Andrew Buchanan


Born in Glasgow on 10 December 1798, Buchanan studied medicine in Glasgow, Edinburgh and overseas. In 1828 he founded, and initially edited, the Glasgow Medical Journal, although an early published paper on medical care of the poor (one of his abiding interests) caused sufficient opposition to prompt the ending of not just his association with the journal but also his post as a district surgeon.

He was a surgeon at Glasgow Royal Infirmary from 1835, and from 1839 to 1876 held the post of Chair of the Institutes of Medicine at Glasgow University. He wrote many papers throughout his life, often on matters relating to cholera, and was appointed president of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

His later years were marred by the death, in 1865, of his only son, who contracted typhus while working in a hospital ward.

DR. ANDREW BUCHANAN was born in Glasgow on 10th December, 1798, and he died in 1882 deeply regretted by a wide circle of attached friends. His father was the senior partner of the firm of Buchanan, Falconer & Co., merchants, of which his elder brother, Walter, Member of Parliament for the city, was afterwards the head. Dr. Buchanan having passed through the High School, entered College at twelve years of age, and after an undergraduate course of ten years took his degree in Glasgow in 1822. He not only studied in the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh but also abroad, where he spent two years; and he had the additional advantage of serving for three years as Resident in the Royal Infirmary, so that his equipment for practice was more than usually complete. He says himself on that point, speaking of it near the close of his life, "I left the hospital with a more ample experience of disease in every form, and a more thorough knowledge of the practical resources of the healing art than I could have acquired from a whole life-time of ordinary medical practice." Of his residence in Paris he had ever a very happy recollection, and the first effort of his pen was to give an account of a remarkable incident which he witnessed, along with the late Professor Rainy, in the practice of the celebrated Dupuytren. It was published in the "Quarterly Journal of Foreign and British Medicine" in 1823.

Dr. Buchanan's object in studying medicine is stated by himself to have been mainly as "affording a liberal and congenial occupation, as I believed myself to have very little need to cultivate it from any other motive." This, he adds, "turned out ultimately to be a mistake, and I was thus compelled, in my later years, to toil unremittingly at a business so little remunerative as medical practice was at that time in Glasgow." In order to extend his experience he took medical charge of the poor in one of the worst districts of the city - that of the Wynds - and there he contracted the first of three attacks of typhus fever from which he suffered during his career. He nearly lost his life, as did his four pupils, all of whom at one time were laid up with the same dire scourge, and his friend Dr. James Candlish, the talented elder brother of the late Principal Candlish, who took his place, died the following year from that terrible fever which for so long annually claimed numerous victims from among the members of the profession in Glasgow.

In 1828 Dr. Buchanan projected, and after much difficulty established, the "Glasgow Medical Journal" - a magazine which still flourishes as the organ of the profession in the West of Scotland. He was the first editor, along with the late Dr. Weir, but some papers of his on the medical management of the poor got him into such trouble as to cause him to resign his connection with the journal and also his post as a district surgeon. So violent was the opposition his articles stirred up that he says "the door was closed against me to all public medical appointments, which younger men were passed over my head to fill."

During the long period of his active career, Dr. Buchanan did much good service to the community. In the Cholera Hospital in 1832 he spent "nearly the whole day and a great part of the night," and collected materials for his subsequent publications on the subject. In the Royal Infirmary, from 1835 to 1862, he was almost constantly on duty. In the Andersonian he taught Materia Medica; and in the University, from 1839 to 1876, he filled with much acceptance, as its first occupant, the Chair of Institutes of Medicine, now called Physiology. These were busy and happy years, in which he built up his own reputation and did much to add to the fame of that great school of medicine which he lived to see firmly established in his Alma Mater. When Dr. Buchanan entered the portals of the Royal Infirmary as surgeon in 1835, his aims and hopes were high. "Looking from that proud eminence, I thought I saw the way clear before me and indulged in day-dreams of becoming a second Dupuytren or an Astley Cooper," and so long as he remained there he retained his ideal of the dignity and responsibility of the position. At that time and till death divided them, his life was "entwined" with that of the late Professor Lawrie. They had sat on the same bench at college, had been colleagues as Residents in the Infirmary, and were ever closely connected in every professional project. "Buchanan's was the best head and Lawrie's were the best hands in the hospital" was a common saying, and never did any self-seeking or jealousy divide them.

Dr. Buchanan was a ready and effective writer. His contributions on physiological and surgical subjects are very numerous, and lie scattered through many journals. The blood, its properties and reactions, its coagulation and constitution, the forces which carry it on, and its state in cholera, occupied him for many years. "The nature, origin and termination of life" he set himself to treat of at length, but that work he never finished. A list of forty-three papers from his pen was published in 1870, and in many of these most valuable suggestions are made, while all are conceived and worked out in the most scientific spirit and by the most careful methods. There was always much originality and ingenuity in what he did, and his papers bear the impress of thought and minute investigation. Take his surgical work as a whole, he has left behind him more original and useful suggestions than any man who has ever practised in Glasgow. From his extreme modesty and sensitiveness he shrank from all self-assertion, and thus much of what he did was not widely known, and others have too often reaped the credit of work which he alone performed. This is not the place to record his purely professional achievements, still it is impossible not to mention his remarkable improvement on the operation of lithotomy, which was itself enough to establish his reputation as a scientific and very able surgeon.

Dr. Buchanan was an admirable specimen of the best class of professional men. Cultured, well read, gentle mannered, he was in its truest sense a gentleman. His appearance will long remain engraved on the memory of those who knew him. The tall, slightly stooping figure; the large, venerable, tremulous head; the thoughtful, refined, and benevolent face which beamed with kindness; and the cordial, happy recognition with which he never failed to salute a friend. His unfailing politeness and courtesy, his genuine honesty of purpose, and the generosity and fairness which marked his intercourse with his professional brethren, made him beloved and trusted by all who came into contact with him. To intellectual powers of a high order he united the simplicity and guilelessness of a child. His pupils were often amazed at the attention he gave to their crude conceptions, and the unfailing courtesy with which he discussed them. How few men after their active career was so abruptly ended would condescend, as he did, to frequent the new laboratories of his successor and work among the students at points he wished to investigate! His knowledge of the principles of surgery was so large, and his experience so mature, that even to the end those who sought his advice were astonished at the freshness and light he could throw on professional difficulties.

The death of Dr. Buchanan's only son in 1865 proved an almost overwhelming blow to his affectionate nature, and was also a cruel disappointment to fondly cherished hopes. The young man's great talents had been sedulously cultivated, and all who knew him formed great anticipations of what he would achieve in his profession. He was cut off by typhus fever when acting in the hospital wards. Doubtless many of the annoyances which afterwards arose in connection with the father's Chair would have been avoided had the son lived. This is no place to refer to the discussions which preceded his retirement, but this may be said, that while it must be conceded that the extraordinary rapidity with which physiology became developed in these later times (and which has constituted it a new science, prosecuted by methods entirely new to the school to which Dr. Buchanan belonged), had carried it beyond his grasp, and that it required for its interpretation men educated in the newer fashions, still the impression made on his mind was, that in the circumstances he did not always receive that courtesy and forbearance which he rightly thought he was entitled to from his long services and reputation; and though his unanimous election as President of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (the highest honour which the Medical Practitioners of the City could bestow, and one rarely offered to any University Professor), was a great satisfaction and pleasure to him, yet his health was sensibly affected by the controversies referred to.

Dr. Buchanan can hardly be said to have acquired a large practice. He was perhaps wanting in decision and in the enforcement of matters which he did not himself think important, but which invalids are apt to over-estimate the value of; but in difficult or serious cases his advice was eagerly sought and highly esteemed by his professional brethren, by all of whom his death was mourned as that of an old, sagacious, honest and trusted friend.

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