Ferriar was born in Roxburghshire on 21 November 1761 and took his MD degree at Edinburgh in 1781, with a thesis on small-pox. He practised in Stockton-on-Tees for a short time before coming to Manchester in 1785 where he practised as a physician, particularly among the poor. In 1789 Ferriar was appointed physician to visit the home patients of the Manchester Infirmary and the next year became honorary physician. He had much experience of fever in the poor districts of Manchester and wrote several papers on epidemics. Ferriar saw the living and working conditions of the poor in Manchester to be a major factor in the spread of disease. He was largely responsible for Manchester's first public health service. In the 1790s Ferriar published a number of suggestions to reduce the spread of disease, but private interests prevented effective changes in the public interest. He was instrumental in forming the Manchester Board of Health, along with Dr Percival, to deal with the fever epidemic. The Board of Health opened the House of Recovery in 1796. This fever house caused much controversy, but signalled a new way of considering infections which enabled far better control of infectious diseases. Ferriar was also known for his writings on Sterne. He was a prominent member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, of which he was both secretary and president. Ferriar also wrote articles on digitalis and pneumatic medicine. He died suddenly on 4 February 1815 and was buried in St Mary's Churchyard, Manchester.
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