Papers of Dr William Mackenzie, (1791-1868) Ophthalmologist

Scope and Content

Diaries, 1816-1819; correspondence, 1814-c. 1824; notes and notebooks including lecture notes and dissection notes, 1816-c. 1862; case histories, 1812-1865; rough drafts for The Physiology of Vision, 1835-1840; printed material, 1820-1856, including a pamphlet entitled The Causes of Loss of Sight, Shortly Stated and Explained and a book, Outlines of Ophthalmology, by William Mackenzie; drawings and illustrations including illustrations from his publications, 1811-c. 1854; miscellaneous material including a list of herbal remedies for ailments such as ague, burns, asthma, leprosy etc, 1786-1866.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Mackenzie was born in Queen Street, Glasgow, on 29 April 1791, the son of James Mackenzie, a muslin manufacturer. He was educated at Glasgow Grammar School and Glasgow University where he initially studied divinity with the intention of becoming a minister of the Church of Scotland. In 1810 he turned to medicine and in 1813 acted as a resident clerk to Dr Richard Miller. He obtained the Licence of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1815 and spent nearly the whole of the next three years on the Continent, attending the clinics of Dupuytren and Alibert in Paris and Beer in Vienna. He came to London in 1818, attended lectures of Dr John Abernethy (1764-1831) at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and attempted to set up in general practice. He became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons on 1 May 1818. In June 1819, Mackenzie tried to establish an Eye Infirmary in Southwark but the plan fell through and he returned to Glasgow two months later. He became a Fellow of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, began general practice and started lecturing on anatomy, surgery, materia medica and medical jurisprudence in Anderson’s College.

In 1824, in conjunction with Dr G C Montieth, he founded the Glasgow Eye Infirmary. In 1828 he was appointed Waltonian Lecturer at the University of Glasgow “On the Structure, Function and Diseases of the Eye.” In the same year, the first edition of the Glasgow Medical Journal appeared with Mackenzie as editor. Mackenzie published his Practical Treatise on the Diseases of the Eye in 1830 and it became a standard textbook on the subject until the invention of the ophthalmoscope in 1851 caused a radical change in the diagnosis and treatment of intra-ocular disease. The Physiology of Vision, published in 1841, was not to prove such a success and was considered by George Rainy in Mackenzie’s obituary to be “far in advance of the age in which it was written”. He was appointed Surgeon-Oculist in Scotland to Queen Victoria in 1838. He died at Glasgow on 30 July 1868.

Part of the collection was exhibited at the Glasgow City Museum and Art Gallery in 1959 as part of the celebrations of the 500th Anniversary of the Faculty. Some of the archives within the collection were listed in 1979 in RCPSG 1. They have now been brought together as well as other items of the collection which went astray and were subsequently purchased by the College.

For an obituary of William Mackenzie, see the Glasgow Medical Journal, 1868, Series 5, volume 1.

Access Information

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Other Finding Aids

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