Wood, Alexander (1817-1884) (DNB00)

WOOD, ALEXANDER (1817–1884), physician, second son of Dr. James Wood and Mary Wood, his cousin, was born at Cupar, Fife, on 10 Dec. 1817. He was educated at a private school in Edinburgh kept by Mr. Hindmarsh. In 1826 he became a pupil at the Edinburgh Academy, where he remained until July 1832, when he entered the university of Edinburgh. Here he took the usual course in the faculty of arts, with the exception of the rhetoric class. He combined medicine with the humanities, and was admitted M.D. in the university of Edinburgh on 1 Aug. 1839. Soon after his graduation in medicine he became one of the medical officers at the Stockbridge Dispensary, and afterwards at the Royal Public Dispensary of the New Town. On 3 Nov. 1841 he commenced as an extramural lecturer on medicine. He applied unsuccessfully for the chair of medicine in the university of Glasgow in 1852, and for a similar post in 1855 at the university of Edinburgh at a time when the town council appointed Dr. Laycock of York.

Wood was long and honourably connected with the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. In November 1840 he was admitted a fellow; in December 1846 he became a member of the council; in 1850 he was appointed secretary; and in 1858 he was elected president for two years, and at the expiration of his term of office he was re-elected for another year. He represented the college in the general medical council from 1858 to 1873. In 1864 he was appointed assessor of the university court at Edinburgh, and in this capacity he rendered important and lasting services to his alma mater. He retired from practice at the early age of fifty-five, and died on 26 Feb. 1884. He married, on 15 June 1842, Rebecca, daughter of the eldest son of the Hon. George Massey of Caervillahowe, Ireland.

Wood's chief claim to remembrance as a physician is the fact that he introduced into practice the use of the hypodermic syringe for the administration of drugs. The subject had engaged his attention as early as 1853, but it was not until 1855 that he published a short paper pointing out the value of the method, and showing that it was not necessarily limited to the administration of opiates. In the general medical council he was an advocate of the wise measures of reform which abolished the principle of territorial and limited licenses to practise medicine. As a sanitary reformer he did excellent service to the city of Edinburgh by acting as chairman of the association for improving the condition of the poor. In his professional writings he was the uncompromising opponent of homœopathy and mesmerism. He performed many duties and filled many important positions outside the sphere of his purely professional avocations. He was a keen politician, an enthusiastic educationist, a shrewd philanthropist, and an ardent free-churchman. He edited for some time the ‘Free Church Educational Journal’ published by Lowe, and he was actively engaged for many years in Sunday-school teaching. At the time of his death he was chairman of the Edinburgh Tramways Company.

A full-length portrait by Sir J. Watson Gordon was presented to him on 5 Feb. 1861, on the occasion of his being elected for a third year to the office of president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

Wood published: 1. ‘New Method of treating Neuralgia by the direct application of Opiates to the Painful Points’ (in ‘Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Review,’ 1855, lxxxii. 265–81). This is the original paper giving the first accounts of that method of the administration of remedies by subcutaneous injection which has become so marked a feature in modern therapeutics. 2. ‘On the Pathology and Treatment of Leucorrhœa,’ Edinburgh, 1844, 12mo. 3. ‘What is Mesmerism?’ Edinburgh, 1851, 8vo. 4. ‘Smallpox in Scotland,’ Edinburgh, 1860, 8vo. 5. ‘Preliminary Education,’ Edinburgh, 1868, 8vo.

[Memoir by the Rev. Thomas Brown, Edinburgh, 1886; obituary notice in Edinburgh Medical Journal, 1883–4, xxix. 973–6.]

D’A. P.