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Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 83:F71-F73 doi:10.1136/fn.83.1.F71
  • Perinatal lessons from the past

Dr William Buchan (1729–1805) and his Domestic medicine

  1. Peter M Dunn
  1. Department of Child Health, Bristol University, Southmead Hospital, Southmead, Bristol BS10 5NB, UK
  1. Professor Dunn

    William Buchan was born in Ancram in Roxburghshire in 1729 where his father had a small estate.1 Even during his school days he acted as amateur doctor to the village. In about 1749, he went to Edinburgh to study divinity, supporting himself by teaching mathematics to fellow students. Changing to the study of medicine under the elder Gregory, he qualified around 1758. The following year he was appointed as the first surgeon and apothecary to a branch of the Foundling Hospital that had opened that year in Ackworth, Yorkshire. His salary was £42 a year, exclusive of his board and his horse! This post provided him with great experience in the care of children. While there, Buchan wrote his MD dissertation for Edinburgh UniversityOn the preservation of infant life (1761). His stay at Ackworth ended abruptly when Parliament discontinued its financial support for the Foundling Hospital. Thereafter, he practised for some years in Sheffield before returning to Edinburgh in 1766 (fig1). Besides continuing to practise, he gave lectures on natural philosophy, which were very popular and drew large classes. In 1769 he published his great work, Domestic medicine or the family physician, 2 the first work of its kind. It sold for just 6 shillings. Its success was immediate, and 80 000 copies from the 19 English editions were sold during his lifetime. In addition, it was translated into all the main European languages including Russian. Indeed the Empress of Russia was so pleased with it that she sent Buchan a letter of commendation and a gold medal.

    Figure 1

    Dr William Buchan (1729–1805).

    Although the therapeutic remedies of Domestic medicine were often no better than those in current use at that time, in terms of achieving positive health and preventing disease, the text was far, far ahead of its …

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