|Description||Buchan was born at Ancrum in Roxburghshire, Scotland, where his father had a small estate and also rented a farm. He was educated at Jedburgh grammar school and then went to the University of Edinburgh, intending to enter the ministry. He seems to have spent about nine years at the university, devoting much time to botany, astronomy, and mathematics. He also studied medicine. He most probably left Edinburgh, Scotland in 1758. He practised first in rural Yorkshire and in 1759 was appointed medical officer to a branch of the Foundling Hospital at Ackworth, Yorkshire. There he wrote his MD thesis, 'De infantum vita conservanda', which was published in Edinburgh in 1761. In 1760 he married Elizabeth Peter and they had a daughter and two sons, one of whom, Alexander Peter Buchan, became a physician.|
In 1762 after government support for foundling hospitals was withdrawn Buchan began to practise in Sheffield. He returned to Edinburgh about 1766. In 1769 he published Domestic Medicine, or, The Family Physician. It was dedicated to Sir John Pringle, a distant relative by marriage and at that time president of the Royal Society. That Buchan was the sole author of this work was disputed by Robert Kerr in his Memoirs (1811) of the Edinburgh printer and polymath William Smellie. Citing Smellie's son, Kerr claimed that the printer had entirely rewritten Buchan's original draft of the book. This judgement seems plausible. Smellie, a self-educated man, was certainly equipped for the task. There is, however, no corroborative evidence, except that only the first edition bore Smellie's imprint. The second edition was extensively revised.
In 1772 Buchan became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and when John Gregory died in 1773 Buchan was a candidate for the vacant chair of the Institutes of Medicine. He failed to achieve this, however, since the appointment was apparently awaiting the graduation of James Gregory, John Gregory's son, who succeeded to the chair in 1778. In the same year in Edinburgh, Buchan briefly gave public lectures on experimental philosophy, using apparatus bequeathed by his friend the astronomer James Ferguson. In his will Ferguson had given Buchan first option of disposal of the instruments.
In 1778 Buchan moved to London where Ferguson's entire collection was acquired from Buchan, probably shortly after his arrival, by the physician John Coakley Lettsom. Buchan practised regularly at the Chapter Coffee House, near St Paul's, which he is said to have visited daily. While in London he published several minor works, of which On the Offices and Duties of a Mother (1800) and Advice to mothers on the subject of their own health, and on the means of promoting the health, strength and beauty of their offspring (1803) were probably the most popular. He became ill about a year before his death, which occurred at his son's house in Percy Street, Rathbone Place, London, on 25 February 1805. He was buried in the west side of the cloisters of Westminster Abbey on 5 March.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Letter, 1805; magazine clipping, c1930; cameo; framed print