Papers of Professor Andrew Duncan, senior (1744-1828)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-199
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      12 volumes, 2 part volumes, 1 typescript, 3 letters.
  • Location
      Dc.3.96; Dc.7.118; Dc.10.17; Dc.8.157-158; Dk.3.50-51; Dk.5.2, pp.139-163; Dk.7.48; Gen. 56D; Gen. 553D, pp.1-104; Gen. 744D; Gen. 779-780D; Gen. 784/9/9; La.II.82; La.III.353

Scope and Content

The papers consist principally of lecture notes and some correspondence, including: lectures on the theory and practice of medicine; lectures on the practice of physic, 1778; extracts from lectures on the theory of physic, 1777-1778; notes of lectures on the theory and practice of physic, 1797; lectures on the practice of medicine, 1785-1786, and 1785-1790; notes of clinical lectures, 1796; lectures on the institutes of medicine, 1799; observations on medical jurisprudence, 1797-1798, and 1800; a short view of the extent and importance of medical jurisprudence, considered as a branch of education, 1798; observations on a case of epilepsy, 1783; a letter to Dr. J. Gardiner, 1784; letter to C. Stewart, 1814; letter to J. Cumming, 1781; and, a letter to John Sherwen, 1801.

Administrative / Biographical History

Andrew Duncan was born at Pinkerton, near St. Andrews on 17 October 1744. His father was a merchant and shipmaster at Crail and then St. Andrews. The young Andrew was educated in Crail and then in St. Andrews, and he studied at St. Andrews University obtaining an M.A. in 1762. That same year he entered Edinburgh University as a medical student. During his studies, in 1764, he became President of the Royal Medical Society.

On completion of his studies in 1768, Duncan went to China as a ship's surgeon for the East India Company. On his return in 1769 he graduated with the degree of M.D. at St. Andrews University. In 1770, he became a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, and the same year he tried unsuccessfully for a professorship in St. Andrews. However, when Dr. Drummond the elected-Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University fell ill, during his absence Duncan was appointed to lecture there from 1774. When Drummond failed to return, he was elected Professor.

Duncan then began a public dispensary which later became the Royal Public Dispensary. In 1789, he was appointed to the Chair of the Institutes of Medicine (physiology) and in 1790 he became President of the Royal College of Physicians.

Moved by the death of the poet Robert Ferguson (1750-1774), Duncan was instrumental in the foundation of Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum, the building of which was begun in 1809 (In 1922 it became the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Mental and Nervous Disorders, and today is known simply as the Royal Edinburgh Hospital).

In 1819, Andrew Duncan junior (1773-1832) was appointed to assist him in his Professorship, and in 1821 he became the first Physician to the King (or Queen) in Scotland. That same year he became President of the Edinburgh Medico-Chirurgical Society.

During his career, Duncan began publication of the quarterly Medical and philosophical commentaries (1773-1795) which went on to become Annals of medicine, and he also published Elements of therapeutics (1770), The new dispensatory (1786), and Observations on the distinguishing symptoms of three different species of pulmonary consumption (1813).

Professor Andrew Duncan died on 5 July 1828.

Access Information

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


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.6. Drant-Finan. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908. (2) Rice, D. Talbot (compiler). The university portraits. pp.58-59. Edinburgh: University Press, 1957. (3) Notes on the Royal Edinburgh Hospital constructed by the Lothian Health Services Archive.

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 other references to Duncan related material (check the Indexes for more details): class card for case lectures, 1778; class certificate signed by Duncan, 1779-1780; verses about Duncan, circa 1822; and a portrait. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: correspondence and papers, 1780-1800, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Ref. Duncan NRA 16015 Coll of Physicians; lecture notes, 1775-1827, Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, Ref. MSS 2233-37.

Corporate Names