|Description||Hamilton was born Alexander Le Sassier in 1787 in Edinburgh. His father, Pierre Le Sassier, had married Christina Hamilton, eldest daughter of Alexander Hamilton (1739-1802), and his grandfather left Alexander £200 in his will.|
Alexander was apprenticed to an apothecary in September 1803 but left in 1805. After trying to pass himself off as a doctor in Rochdale, his uncle, James Hamilton, offered to support him while he studied for a medical degree in Edinburgh. In November 1805 Alexander records he is attending lectures by Dr Gregorie on Physic, Dr Hope on Chemistry, 'my uncle's lectures on Midwifery' (his notes on all of which are in the collection), plus those by Dr Barclay on Anatomy and 'the famous Dr Monro'. His uncle urged him to join the Army as an Assistant Surgeon, but the Medical Board in London would only grant him a position as a Hospital Mate. It was in this capacity then that Alexander set sail for Gibraltar in June 1806 at the commencement of his military medical career.
Alexander remained in Gibraltar until January 1808, when, after accompanying invalids to the Isle of Wight, he took leave of absence to take further classes and medical exams in London. Now qualified as an Assistant Surgeon, he was sent to Aberdeen and then Ireland. During his posting in Dublin, in March 1809, Alexander, now 21, met the 18 year-old Ella Anderton, unhappily married since 16 to a merchantman and she subsequently became his mistress. A few months later he was sent to Portugal to join the British troops opposing Napoleon in Spain.
According to a later application for a pension, Alexander was badly wounded in the leg in November 1811. The application states he spent his three months sick leave, from January to March 1812, with his father although he was actually secretly living with Ella. He was ordered back to Spain in time to witness the battle of Salamanca in July, and states he was later mentioned in Lord Beresford's dispatches for his services during the battle of Orthez in February 1814. Alexander's knowledge of French must have been put to use during the war, as the collection contains a number of French military documents, presumably captured.
After his discharge from the army on half-pay in 1814, Alexander threw himself on his uncle's mercies once more. This time James offered only meals at his table, leaving Alexander to pay for his own classes and lodgings. At his uncle's suggestion, and no doubt hoping thereby to gain preferment, in 1815 he changed his name to Hamilton, but refused to marry his uncle's 44 year-old maiden sister-in-law. Alexander graduated finally in August 1816, writing his thesis 'De Synocho Castrensi' on disease among the troops during the Peninsular War.
From this point onwards, Alexander's life was one of continual struggle to keep up genteel appearances whilst endeavouring to keep pace with the many debts he thereby incurred. In common with his father before him, he suffered from competition with his well-established uncle, and consequently spent more time visiting friends, studying, and devising numerous ill-fated money-making schemes, than he did practising his profession. He contracted various complicated loans and bonds and lived on credit. In 1819 Alexander's father came to live with him, thereby adding to his financial burdens.
Alexander's attempts to make money over the next several years included the writing of a romantic novel, 'Edward, or the Orphan', and a translation of Haller's 'Elementa Physiologiae'. He had 50 copies of the novel printed, but sold only a handful. No-one was willing to publish the translation, and it seems to have remained unfinished. Hoping one day to step into his uncle's shoes, Alexander also worked on a long series of lectures on midwifery, collating his notes of others' lectures, his wide reading and personal experience. He considered turning these into a published 'Dictionary of Midwifery', but obtained no advance backing for the project.
In 1822 James Hamilton jnr. was unwell, and Alexander, who had assisted his uncle occasionally for half-fees, took on some of his patients, including the Countess Louisa Kintore and Lady Mary Ann Portsmouth. He delivered the two women and developed close friendships with both, which among other consequences, led to a heated and public quarrel with his uncle and accusations of professional misconduct from which their relationship never recovered. In the collection are a number of intimate letters from Louisa's sisters, Emmeline and Isabella Hawkins, and the journals suggest that Louisa confided to Alexander details of her apparently unhappy marriage.
The involvement with Lady Portsmouth was more complex. It appears she too confided in Alexander about her marriage: her husband was insane; the marriage never consummated; her child, Marion Elizabeth, fathered by her lover Mr Alder. There was a fortune at stake, and Mary Ann's father and brother did not wish to lose such a profitable family connection. In June 1824, Mary Ann took refuge 'incognito' with the Hamiltons. In July the whole household departed for Paris, where Alexander was in charge of setting up an appropriately sumptuous home for a Lady in exile. The bills and receipts he obtained on this score are among the papers. This enterprise also was ill-fated: the Hamiltons fell out with Mary Ann and the party returned to Britain with Alexander feeling insufficiently recompensed for his troubles on her behalf. The financial complications increased. Lord Portsmouth's brother, Newton Fellows, was meanwhile trying to have a Commission of Lunacy declared against the Earl, and to force Lady Portsmouth's divorce, presumably in order to inherit the title and estates. Mary Ann had made a settlement favouring Alexander, and he had also obtained possession of codicils to Lord Portsmouth's will favouring the Hansons, together with an affidavit in which Lady Portsmouth denied her husband's lunacy, any ill-treatment of him, and her own infidelity. These documents remain in the collection. The Portsmouth marriage was finally annulled in 1828 and the Earl declared insane, his brother succeeding to the title.
The final six years of Alexander's life in Edinburgh showed no improvement in his practice or fortunes. He was increasingly consumed by hatred of his uncle, who resolutely refused to die and make way for him, likewise his mother-in-law who also remained alive and in firm possession of the money Catherine might inherit. His own father's death in January 1829 affected Alexander deeply and left him full of remorse for the grudging hospitality which he and Catherine had afforded the old man. He suffered frequent bouts of depression and ill-health. His relationship with his wife had been deteriorating for some time. He refused to allow her to have a child; he paid his attentions to other young women, recording these encounters in Greek transliteration in his journals.
His last hope was for re-instatement on full pay in the army, and the final diary entries show him considering the advisability of leaving Edinburgh altogether if this should fail. In 1831 his luggage was being repaired, a brief note in March shows he was in Thurso, listing what to take away with him. By April he is serving with the 41st Regiment of Foot.
The only document in the collection after this date is a copy of an inventory (not in all details correct) made out in 1836, in which the papers are deposited with the courts, pending a process of aliment taken out by Catherine against her husband.
Alexander's death is recorded as taking place at Candahar during the Afghan War, on 21st June 1839, ironically five months before his uncle.
[Source: biography written by archivist Joy Pitman, c1990; see biographical file]
This collection was originally catalogued in the 1990s into alphabetical correspondence files and other divisions and the original order of the records is not known. An inventory at HAL/9/1 gives an indication of original order. This previous catalogue is available for consultation.
lecture notes taken by Alexander Hamilton, 1803-1826; writings of Alexander Hamilton, 1803-1830; correspondence, 1792-1831; family papers, 1756-1829; military papers, c1800-1814; financial papers, 1809-1831; publications by others, 1791-1809; artefacts; administrative records relating to the collection, c1836