FOR three-quarters of a century "Burns of Brigton" has been one of the best-known names in the Glasgow medical profession, and Dr. Burns himself has been the subject and teller of more quaint stories than probably any of his contemporaries. Descended paternally from the same family as the poet Burns - the Burnses of Glenbervie, and maternally from a branch of the Grahams of Montrose, he was born in Perth, 4th September, 1815. His memories go back to such matters as the year "of the short corn," 1826, and to the sight, two years later, of the Perth weavers setting out on their long tramp to see Burke hanged in Edinburgh. It was on the night of Grace Darling's famous exploit in 1838 that he set out on his migration from Perth to Glasgow. He rode from Perth to Blackford, walked to Stirling, and got the mail-coach thence to Glasgow. Intending to become a minister, he entered the arts Classes in the Old College, but presently found his vocation, and entered the Medical Classes of Anderson's University. There among his class-mates he had the late Principal Rainy. He became a Licentiate of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in 1846, and presently began practice in Bridgeton. In 1851 he became a Fellow of the Faculty of Physicians.
    Meanwhile, in 1847, he had indulged in a tour abroad, in the course of which he met Liszt at Constantinople, and went boar-hunting with him in the region of the Black Sea. He studied the action of malaria on the banks of the Tiber, and various diseases peculiar to the East in Egypt, Palestine, and Turkey. Then in 1848, during the Bread Riots, he was standing at the door of his surgery in John Street, Bridgeton, when one of the shots fired at the mob by the pensioners killed the man he was talking to. During the terrible epidemics of cholera and typhus he was noted for his zeal and fearlessness, and at last he was seized with typhus himself. For a fortnight he lay unconscious, and it is one of his own most amusing stories how on at last coming back to the world of sense, the first words he heard were those of a worthy Bridgeton elder engaged in praying by his bed, "We thank Thee, Heavenly Father, that while Thou hast taken away the flesh of Thy servant, Thou hast left him the skin and bone."
The disaster of his life overtook Dr. Burns in 1878, when by the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank he lost his entire means. He was no longer a young man, but he set stoutly to work, and gradually won again for himself a provision for his old age. In 1896, on the occasion of his jubilee as a physician, a number of his friends testified their esteem by presenting him with a brougham. A little later he was also presented with his portrait, which, appropriately enough, now hangs in the People's Palace.

Back to Index of Glasgow Men (1909)