Papers of Charles Alston (1685-1760)

Scope and Content

The collection of Charles Alson includes; a history of drugs, or materia medica, from his lectures, at Dc.8.58; a treatise on materia medica, 1733, at Gen. 695-697D; an introduction to the materia medica and an introduction to botany, 1736, at Dc.8.12; lectures on materia medica and 'methodus praescribendi', 24 April 1736, at Dk.7.1; lectures on the materia medica and lectures on botany, 1739-1740, at MSS 2624-2625; and, observations on materia medica collected from Alston's lectures, 1754, at Dk.5.12. There is also a letter of Alston to Cromwell Mortimer (d. 1752) reporting on the progress of Chinese seeds sent by him and his experiments with calx viva, 9 August 1750, at Gen. 1733/14.

Administrative / Biographical History

Charles Alston was born at Eddlewood (now part of Hamilton, just to the west of Chatelherault). He was educated in Glasgow, but on the death of his father the Duchess of Hamilton became his patron and wished him to study law. Alston however wanted to study medicine and went to Leyden to study under Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738). In Leyden, he met Dr. Alexander Monro, primus (1697-1767). On their return to Edinburgh they revived medical lectures at the University with Alston being appointed Lecturer in Botany and Materia Medica. He also became Superintendent of the Botanic Garden. Alston published various medical papers and an index to the plants in the Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. In his Tirocinium Botanicum Edinburgense (1753), he attacked the Linnaean system of classification. Charles Alston died on 22 November 1760.

Access Information

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

Acquisition Information

Letter to Mortimer purchased January 1982, Accession no. E82.4. Treatise on the materia medica purchased Sotheby, July 1963, Accession E63.10. Lectures at MSS 2624-2625 purchased June 1982, Accession E.82.51.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.1. Abbadie-Beadon. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

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 references to Charles Alston related material in the Laing Collection and elsewhere (check the Indexes for more details): an account of the Alston family at La.III.375; and, correspondence and notes of experiments in materia medica, 1738-1750, at La.III.375. A mention of Charles Alston in a letter of Professor F. B. de Sauvages de la Croix, Montpelier, 1 May 1765, at Gen. 863/2, and a mention of his experiments in a letter of Professor J. Black, 2 December 1752, at Gen. 874/V/6. There is also a copy of a typescript of a work on Charles Alston by Dr. James Maxwell Alston, February 1980, at Gen. 2108D. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: lecture notes at Glasgow University Library, Special Collections Department, see MSS in Hunterian Library; lecture notes, circa 1725-34, Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, Ref. MSS 933-34, and notes on materia medica, 1744-47, see Formerly MS 98 at Medical Soc of London Lib; lectures and papers, 1724, 1743, at Royal Botanic Garden; lecture notes, 1736-40, at Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Ref. Alison NRA 16015 Coll of Physicians; and, treatise on materia medica, 1740, Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Corporate Names