Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Aitkin, John

AITKIN, JOHN, M.D. (fl. 1770–1790), surgeon, the date of whose birth is not recorded, must have studied medicine at Edinburgh, where he became M.R.C.S. in 1770. In 1779 he is described as surgeon and lecturer on surgery in Edinburgh. Either at that time or later, his lectures included besides the practice of physic, anatomy, midwifery, and chemistry. He appears to have been a successful teacher, and wrote several books, chiefly as text-books for his lectures. They are said, and truly, to ‘contain much valuable information and to be well written;’ but to a reader of the present day they are of little value, having shared the unfortunate fate of most text-books written for purposes of instruction, and having become rapidly superannuated.

John Aitkin made certain practical improvements in surgery. He introduced an alteration in the mode of locking the midwifery forceps. He also invented a flexible blade to the lever. He likewise invented and described in his ‘Essays and Cases in Surgery’ a pair of forceps for dividing and diminishing the stone in the bladder, when too large to remove entire by lithotomy. His portrait forms the frontispiece to ‘Elements of Physic and Surgery,’ London 1783.

He wrote:

  1. ‘Essays on several important subjects in surgery, chiefly with regard to the nature and cure of fractures,’ London, 1771, 8vo.
  2. ‘Essays and Cases in Surgery,’ London, 1775, 8vo.
  3. ‘Conspectus Rei Chirurgicæ,’ Edin. 1777, 8vo.
  4. ‘Medical Improvement; an Address to the Medical Society of Edinburgh,’ Edin. 1777, 12mo.
  5. ‘Elements of the Theory and Practice of Surgery,’ Edin. 1779, 8vo, republished with the ‘Elements of the Theory and Practice of Physic,’ thus forming 2 vols. entitled ‘Elements of the Theory and Practice of Physic and Surgery,’ London, 1783, 8vo (with portrait).
  6. ‘Outlines of the Theory and Cure of Fever,’ London, 1781, 12mo.
  7. ‘Principles of Midwifery or Puerperal Medicine,’ 1784, 8vo.
  8. ‘Osteology; or a Treatise on the Bones of the Human Skeleton,’ London, 1785, 8vo.
  9. ‘Principles of Anatomy and Physiology,’ Edin. 1786, 2 vols. 8vo.
  10. ‘Essays on Fractures and Luxations,’ London 1790, 8vo.

[Medical Register, 1779; Life by Mr. G. M. Humphry, in Biog. Dict. of Useful Knowledge Society.]

J. F. P.