|Description||Abercrombie was born on 10 October 1780 in Aberdeen, where his father was parish minister of East Church. He attended the local grammar school and then Marischal College, Aberdeen. In 1800 he went to Edinburgh University to study medicine, and took his degree in June 1803. His thesis, 'De fatuitate alpina', reflected a general interest in the student population for studies on mental medicine. He then spent a further six months at St George's Hospital in London and on his return became FRCS Edinburgh, producing a probationary essay, 'On paralysis of the lower extremities from diseased spine'.|
Almost immediately Abercrombie took a house in Nicholson Street and went into general practice. He rapidly became a popular figure in Edinburgh, but despite a burgeoning private practice gave much of his time to the poor, acting as one of the medical officers at the Royal Public Dispensary. In this role he subdivided the poorer areas of Edinburgh into districts and allotted them different students, supervising their work himself. He was also appointed public vaccinator along with Drs Gillespie and Bryce, and together they introduced Jenner's discovery to the city. On 22 October 1808 he married a very wealthy woman, Agnes, daughter of David Wardlaw, a manufacturer, of Netherbeath, and they had seven daughters. This wealth enabled him to keep a carriage, and reduced the necessity for him to obtain a full-time academic or medical post. He was noted for the close attention he paid patients, visiting up to three or four times a day. His popularity created many rivals but his disarming and inoffensive personality helped him avoid conflict. His private means also provided the opportunity to pursue academic interests. From 1816 to 1824 Abercrombie contributed a series of papers on pathological subjects to the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal. These led to the publication of his two chief works in 1828, 'Pathological and Practical Researches on Diseases of the Brain and Spinal Cord' and 'Diseases of the Stomach, Intestinal Canal, the Liver and the other Viscera of the Abdomen', both of which went through several editions. The monographs for which Abercrombie is best known concerned the intellectual and moral nature of man. In 1830 he published 'The Intellectual Powers and the Investigation of Truth' and in 1835 'The Philosophy of Moral Feelings'.
Abercrombie did attempt to secure a more permanent post. On the death of Professor James Gregory in 1821 he applied for the chair in the practice of medicine but owing to town council opposition was unsuccessful. At that time posts were often considered the sole property of one or other of the two colleges, and Abercrombie subsequently became a licentiate of the College of Physicians in 1823, and a fellow in 1824. In 1828 on the death of Professor Duncan, Abercrombie applied for the post of king's physician for Scotland and was appointed.
In 1841 he suffered a stroke but made a good recovery. He subsequently suffered another stroke as he was getting into his carriage, and died suddenly on 14 November 1844 at his home, 19 York Place, Edinburgh, of a burst coronary artery; he was buried in West Church, Edinburgh.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
This collection was originally catalogued in the 1990s into alphabetical correspondence files and other sections and the original order of the records is not known. This previous catalogue is available for consultation. Some labels that were retained indicate that his professional letters were arranged chronologically so that arrangement was reinstated.
It contains: student records, 1800-c1803; case books, 1805-1841; notes, c1805-c1844; correspondence, 1811-1844; testimonials for Abercrombie's application to the Chair of Medicine, 1821; papers relating to cholera, 1831-1832; annotated writings, c1818-c1826; publishers' accounts, 1833-1836.