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Timeline of Scottish History

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James Syme


James Syme / Medical Pioneers

  • Name  : Syme
  • Born  : 1799
  • Died  : 1870
  • Category  : Medical Pioneers
  • Finest Moment : Founding of the General Medical Council in 1858.

An Edinburgh man, Syme described a discovery in 1818 that cloth soaked in a distillate made from coal tar was made waterproof. Unfortunately for his bank balance, he did not patent this, and it fell to Charles Macintosh to make a similar finding five years later.

In 1823 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, founding his own medical school the following year. He must have trod on a few bunions however, as he was barred from practising at the city's Royal Infirmary; instead, he founded his own hospital at Minto House (on the site of the present Royal Museum of Scotland), which operated until closing in 1833.

His social skills must have improved considerably, as that same year he became Professor of Clinical Surgery at Edinburgh University, and President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh from 1849-50. In medical politics too, he gained in stature, making suggestions in 1854 that led to the founding of the General Medical Council, the regulatory body of the medical profession.

He was by all accounts an excellent diagnostician and teacher. In 1848 he published Contributions to the Pathology and Practice of Surgery.

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