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Dr Alexander Gordon (1752–99) and contagious puerperal fever
  1. Peter M Dunn
  1. University of Bristol Department of Child Health Southmead Hospital Southmead Bristol BS10 5NQ
  1. Professor Peter Dunn.

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Alexander Gordon, one of twin boys, was born in 1752 in the parish of Strachan, 20 miles south west of Aberdeen. Little is known of his early life, but he obtained an MA at Marischal College, and after further study at the Aberdeen Infirmary and in Edinburgh, graduated in medicine at the University of Aberdeen. In 1780, at the age of 28, with testimonial letters from the Corporation of Surgeons of London, he entered the Royal Navy as a surgeon’s mate. Two years later he was advanced to the rank of surgeon. Put on half pay in 1783, he went to London where for the next two years he studied at the Lying-In Hospital in Shore Street. While there he also attended the lectures of Drs Thomas Denman and William Osborn at the Middlesex Lying-In Dispensary and practised surgery and dissection at the Westminster Hospital. During this period, he married Elizabeth Harvey. They had two daughters, one of whom died in childhood.

In 1785 Gordon returned to Aberdeen, gained an MD from Marischal College and entered general practice. Shortly after he was appointed physician to the Aberdeen Dispensary that had opened in 1781. During the next nine years there were 12 925 admissions for treatment at this institution. Gordon’s main interest was midwifery and obstetrics and, in addition to a considerable private practice, he regularly gave lectures on this subject to the University students.1 2

In 1789 and 1792 Aberdeen experienced serious epidemics of puerperal fever. Gordon himself cared for 77 such patients, 25 of whom died, usually around the 5th day. Following this experience he published hisTreatise on the Epidemic Puerperal Fever of Aberdeen in 1795.(fig 1)3 It was dedicated to his mentor, Thomas Denman, who had himself already made important contributions to …

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