consulted on the subject of quarantine, on the arrangement of the hulks, and of some of the prisons on shore, and also with respect to the transportation of convicts — on all of which his advice was conspicuously beneficial. The most remarkable occasion, however, on which his opinion was sought, was during the alarming mortality which took place among the troops at Walcheren. The report which he then made was concurred in by the medical officers of the army, and led to the abandonment of the island. As an acknowledgment of these important services, he was created a baronet by the Prince Regent 26th December, 1812. On the accession of George IV, Sir Gilbert Blane was appointed one of the physicians in ordinary to the king, and he was continued in the same office on the accession of William IV. Sir Gilbert Blane’s health began to fail in 1821. He was attacked with prurigo senilis in its most inveterate form, which nothing but opium in large doses would alleviate. This palliative he continued to use in gradually increasing doses to his death. In January, 1834, he was seized with diarrhoea, followed by anasarca and ulceration of the legs, which proved fatal on the 27th June, 1834, in the eighty-seventh year of his age. He was a fellow of the Royal Societies of London and Edinburgh, and a member of the French Institute. He read the Croonian lecture on Muscular Action to the Royal Society in 1788, contributed many important papers to the Transactions of various societies, scientific and medical, and was the author of —

Observations on the Diseases incident to Seamen. 8vo. Lond. 1785.
The Croonian Lecture on Muscular Motion. 4to. Lond. 1790.
Address on the Practice of Vaccination. 8vo. Lond. 1811.
Elements of Medical Logick; or, Philosophical Principles of the Practice of Physic. 8vo. Lond.1819.
Select Dissertations on Medical Science. 8vo. Lond. 1822.
Statement of the Progressive Improvement in the Health of the Royal Navy at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. 8vo. Lond. 1830.
Warning to the Public on the Cholera of India. 8vo. Lond. 1832.

An unfinished portrait of Sir Gilbert Blane, by Sir Martin Archer Shee, presented by his family, is in the College.

William Munk

(Volume II, page 325)

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