|Description||Rutherford was born at Edinburgh on 3 November 1749, the son of John Rutherford, Professor of the Practice of Physic at the University of Edinburgh. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh, where, after graduating MA, he began his medical studies. He studied under William Cullen and Joseph Black, and obtained his MD on 12 September 1772, his inaugural dissertation being 'De aere fixo dicto aut mephitico'. |
This tract owes its importance to the distinction, between carbonic acid gas and nitrogen. It opens with an account of the work of Black and of Henry Cavendish on 'fixed' or 'mephitic' air (carbonic acid). Rutherford proceeds to point out that pure air not only in part becomes mephitic, but also undergoes another singular change in its nature; for even after the mephitic air has been absorbed by a caustic lye from air which has been rendered noxious by respiration, the residual gas (atmospheric nitrogen) also extinguishes flame and life. He found experimentally that air passed over ignited charcoal and treated with caustic lye behaves in the same way as air made noxious by respiration; but that when a metal, phosphorus, or sulphur is calcined in air the residual gas contains no 'mephitic air', but only undergoes the 'singular change' above referred to. It follows then 'that this change is the only one which can be ascribed to combustion'. Rutherford gave no name to the residual gas (which has since been called nitrogen), but supposed that it was 'atmospheric air as it were united with and saturated with phlogiston'.
Having published this paper and completed his university course, Rutherford travelled to France in 1773 and Italy, returning in 1775 to Edinburgh, where he began to practise. He became a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh on 6 February 1776, and a fellow on 6 May 1777. He was president of the college from 1 December 1796 to 5 December 1798.
On 1 December 1786 Rutherford succeeded John Hope as professor of botany in the university and keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden at Edinburgh. Rutherford's interest in botany was, however, limited and his course attracted few medical students. These low numbers may have stemmed from the poor reviews his course received in A Guide for Gentlemen Studying Medicine at the University of Edinburgh (1792).
Rutherford's appointment as professor of botany brought him into contact with the Royal Infirmary, and on the death of Henry Cullen in 1791 he was elected a physician-in-ordinary to that establishment. Rutherford's clinical lectures were given in tandem with Andrew Duncan and Francis Home. He was elected a fellow of the Philosophical (afterwards the Royal) Society of Edinburgh in 1788, and of the Linnean Society in 1796. He was also a member of the Aesculapian, Harveian, and Gymnastics clubs.
Rutherford died suddenly in Edinburgh on 15 November 1819.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Clinical cases, 1799