Material relating to Professor James Syme (1799-1870)

Scope and Content

The material includes: Syme's lectures on clinical surgery, taken by J. S. Beveridge, circa 1856-1860, at Dc.57-61; a volume of manuscript notes of lectures on surgery delivered by Syme, 1828-1830, at E2006.11; and, a volume containing Syme's diplomas, and press-cuttings relating to him, at Df.3.41.

Administrative / Biographical History

The surgeon James Syme was born in Edinburgh on 7 November 1799. He was educated at the Royal High School in the city, and then studied at Edinburgh University from 1815 first as a pupil of the anatomist Dr. John Barclay (1758-1826). Although Syme never actually attended a course of surgery lectures, Robert Liston (1794-1847) gave him charge of his dissecting rooms as a demonstrator in 1818, and in 1820 he became superintendent of the Edinburgh Fever Hospital. In 1822 he went to Paris, and on the retirement of Liston in 1823 Syme began delivering a regular course of anatomy lectures. In 1824 he visited medical schools in Germany, and in the following year he added a course on surgery to those already being given on surgery. In 1829, he started a private surgical hospital at Minto House and then in 1833 he was appointed to the Chair of Clinical Surgery at Edinburgh University. In 1838, Syme became Surgeon in Ordinary to the Queen in Scotland. In 1848, he accepted the Chair of Clinical Surgery at University College, London, but after some contractual misunderstandings he returned to Edinburgh the same year and resumed the Professorship there again. He was then elected President of the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Edinburgh. Syme's publications include: On the excision of diseased joints (1831), The principles of surgery (1832), On diseases of the rectum (1838), and, Observations in clinical surgery (1861). University Professor James Syme died at Millbank, near Edinburgh, on 26 June 1870, and was buried at St. John's Episcopal Church in the city's West End.

Access Information

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

Acquisition Information

J. Storer Beveridge lectures, received 1910. Lectures on surgery acquired April 2006, Accession no: E2006.11.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.19. Stow-Tytler. 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.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various other references to Syme related material (check the Indexes for more details): recommendation of his lectures by Joseph Lister, September 1854, at Gen. 1730 Lister; testimonial dated August 1852, at Dc.4.98/6, (2); mention in a letter, November 1837, at Gen./ 1429/8; his opinion on the use of ether, 1847, at Dk.7.46/55; and, his views on operating in a case of ovarian tumour, 1863, at Dc.4.101-103. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: dissertation, Royal Medical Society, 1821, see HMC file 1970; and lecture notes, 1853, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Ref. Syme NRA 16015 Coll of Physicians.