Jackson, Robert (1750-1827) (DNB00)


JACKSON, ROBERT, M.D. (1750–1827), inspector-general of army hospitals, born in 1750 at Stonebyres, near the Falls of Clyde, was the son of a small farmer. After a good schooling at Wandon and Crawford he was apprenticed for three years to a surgeon at Biggar, and in 1768 joined the medical classes at Edinburgh. Supporting himself by going twice on a whaling voyage as surgeon, he finished his studies without graduating, and went to Jamaica, where he acted as assistant to a doctor at Savanna-la-mer from 1774 to 1780. He next made his way to New York, with the intention of joining the state volunteers; but he was eventually received by the colonel of a Scotch regiment (the 71st) as ensign, with the duties of hospital-mate. After various adventures he arrived at Greenock in 1782, and travelled to London on foot. He left early in 1783 on a journey on foot through France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, and landed on his return at Southampton with four shillings in his pocket. He walked to London, and thence, in January 1784, to Perth, where the 71st regiment was stationed. Coming at length to Edinburgh he remained two or three months, and married the daughter of Dr. Stephenson, and the niece of an officer whom he had known in New York. The lady's fortune placed him in easy circumstances, and he spent the next year in Paris, attending hospitals and studying languages (including Arabic), and then proceeded to Leyden, where he passed an examination for M.D. in 1786. He settled as a physician at Stockton-on-Tees, and remained there seven years, but with no great relish for private practice. When war broke out in 1793, he got appointed surgeon to the 3rd regiment, or Buffs, on the strength of a book which he had published on West Indian fevers. Not being connected with the College of Physicians of London he was ineligible for the office of army physician; but he received the promotion in 1794, owing to the personal intervention of the Duke of York, who recognised his abilities. This personal incident was the beginning of Jackson's resolute opposition to the monopoly of the College of Physicians and to the corrupt administration of the old army medical board, which ended in a new régime in 1810, and in an open career from the lowest to the highest ranks of the army medical service. In the course of the contest he wrote seven pamphlets (from 1803 to 1809), was obliged to retire from active service, and committed an assault on Keate, the surgeon-general (by striking him across the shoulders with his gold-headed cane), for which he suffered six months' imprisonment. The overthrow of the monopolists was hastened by their proved incompetence in the disastrous Walcheren expedition. Jackson had many supporters, among the rest Dr. McGrigor, afterwards head of the army medical department. Meanwhile, from 1794 to 1798, he had been on active service in Holland and in the West Indies, acquiring experience which formed the basis of his most important works. In 1811, his old enemies being now out of the way, he was recalled from his retirement at Stockton to be medical director in the West Indies, in which office he remained until 1815. He retired on half-pay as inspector-general of army hospitals, and a pension of 200l. per annum was afterwards granted him. In 1819, when yellow fever was in Spain, he visited the Mediterranean. He died of paralysis at Thursby, near Carlisle, on 6 April 1827. Four children of his first marriage predeceased him. His second wife, who survived him, was a daughter of J. H. Tidy, rector of Redmarshall, Durham. Jackson was of the middle height, muscular, blue-eyed, inclined to be florid, and of a pleasing expression. Jackson's first book was ‘A Treatise on the Fevers of Jamaica,’ 1791 (reprinted at Philadelphia in 1795, and in German at Leipzig in 1796), the result of his early experience as an assistant. He recommends the treatment of fevers by cold affusion, which was afterwards advocated by Currie, and by himself in a special essay published at Edinburgh in 1808. His San Domingo experiences of 1796 were embodied in his next work, ‘An Outline of the History and Cure of Fever, Epidemic and Contagious, more especially of Jails, Ships, and Hospitals, and the Yellow Fever. With Observations on Military Discipline and Economy, and a Scheme of Medical Arrangement for Armies,’ Edinburgh, 1798; German edition, Stuttgart, 1804. The subject last in the title he took up again in 1804 and expanded into his best-known work, ‘A Systematic View of the Formation, Discipline, and Economy of Armies,’ which was republished by him at Stockton in 1824, and finally at London in 1845, with portrait and memoir. Part ii. of this work is a philosophical sketch of ‘national military character’ from ancient and modern sources. In 1817 appeared his ‘History and Cure of Febrile Diseases,’ relating chiefly to soldiers in the West Indies, 1819; 2nd edit., enlarged to 2 vols., 1820. His ‘Observations of the Yellow Fever in Spain’ was published in 1821. In 1823 he published at Stockton ‘An Outline of Hints for the Political Organization and Moral Training of the Human Race.’ Besides studying Arabic for its biblical interest he became a student of Gaelic in connection with the Ossian controversy.

Both as an administrative reformer and as a writer on fevers Jackson holds a distinguished place. He was philosophically inclined, modest, and zealous for the public interests.

[Memoir prefixed to 3rd edit. (1845) of his Formation, Discipline, and Economy of Armies, drawn up from his own papers and from recollections by Borland; medical notice by Dr. Thomas Barnes in Trans. Prov. Med. and Engl. Assoc.; Gent. Mag. June 1827, p. 566.]

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