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23 Jan 2024
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Dr Alexander Peddie
(2 or 25 Jun 1810 – 1907)


It might have been expected that Alexander Peddie would become a minister since his was another of those dynastic families so often encountered in medicine and divinity: his father James and brother William between them served one parish for 110 years. Instead, following private schooling and Edinburgh High School, Peddie began working for a bank when he was 16. Disappointed with this career choice, however, Peddie was advised by Dr John Abercromby to study medicine.Peddie became an apprentice to the up-and-coming surgeon James Syme, who at that time was being boycotted by a group trying to prevent his appointment to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Syme's response was to rent Minto House and use it as a private hospital with 24 beds, staffed by 13 apprentices. The boycott failed, and in 1833 Syme was appointed surgeon to the Royal Infirmary. He had to give up his use of Minto House but converted it into a 12- bed private hospital with Peddie, still a medical student, as superintendent. In the previous year, 1832, Peddie had his first paper published ('Some cases of dropsy and gangrene'), and continued with other papers in the following few years: 'Some cases of poisonous fungi', 'Spinal apoplexy', 'The contagious nature of puerperal fever and its intimate connexion with erisipelatous and phlebitis inflammation'. The latter paper was published in 1845, two years after Wendall Holmes' seminal paper on the subject – of which Peddie was unaware. He subsequently wrote on 'The mammary secretion and its pathological changes', 'Diseases of Childhood' and numerous papers on alcoholism and delirium tremens.

In 1834, however, Peddie had contracted typhus fever in a poor district of the city during one of the recurrent epidemics. He gave up his responsibilities in Minto House and in the following year, graduated MD and obtained the Licence of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. After a walking holiday on the continent he spent the next winter in Paris. On his return to Edinburgh he negotiated with Syme to take over the lease of Minto House until it expired 15 years later, running it as a very successful, entirely self-supporting private hospital, unique in Scotland at that time. All his clinical work thereafter focused on Minto House and a large private and consulting practice, including 35 years as principal medical officer for the Life Association of Scotland. Peddie was elected a Fellow of the RCPE in 1845, served as its President from 1878 to 1879 and in 1863 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was also a member of the Edinburgh Chirurgical Society, a Fellow of the Obstetrics Society and President of the Harveian Society. Over the course of his long and distinguished professional life, Peddie met and often worked with such men as Christison, Brown, Bennett, MacLagan, Fergusson, Begbie, Syme, Lister and Knox the anatomist. Alexander Peddie will go down in history as someone who recognised what needed to be done and did not rest until he had helped to bring it about. He urged the formation of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh (1867) and the Edinburgh Dental Hospital (1878). In 1878, as its President, he represented the RCPE at the opening of the new Royal Infirmary, and the following year attended the opening of the Simpson Memorial Unit.

Peddie's membership of the Scottish Church meant much to him, but there was another side to his life that is less often mentioned – his skills in fishing, painting and singing. Many Edinburgh citizens who consulted Robert Christison, John Hughes Bennett, Douglas MacLagan or Peddie were probably unaware that, away from the wards, they formed the musical group known as 'The Singing Doctors' or 'Doctors' Glee Club'. Moreover, Peddie was for 20 years secretary of the Amateur Vocal Club in Edinburgh. Another of his hobbies was swimming, but on one occasion he almost drowned in an Edinburgh indoor pool, only to be rescued and resuscitated by none other than his own son.

In 1844 Peddie married Clara Elizabeth Sibbald, the eldest daughter of a Selkirk surgeon, Thomas Anderson. They had four daughters and four sons, and celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1894, nine years before Clara's death.

Father: James PEDDIE
Mother: Barbara SMITH

Marriage 1 Clara Elizabeth Sibbald ANDERSON c: 7 NOV 1821 in Selkirk

  • Married: 13 JAN 1844 in Selkirk


  1. Alexander PEDDIE b: 21 NOV 1853 in St Cuthberts, Edinburgh
  2. Clara Sibbald PEDDIE b: 5 AUG 1855 in Edinburgh
  3. Mary Anne PEDDIE b: 30 MAY 1857 in Edinburgh
  4. Henry Anderson PEDDIE b: 29 JUL 1858 in Edinburgh

(hyperlink now broken)


  1. ALEXANDER PEDDIE, b 21 Nov 1853
    (emigrated to America and eventually settled in Iowa).


It is not vouchsafed to many of the sons of men to cross the hundred arches of the bridge of Mirza. A few escape the "Gates of Death" until they have passed the seventy unbroken spans, but the numbers crossing the ruined arches steadily lessen as they, like the subject of the present notice, near the end of the visionary bridge. On high authority it has been asserted that the later years of such men are "but labour and sorrow", yet the career of the doyen of the Scottish medical profession shows that such a statement is not of universal application. The retrospect of a life remarkable for its usefulness and rich in its fulfilment, instinct with broad sympathies and devoted to wide interests, distinguished by generosity of thought and magnanimity of mind, could not fail to furnish peace and happiness, and this feeling was undoubtedly enhanced by the assurance, on all hands, of the universal love and respect of his fellow-countrymen.

Alexander Peddie belonged to the "Brahmin caste," as the Autocrat puts it, and was the son of an eminent minister in Edinburgh. Born in 1810, his earliest memories centred in the stirring scenes marking the decline and fall of the great Napoleon. At the High School he was a member of one of the large classes characteristic of the time: that to which he belonged included many men who afterwards attained distinction, all of whom passed away before him. On leaving school, he spent a few years in a bank, but, on the advice of Dr. Abercromby, he decided to study medicine, and became in 1830 an apprentice to Mr. Syme at Minto House, where he was associated with his lifelong friend, John Brown. Graduating at the University five years later, he repaired to the Continent, and devoted himself more particularly to study in Paris, whose medical school was then at the zenith of one of its most famous epochs. It is of interest to note that on his return to engage in practice, he was the first to introduce the stethoscope to Edinburgh.

In addition to engaging in private practice, Dr. Peddie, in combination with Dr. Brown and Dr. Cornwall, accepted the charge of the hospital at Minto House. From this time onwards until his retirement, a few years ago, Dr. Peddie spent an active life and enjoyed a large practice in his native city. He did not restrict his energies, by any means, to medicine, but allowed his wide sympathies free scope in many directions; his professional duties, however, were ever first in his thoughts. At all times possessed of an open mind, he was quick to detect any possibility of advances in knowledge. As a proof of this, it may be mentioned that he was the earliest to demonstrate in Edinburgh the animal parasites of skin diseases. In two other directions, at least, he was far in advance of his compeers. At a comparatively early period of his career he recognized the infectious nature of puerperal fever, and strove with all his energies to obtain wide recognition of the fact. His name thus deserves to be placed along with those of Oliver Wendell Holmes and Semmelweiss as one of the pioneers in a great advance. Some years ago Professor Osler wrote to ask Dr. Wendell Holmes whether he looked back with greater pleasure to his paper on " Puerperal Infectivity," or to the composition of the " Chambered Nautilus," and received, as might be expected, a reply in favour of the scientific advance rather than of the literary triumph. If a similar query had been addressed to Dr. Peddie – if he had been asked whether he would rather have his name associated in the future with a practical achievement, bringing in its train the saving of countless precious lives, or would the biography of his friend, which has delighted a large circle of readers, there can be no question as to what his answer would have been.

In another branch of medicine Dr. Peddie initiated beneficial changes. Impressed by the failure attendant upon attempts to deal with inebriates, he suggested views in regard to pathology and treatment far in advance of those at the time in vogue. Earnest consideration of the questions involved led him to the conclusion that inebriety is to be regarded as the outcome of cerebral disease, and he, therefore proposed that the management of such cases should be based upon modern scientific conceptions. The practical outcome of his work in this direction has certainly been of the highest value.

Led by the results of wide observation to recognise the want of it, he was amongst the enlightened men who initiated the movement in favour of the institution of a hospital for children, and to his advocacy of the cause the foundation of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children is in great part due.

Dr. Peddie contributed numerous papers and articles upon these and many other subjects to medical literature, the largest number of which appeared in the pages of this Journal. These contributions are marked by breadth of view and originality of thought, while characterised by lucidity of style and purity of diction.

During his professional career many honours were bestowed upon him: he became President of the Royal College of Physicians in 1877 and of the Harveian Society in 1890. In this latter capacity he performed a pious duty by devoting the Annual Oration to a delightful sketch of the life of "Rab". This charming biography was afterwards extended, and will remain one of the most graceful tributes to friendship afforded by our profession.

In his personal character Dr. Peddie was one of the most lovable of mankind. This did not arise from weakness, for he was equally strong in defence of what he deemed right and in denunciation of what he considered wrong; it arose from his generous instincts and kindly ways.

These traits were ever in evidence on his aristocratic features and in his steadfast eye; his expression was singularly winning as it reflected his changing moods from grave to gay; his bearing was a charming survival of a courteous past. Always fond of music, he possessed an excellent voice, and with Professors Christison, Bennett, and Maclagan, formed the quartet so popular in the rendering of glees. During his later years he showed a love for the brush, and produced water-colour sketches of much beauty.