|Description||Duncan was born at Pinkerton, near St Andrews. He attended St Andrews University, where he obtained the MA degree in 1762. In the same year he entered Edinburgh University as a medical student, being the pupil of William Cullen, John Gregory, Monro secundus, John Hope, and Joseph Black. He was president of the Royal Medical Society in 1767, and from 1769 to 1774.|
On the completion of his studies in 1768, Duncan went on a voyage to China as surgeon of the East India Company's ship Asia. He refused an offer to undertake a second voyage, choosing instead to pursue a career as university lecturer. To that end he graduated MD at St Andrews in October 1769, and in May 1770 became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.
During the absence of Dr Drummond, professor-elect of medicine at Edinburgh, Duncan was appointed to lecture in 1774-6. When Drummond failed to return, James Gregory was elected professor. Disappointed that he had not been elected, Duncan started an extra-mural course on the theory and practice of medicine, with special attention to chronic diseases, which led him to found a public dispensary. This afterwards became the Royal Public Dispensary, incorporated by royal charter in 1818. In 1773 Duncan founded the Aesculapian Club, and in 1782 the Harveian Club, in order to promote friendship between members of the College of Physicians and the College of Surgeons. He published Medical and Philosophical Commentaries, a quarterly journal of medicine, begun in 1773. It was the first medical review journal published regularly in Great Britain. In 1775 the name of the publication was changed to Annals of Medicine but in 1804 this was discontinued in favour of the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, edited by Andrew Duncan the younger.
In 1790, Duncan was elected president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. On Cullen's resignation of the professorship of medicine in that year, he was succeeded by James Gregory, whom Duncan followed in the chair of the theory or institutes of medicine. In 1795 he began teaching a course in medical jurisprudence and worked for several years to have a chair in medical jurisprudence established at the University of Edinburgh. This was done in 1807, and Andrew Duncan the younger was the first professor.
In 1792 he proposed the erection of a public lunatic asylum, finally built in 1807 at Morningside. In 1808 the freedom of Edinburgh was conferred on him for his services in the foundation of the dispensary and the asylum. In 1819 his son became joint professor of medical theory with him. In 1821, on the death of James Gregory, Duncan became first physician to the King in Scotland, having held the same office to the Prince of Wales for more than thirty years. During the same year he was elected president of the Edinburgh Medico-Chirurgical Society at its foundation. In 1824 he was again elected president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.
Duncan died on 5 July 1828, and was buried in Buccleuch churchyard, Edinburgh. He bequeathed to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh seventy volumes of manuscript notes from the lectures of the founders of the Edinburgh school of medicine, and a hundred volumes of practical observations on medicine in his own handwriting.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: 'Practical Observations', c1774-1816; volumes of notes and poems, 1800-c1826; report on epidemic diseases in Edinburgh, 1810; letters, 1826; notes taken from clinical lectures by Andrew Duncan, 1795