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 Department of History
M.Phil option in the History of Medicine 

Introduction by Professor M. Anne Crowther, Centre for the History of Medicine

William Cullen (1710-1790)

Born in Lanarkshire, Cullen became lecturer in Chemistry and then Professor of medicine in Glasgow. In 1755 he moved to Edinburgh, where he was to become one of the most distinguished medical professors of the University. His Edinburgh lectures, published in First Lines of the Practice of Physic (1777) were regarded as a fundamental text and enhanced the international reputation of the Edinburgh medical school. Cullen’s ‘systematic’ approach involved examining environmental as well as physiological causes of disease, though his lectures dwelt on heat and cold as exciting causes of disease, rather than sanitation or social conditions.

Yet Cullen did venture into ‘medical police,’ a subject beginning to attract much interest on the Continent. Lord Cathcart, President of the Board of Police in Scotland, became interested in the work of humane societies in Amsterdam and other large cities. The societies aimed to prevent drowning, and to educate the medical profession and the public in the latest methods of resuscitating the apparently drowned. Cathcart believed their work would be very appropriate in Scotland, and asked Cullen to provide the most up-to-date instructions for artificial respiration. The Board of Police, a group of sinecurists with no great reputation for practical activity, nevertheless distributed Cullen's pamphlet, A Letter to Lord Cathcart, President of the Board of Police in Scotland, concerning the Recovery of Persons drowned and seemingly dead (1776). In the pamphlet, reproduced here, Cullen pointed out that Scotland is a country where no-one is ever far from deep water, and drowning is always a serious possibility. The collaboration between Cullen and Lord Cathcart seems a hopeful premonition of medical police, or state intervention in public health, but it depended on the generosity of church or charity to provide the bellows and pipes necessary for resuscitation of the drowned. Hence Cullen's place in the history of artificial respiration indicates some of the differences between Scottish and European ideas of medical police. In Scotland, local initiative would be the dynamic force, unlike J.P. Frank's radical programme for the Habsburg state, and Cullen's own role as adviser fell into a pattern favoured by Andrew Duncan (sen.) and other Scottish writers on medical police. The medical man was not regarded as a bureaucrat, but a scientific observer, offering disinterested advice to the state.

See also: Cullen Papers collection and a virtual exhibition of a small selection of the papers. 

Digitised Text

Click on the links below to view each page (then click on 'back' button to return to this index page). 

half-title page
page 1 Beginning of letter from Dr. Cullen to Lord Cathcart
pages 2-3
pages 4-5
pages 6-7
pages 8-9
pages 10-11
pages 12-13
pages 14-15
pages 16-17
pages 18-19
pages 20-21
pages 22-23
pages 24-25
pages 26-27
pages 28-29 Extract from the Journals of the Board of Police, concerning the recovery of persons drowned and seemingly dead.
pages 30-31
pages 32-33 Paper presented by Lord Cathcart. And referred to in the preceding minute.
pages 34-35
pages 36-37
pages 38-39
pages 40-41
pages 42-43
pages 44-45

N.B. These pages have been scanned in at 72 d.p.i at 120% to increase legibility. 

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