|Description||Alexander Gordon was born on 20 May 1752 in the parish of Peterculter in Aberdeenshire. After a general education Gordon attended Marischal College in Aberdeen, graduating MA in 1775. He then studied medicine in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and probably Leiden.|
In 1780 Gordon entered the Royal Navy as surgeon's mate, becoming full surgeon in 1782. Gordon left the navy on half-pay in 1785 to spend nine months in London developing his special interest in midwifery. He was resident pupil at the lying-in hospital in Store Street, received clinical instruction from two of the leading obstetricians of the day, Thomas Denman and William Osborne, and attended the Middlesex Lying-in Dispensary. When he returned to Aberdeen towards the end of 1785 he was appointed physician to the Aberdeen Dispensary. Two years later he was awarded the degree of MD by Marischal College.
Were it not for a severe epidemic of puerperal fever ('childbed fever') in Aberdeen, which lasted from December 1789 to March 1792, Gordon might well have been forgotten. Gordon was the first to provide irrefutable evidence of what had been until then no more than a faint suspicion: that puerperal fever was a contagious disease that could be carried from patient to patient by doctors and midwives. He also showed that it was closely connected with erysipelas. After more than a century of relative obscurity Gordon's Treatise on the Epidemic Puerperal Fever of Aberdeen (1795) was recognized for what it is, a masterpiece of early epidemiology based on astute clinical observation and written with exceptional clarity.
Sadly, Gordon's treatise damaged his professional reputation and he was glad to leave Aberdeen when recalled to active duty in the Royal Navy. Soon, however, he developed pulmonary tuberculosis and was invalided out. An ill man, he returned to his brother James's farm, where he died at the early age of forty-seven on 19 October 1799.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
From the James Young Simpson collection with his bookplate on the flyleaf.
Contents: 'A System of Midwifery', c1792