|Description||Russell was born and educated in Edinburgh and spent his entire career there. He took courses in medicine at the university but did not graduate. He became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh on 11 July 1777. By the 1790s Russell, together with Benjamin Bell and Andrew Wardrop, was part of a surgical partnership which specialized in training apprentices. Russell was a staunch defender of the prerogatives and reputation of the college throughout his long career, and he took a particular interest in the college's museum and in developing its educational role. |
Along with five other fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons, Russell was, on 23 December 1800, appointed one of the first surgeons-in-ordinary to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. This measure marked a radical change in the organization of the surgical service at the infirmary. Since November 1786 Russell had been responsible for another innovation at the infirmary: he took it upon himself to give a series of clinical lectures in surgery at the hospital. He regarded this course as a partial remedy for the inadequate surgical instruction at that time provided by the university medical school. Russell's method of instruction was explicitly modelled on the clinical lectures on medical cases already given at the infirmary.
In 1793 Russell petitioned Robert Dundas, the lord advocate, in favour of the establishment of a 'clinical and pathological' chair of surgery at Edinburgh University, of which he would be the first incumbent. Although nothing came of this initial approach, another petition, addressed this time to the town council, led to the creation in June 1803 of a regius chair of clinical surgery in the university with an annual endowment of £50.
Russell's course was, however, handicapped by the fact that it was not mandatory for students wishing to take the MD to attend it. In 1824 Russell addressed a pamphlet, entitled 'Argument in favour of requiring every candidate for a degree in medicine to attend a course of clinical lectures on the practice of surgery', to the principal and professors of the university. In this publication Russell sought to show the specious and disingenuous character of the objections raised by the medical professors to giving his teaching equal status to the lectures in clinical medicine delivered at the infirmary. In 1834 Russell sold his chair to James Syme for £300 a year for his lifetime.
He died at his country home, Bangholm Bower, on 14 August 1836, and was buried in Old Greyfriars churchyard.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]
Contents: Surgical casebooks, 1784-1792; correspondence 1808-1810s