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FERGUSON, Robert (1799-1865)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-FERGR
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: FERGUSON, Robert (1799-1865)
Date(s): 1821-1864
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 5 archival boxes; 7 volumes; 1 oversize file
Name of creator(s): Ferguson | Robert | 1799-1865 | physician


Administrative/Biographical history:

Robert Ferguson was born in India on 15 November 1799, the son of Robert Ferguson of the Indian Civil Service, originally from Glen Islay, Perthshire, and grand-nephew of the historian Adam Ferguson. Ferguson's early education was at a school in Croydon. He then began to study medicine as a pupil of his relative George Ricketts Nuttall, a practitioner in Soho, whilst attending lectures at the Great Windmill Street School of Anatomy. He studied for a time in Heidelberg, where he acquired a thorough knowledge of German literature, before entering the University of Edinburgh to study medicine. During his time at Edinburgh he became friends with the novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott, and Scott's son-in-law John Gibson Lockhart, novelist and biographer. Ferguson graduated MD in 1823.

In 1824 he became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, and began to practice midwifery in London. He became great friends with the eminent physician Robert Gooch, and obtained his patronage, succeeding to a large portion of Gooch's practice. Ferguson's first publication was a letter to Sir Henry Halford, president of the Royal College of Physicians, in 1825, proposing a combination of the old inoculation of smallpox with vaccination. After travelling abroad for a time as a medical attendant to various high societal families, he took the post of resident medical officer at the Marylebone Infirmary.

In 1827 he was active in founding the London Medical Gazette, an opportunity for conservative opinion in medical politics and academic views in medical science to be expressed. He was also a frequent contributor to the Quarterly Review. Most of his articles were on medicine, although one or two were of a philosophico-religious kind. Ferguson had a number of close literary friends, the novelists and poets William Wordsworth, Washington Irving, and Sir Henry Taylor. Ferguson anonymously authored a `History of Insects' for Murray's Family Library(1829-47).

With the support of Gooch he continued to specialise in obstetric practice, was appointed physician to the Westminster Lying-in Hospital, and became professor of obstetrics at King's College, when the medical department was opened in 1831. Ferguson became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1837. In 1840 he was appointed physician-accoucheur to Queen Victoria, during which appointment he attended the births of all her children. In 1844 and 1845 he was censor at the College, and between 1857 and 1859 a member of the council.

From 1857 he gradually withdrew from his extensive obstetric practice and became a general medical practitioner. He resigned his appointment as physician-accoucheur to the Queen, and was made her physician extraordinary. His success as a general practitioner was remarkable considering he had not served as physician to one of the large general hospitals. Indeed so successful did he become that it has been said that, at the time, `no physician was so well known' (Medical Times, 1865, p.14). Among his patients were distinguished leaders in politics and literature, such as Sir Walter Scott, with whom he had maintained friendships throughout his career.

He was twice married, first in 1830 to a lady of the noble French family of Labalmondiere, and then in 1846 to Mary Macleod, with whom he had five children. Ferguson died at his country cottage at Winkfield, Berkshire, on 25 June 1865, at the age of 65.

Essay on the Most Important Diseases of Women. Part 1, Puerperal Fever; On the Method of Induction and its Results in Medical Science (London, 1839)
On Some of the Most Important Diseases of Women; Prefatory Essay by Robert Ferguson, Robert Gooch; Robert Ferguson (London, 1859)


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Robert Ferguson, 1821-1864, include his notes on gynaecology and obstetrics, particularly referring to cases, with some diagrams, sketches and watercolour drawings, and including notes for lectures; Notes on various medical subjects relevant to general medical practice, such as childhood diseases and physiology, particularly referring to cases, with some watercolour drawings, including notes and correspondence on the health of Napoleon III, 1856, and including notes for lectures; Notes on philosophy and literature; Addresses given by Ferguson to students; Copies of articles by others on subjects of interest to Ferguson, found amongst his papers.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Mostly English, some material in French, Italian and German

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivst

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The provenance of the collection is unknown

Allied Materials

Related material:

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XVIII, Leslie Stephen (ed.) (London, 1889) [DNB, 1889, pp.353-54]; The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, Vol. III, 1801-1825, William Munk (London, 1878) [Munk's Roll, 1878, pp.295-98]; The Medical Times and Gazette, Vol. II, 1865 (London, 1865) [Medical Times, 1865, pp.13-15]
Compiled by Katharine Martin

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:
Compiled November 2003

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