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BAILLIE, Matthew (1761-1823)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-BAILM
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: BAILLIE, Matthew (1761-1823)
Date(s): 1790-c. mid 20th century
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 3 volumes; 2 files; 5 boxes
Name of creator(s): Baillie | Matthew | 1761-1823 | physician and anatomist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Matthew Baillie was born on 27 October 1761, at Shots, Lanarkshire, the son of the Revd. James Baillie, minister of the parish and later Professor of Divinity in Glasgow, and his wife Dorothea, sister of William and John Hunter, celebrated anatomists. Baillie was educated at Hamilton Grammar School and then at the University of Glasgow. On the advice of William Hunter, his uncle, he chose medicine as his profession. He moved to London to live with William Hunter in 1779, at the age of eighteen. He obtained an exhibition at Balliol College, Oxford, but found that his most valuable education came during the vacations at Hunter's house in Great Windmill Street, where a lecture theatre and museum adjoined the house. He attended the public lectures given by Hunter, helping in their preparation, carrying out demonstrations, and superintending the dissections undertaken by the students. Hunter supplemented the lectures by privately instructing Baillie.

In 1783 William Hunter died and Baillie inherited 5,000, Hunter's house, theatre, and museum, for a period of 30 years, and a small Scottish estate, Long Calderwood, which he handed over to John Hunter, acknowledging him as the natural heir. (The museum subsequently went to Glasgow.) Baillie took on William Hunter's anatomical lectures and proved a successful teacher. He became particularly interested in every kind of diseased structure. It is said that his demonstrations were

`remarkable for their clearness and precision, ... he possessed a perfect conception of his subject; and imparted it with the utmost plainness and perspicuity to his hearers' (Munk's Roll, vol. II, p.403).

He graduated MB in 1786, and in 1787 he was elected physician to St George's Hospital. In 1789 he obtained his MD, from Oxford, and became Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians the following year. He became a Censor of the College in 1791 and 1796. The advancement of Baillie's career was due in some part to Baillie's connections with the Hunters and through his marriage to Sophia Denman, daughter of Dr Thomas Denman, physician, in 1791. His practice grew considerably. In his consultations `he was famed for the clearness with which he expressed his opinion in simple terms' (DNB, vol. II, p.420).

In 1793 Baillie published the work for which he is famous, The Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body (1793). It was the first book on the subject in English, and the first to make the morbid anatomy a subject itself. Rather than giving the history and symptoms of every case, as had been the trend, Baillie dealt with the morbid appearances of each organ in turn. The work is limited in so far as it discusses the thoracic and abdominal organs and the brain, and leaves untouched the skeleton, muscles, nerves, and spinal cord. He was the first to define cirrhosis of the liver, to distinguish renal cysts from the rare cysts of parasitic hydatids of the kidney, and to challenge the opinion that death was often due to a growth in the heart. There were additional notes describing symptoms that appeared in 1797, whilst a series of engravings to illustrate the book was published in 1799.

Baillie delivered a number of eponymous lectures during his professional career. These included the Goulstonian Lectures in 1794, the Croonian Lectures in 1796, 1797, and 1798, and the Harveian Oration in 1798, all at the Royal College of Physicians. He also wrote papers for the Transactions of the College. His unpublished contributions to clinical medicine were privately printed, posthumously in 1825, and were entitled, Collected Works; Lectures and Observations on Medicine by the Late Matthew Baillie (1825).

His practice extended further throughout the 1790s. This was due in part to Baillie acquiring a large number of patients from the practice of fellow physician Dr Richard Warren, former physician to George III, after his death in 1797, and his friend, Dr David Pitcairn, physician, recommending Baillie to his patients on a temporary secession of practice in 1798. In 1799 he gave up his post at St George's Hospital and his lecturing, and moved to Grosvenor Street to devote himself fully to his practice. For many years Baillie's successful practice ensured 10,000 a year. In 1810 he became physician extraordinary to George III, after being called to consult the Princess Amelia. He also became physician in ordinary to Princess Charlotte, in 1816. Baillie attended the King in his last illness, but declined the baronetcy offered him. For years Baillie worked for sixteen hours a day. Ultimately his large practice overwhelmed him and his health was affected. He was forced to withdraw from all but consultation practice.

Baillie was honoured during his life by election as honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, in 1809. In the same year he was named an Elect of the Royal College of Physicians, London. He also became a Fellow of the Royal Society. Baillie was a member of a great many medical societies and charities, including the Medical and Chirurgical Society of which he was a founder member in 1805, and President in 1808-9.

In 1823 he retired to his country house in Gloucestershire. He died of phthisis on 23 September 1823, at the age of 62, and was buried in Duntisbourne, Gloucestershire. He left a widow, a son and a daughter. His first son had died only aged a few months, in 1792. He is commemorated by a bust and inscription in Westminster Abbey. Baillie bequeathed his books, and drawings to the Royal College of Physicians, with the sum of 300, having already donated his collection of anatomical specimens some years earlier. His wife subsequently presented his gold-headed cane to the College, formerly the property of the eminent Dr John Radcliffe, King William III's physician.

The Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body (London, 1793)
Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus, by William Hunter published by Baillie (1794)
A Series of Engravings Tending to Illustrate the Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body (London, 1803)
Collected Works; Lectures and Observations on Medicine by the late Matthew Baillie (privately printed, 1825)

Publications by others about Baillie:
The Life and Works of Matthew Baillie (1761-1823), Franco Crainz (Rome, 1995)


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Matthew Baillie relating to his professional work and his publication on morbid anatomy, 1790-19th century. Collection includes bound volume of Baillie's case notes for St George's Hospital, 1790; Printed copy of Baillie's The Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body (1793), 2 volumes, signed with additions and alterations to the text by Baillie, 1793-c.1797; William Clift's original drawings to accompany Baillie's text, The Morbid Anatomy..., pencil and watercolour drawings, 24 leaves, n.d. c.1790s; 10 sets of 65 copper plates of A Series of Engravings Tending to Illustrate the Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body, n.d. c.1799; 70 black and white photographs of Clift's drawings, n.d., C20th.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Photographs of Clift's drawings were donated by the Royal College of Surgeons and the University of Melbourne, July - October 1954; Provenance of most of the collection is unknown

Allied Materials

Related material:

There are a number of Baillie's letters in the College's autographed letters collection (ALS), as well as correspondence with Baillie in the College's own records, regarding the efficacy and dangers of vaccination, 1806 (MS2319), specimens for the College's museum, 1820 and 1823 (MS2001/4, 17), Baillie's signature to a resolution regarding the sale of the Warwick Lane site, 1822 (MS1097/35) and his signature to a statement regarding building fund, c.1820-23 (MS1098/11). The College has an autobiographical memoranda of Baillie, copied from the original by his son William Hunter Baillie, 1854 (MS-BAILW/156), notes by Baillie on the illness of George III, 1789-1812, Henry Edward Fox, 1815, and Georgiana Anne Fox, daughter of Lord Holland, 1819 (MS3011/45, 52; MS3013/10; MS3013/17, 19, respectively), and his paper on Paraplegia in Adults, 1822, read before the College in 1831 (MS1045/20). There is also a catalogue of the library of Matthew Baillie, left by him to the College in 1823 (MS2000/91), and a copy of his will of 2 November 1822 (MS858);

Travel journal, autobiography, lecture and professional notes, in the Hunter-Baillie Collection, 1704-1923, held at the Royal College of Surgeons of England; Family papers and notes on English history, held at the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine; Miscellaneous letters and papers relating to George III, held at Lambeth Palace Library; Correspondence with Sir James E. Smith, held at the Linnean Society of London. See the National Register of Archives for details.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

The collection includes a printed copy of The Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body, Matthew Baillie (London, 1793), with annotations by Baillie, 1793-c.1797, and William Clift's original drawings to accompany the text, n.d. c.1790s; Copper plates used in A Series of Engravings Tending to Illustrate the Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body (London, 1803)

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 1701-1800, William Munk (London, 1878) [Munk's Roll, vol. II, pp.402-12]; Dictionary of National Biography, vol. II, Leslie Stephen (ed.) (London, 1887) [DNB, vol. II, pp.419-20]; ``Enlightened and Honorable' Matthew Baillie, MD, 1761-1823', Brian Hill, The Practitioner, vol. 220, March 1978, pp.490-93; The Life and Works of Matthew Baillie (1761-1823), Franco Crainz (Rome, 1995); Historical Manuscripts Commission On-Line National Register of Archives
Compiled by Katharine Williams

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
March 2003

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