|Description||Fraser was born in Calcutta on 5 February 1841, the second son of John Richard Fraser, Indian civil servant, and his wife, Mary Palmer Fraser. He was educated at various Scottish public schools before entering the University of Edinburgh. He graduated MD in 1862 with a gold medal for his thesis, 'On the characters, actions and therapeutic uses of the ordeal bean of Calabar'. A brilliant student, he was taken up by Robert Christison, professor of materia medica at Edinburgh, as his research assistant from 1864 until 1870 when he became an extramural lecturer in materia medica and therapeutics at Surgeons' Hall, Edinburgh. Fraser was appointed assistant physician to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary from 1869 to 1874.|
During these years Fraser's researches and papers into the antagonism of poisons established his reputation as one of the foremost pharmacologists in Britain. He became a leading figure in the change from older, empirical, pharmacological methods where the action of remedies was studied through their administration in disease, to the newer scientific approach of first defining the pathological nature of the disease before accurately supplying substances to remedy it. Fraser was working closely with Alexander Crum-Brown (later professor of chemistry) and in 1868-9 they shared the Royal Society of Edinburgh's biennial Makdougall Brisbane prize for their joint paper, 'The connection between chemical constitution and physiological action'. He had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1867, and was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, in 1869. Thus, at the early age of twenty-eight, he was already invested with many of the honours coveted by scientific men.
Soon after his marriage he took the unusual step of leaving Edinburgh, resigning his academic and medical posts, to become medical officer of health for mid-Cheshire, but he remained external examiner in materia medica in the universities of Edinburgh and London. Three years later the situation was remedied when he was recalled to Edinburgh in 1877 to succeed Sir Robert Christison as professor of materia medica and clinical medicine.
After his position was assured in 1877 Fraser accumulated many establishment appointments, beginning with admiralty adviser on the outbreak of scurvy in Sir George Nares's Arctic expedition in 1877 and his appointment as physician to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 1878. In 1881 he presided over the pharmacology and materia medica section of the International Medical Congress, London. Fraser inherited Christison's role of consulting physician to the Standard Life Assurance Company, and became medical adviser to the Prison Commission in Scotland. In 1898 he was appointed chairman of the Indian plague commission. He was elected president of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, 1900-02 and received a knighthood in 1902 for his services in India. In 1907 he was appointed honorary physician-in-ordinary to the king in Scotland. Numerous academic honours from British and European universities were heaped on Fraser before and after he retired through ill health in 1917.
He died on 4 January 1920 at his town home, 13 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Lectures on Materia Medica, c1910