TitleCollection of George William Balfour
DescriptionBalfour was born at the manse in Sorn, Ayrshire, Scotland, on 2 June 1823. After being educated at the local school in his father's parish on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland, Balfour decided to emigrate to Australia, and to that end he obtained a diploma in veterinary surgery in 1841. However, after completing his studies he abandoned his emigration plans and decided to join the medical profession. He continued his education in Edinburgh where he was a student of anatomy under Robert Knox of Burke and Hare fame. By using his veterinary studies to gain exemptions he graduated MD at St Andrews in 1845 - when he also became a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Balfour began his medical work by establishing himself as a general practitioner in the countryside around Edinburgh, Scotland. The good reputation he gained allowed him to earn a living in Edinburgh's competitive medical market place, and his efforts to build a practice were further helped in 1861 when he became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. In 1866 he was appointed physician to the city's Royal Hospital for Sick Children and he also became a physician at the Royal Public Dispensary. He was elected a physician to the Royal Infirmary in 1867 and was made consulting physician there in 1882 on the expiry of his term of office. Balfour was an early supporter of women's medical education and at the infirmary he conducted three special ward rounds for women students each week.

During his professional advancement Balfour did not neglect his writing career. A paper on haematophobia published in 1858 questioned the routine use of bloodletting. In 1865 he published An Introduction to the Study of Medicine. In 1868, following a suggestion of his father-in-law, James Craig of Ratho, Scotland, he wrote two papers on the treatment of aneurysm by iodide of potassium, and from then on he specialized in cardiology. Balfour's book Lectures on Diseases of the Heart and Aorta (1876) greatly enhanced his reputation (it includes Balfour's test to ascertain whether the heart is still active in cases of apparent death). Another book by Balfour, The Senile Heart (1894), was of equal quality and established him as Scotland's premier cardiologist.

Balfour, who was interested in bibliography, was librarian to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1873 to 1882 and from 1887 to 1899. He was president of the college from 1882 to 1884 and was also a member of the university court of St Andrews. He was appointed physician-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria in 1900 and honorary physician to Edward VII in 1901.

In 1899 Balfour retired from Edinburgh to Colinton, where he died at his home after a long illness, on 9 August 1903. He was buried in Ratho churchyard.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]

Contents: The letters date from the period when Balfour went to Vienna and studied the clinical methods of J. Skoda, the pathological researches of C. L. Sigmund, and the homoeopathic treatment of W. Fleischmann. Where 'k&k' is used as an abbreviation in the letters it means Kaiserlich und königlich ie imperial and royal.
photocopies of letters in private hands, 1845-1846
Extent27 items
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