Robert Sibbald1641–1722

Edinburgh physician

Edinburgh was to become a centre for medical education and research from the early eighteenth century. Sibbald was born near Leslie in Fife and received his university education at St. Andrews. He studied medicine at Leyden under Sylvius and was awarded his medical degree from there in 1661. He returned to Edinburgh to practice medicine and was instrumental in starting the Botanical Garden in Edinburgh (in 1667). He did much to establish and to foster medicine and treatment of the poor in the city. He was a founder of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (in 1681) and was elected its President in 1684. Sibbald is shown in combination with the College’s coat of arms. In the next year he was appointed the University’s first professor of medicine, although the Medical School itself only operated from 1726. Many of those illustrated here, like the Monros, Porterfield, Cullen, and Bell, contributed to its success as a source of medical education and research. In 1682 he was appointed not only Physician in Ordinary to His Majesty but also Geographer Royal to King Charles II. Edinburgh University owes its Natural History Collection to Sibbald who presented his collection of natural history specimens to the College in 1697. As an aside, there is a letter written by Sibbald in 1690, describing how he was attacked by a ruffian wielding a golf club. Sibbald had been visiting friends who were playing golf at Leith. He was struck between the eyes, but fortunately recovered well. The description of his injuries was such that the incident is used by historians of golf as evidence for the design of golf irons!