Lectures of, and other material relating to Professor Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-495
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      11 letters, 1 notebook, miscellaneous photographs Access to records in a fragile condition may be restricted.
  • Location
      Dc.2.58; Dc.2.85/2, 7, 10/4-5; Dc.4.101-103 Simpson; Gen. 851; Gen. 1732 Simpson; Phot.516/2

Scope and Content

The material in the collection includes: lectures on midwifery and diseases of women, 1862-1863; letters and photostat copy of letters to W. Grindlay, father-in-law, 1840, and to mother, 1840, on election to Chair of Midwifery; letter to Dr. Forbes, 1847; letter to D. R. Hay, 1854, and a letter about the Aesthetic Club, 1857; letter to Duncan McLaren, 1868; letters to Adam Black, 1868, about the Principalship of Edinburgh University; and, letter to W. Dickson, 1862.

Administrative / Biographical History

The physician James Young Simpson was born on 7 June 1811 in Bathgate, West Lothian. He was educated locally and then at Edinburgh University, entering in 1825. In 1827 he began the study of medicine and graduated M.D. in 1832. By 1835 he was Senior President of the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh and by 1839 he was appointed to the Chair of Midwifery. Simpson first worked with sulphuric ether as a form of anaesthetic in obstetric practice, but then in 1847 he and his assistants came to understand the efficacy of chloroform. A public trial was held at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary in November 1847. The same year he was appointed one of Her Majesty's Physician in Scotland and he became a foreign Associate of the Academy of Medicine, Paris. Apart from his contribution to anaesthesia, Simpson laid the foundation of gynaecology and contributed to obstetrics. In 1866 he was given a Baronetcy, the first to be received by a doctor practicing in Scotland. Professor Sir James Young Simpson died on 6 May 1870. His family declined a grave in Westminster Abbey - though there is a bust of him there - and he was buried at Edinburgh's Warriston Cemetery.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Letter to Dickson, Accession no. E62.13. Lectures, Accession no. E66.27. Letter to McLaren, Accession no. E67.39. Letters to Black, Accession no. E76.15.


Note that when this record was created any associated photographic/illustrative was unseen.

The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 18. Shearman-Stovin. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1909.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various other references to Simpson related material (check the Indexes for more details): testimonial by Simpson in favour of Dr. G. H. Pringle, 1854, at Dc.4.98/6, (19); mention of Simpson in a letter of William Jameson, 1856, at Gen. 1996/5/21; draft letters of Mrs. Catherine Torrie, 1855, at Gen. 1996/12/93; certificate in favour of Walter Somerville, 1861, at Da.Cyl; letters to D. Laing, at La.IV.17; certificate of Professor J. Pillans in favour of Simpson, 1826, at Da.3; letter to Simpson from J. Scott about medical research in Guy's Hospital and the Museum of London University, 1837, at Gen. 886/4, no.23; letter from Sir W. Laurence, 1847, at Dc.2.85/1; mentioned in letters of T. Cunningham, at Dk.7.46/54 etc; mentioned in letters of J. Cunningham, Belfast, 1849, at Dk.7.46/67, 70; and, various letters about the death of Simpson, press-cuttings about Simpson and R. L. Stevenson, silver medal, recommendations for his lectures, and photographs relating to Simpson.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes several locations of Simpson related material.