Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fergusson, William (1773-1846)

FERGUSSON, WILLIAM, M.D. (1773–1846), inspector-general of military hospitals, was born at Ayr 19 June 1773, of a family of note in the borough. From the Ayr academy he went to attend the medical classes at Edinburgh, where he graduated M.D., afterwards attending the London hospitals. In 1794 he became assistant-surgeon in the army, and served in Holland, the West Indies, the Baltic, the Peninsula, and in the expedition against Guadeloupe in 1815. Having retired from the service in 1817, he settled in practice at Edinburgh, but removed four years after to Windsor on the invitation of the Duke of Gloucester, on whose staff he had been for twenty years. He acquired a lucrative practice both in the town and country around, which he carried on till 1843, when he was disabled by paralysis. He died in January 1846. His ‘Notes and Recollections of a Professional Life,’ a collection of his papers on various subjects, was brought out after his death by his son, James Fergusson (1808–1886) [q. v.] The papers are not all strictly medical, one considerable section of the book being on military tactics. There is a valuable essay on syphilis in Portugal, as affecting the British troops and the natives respectively (Med.-Chir. Trans., 1813); but the most important essay, for which Fergusson will be remembered, is that on the marsh poison, reprinted from the ‘Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,’ January 1820. He was probably the first to do justice, in a professional sense, to the now familiar fact that malarial fevers often occur on dry and barren soils, either sandy plains or rocky uplands, where rotting vegetation is out of the question, his own experience having been gained with the troops in Holland, Portugal, and the West Indies. This was an important step towards widening and rationalising the doctrine of malaria.

[Biographical preface by his son to Notes and Recollections.]

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