CodeDS/UK/74
Person NameAlison; William Pulteney (1790-1859); Professor; physician
Dates1790-1859
TitleProfessor
Epithetphysician
HistoryAlison was born near Edinburgh in 1790. He received private tutoring, and although his favourite subjects were philosophy and military history he nevertheless bowed to his parents wishes to take up medicine. He attended Edinburgh University, graduating in 1811.

The Edinburgh New Town Dispensary was founded in 1815, and Alison became one of its first physicians. Alison's quarterly reports on the Dispensary were published in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal from 1817 to 1819. His life-long concern with the welfare and health of the poor doubtless stemmed from his experiences in this post, where he made numerous home visits.

In 1820 Alison was appointed to the Chair of Medical Jurisprudence, and to that of the Institutes of Medicine (physiology and pathology) in 1822. He held this chair for the next twenty years, also teaching clinical classes at the Royal Infirmary. Alison was a member of the Edinburgh Medical-Chirurgical Society and acted as one of its first joint secretaries from its establishment in 1821. He was Secretary of the Royal College of Physicians from 1825 to 1830, and President from 1836 to 1838. He also served as a Vice-President of the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society and a governor of the Orphan Hospital. During the cholera epidemic of 1831-32 Alison was a member of the medical committee of the Edinburgh Board of Health. In 1842, Alison was promoted to the Chair of the Practice of Medicine and continued his work at the Infirmary and his private practice. He was appointed the first physician to Her Majesty Queen Victoria in Scotland, and in 1850 received an honorary DCL from Oxford. He retired from his University post in 1856 and died in 1859.

During his teaching career. Alison produced three major text-books: Outlines of Physiology (1831), Outlines of Physiology and Pathology (1833) and Outlines of Pathology and the Practice of Medicine (1843). Historically, Alison's influence on public health in Scotland appears more important than his clinical teaching and practice. In 1840 he produced a pamphlet, pointing out that destitution was worse in Scotland than almost anywhere else in Europe. His view was that the increase of fevers and mortality in the first half of the nineteenth century was directly linked to the appalling living conditions of the poor. He proposed changes to the Scottish system via compulsory taxation, provision for the unemployed "able-bodied poor", widows and orphans, and a unified system of work-houses and fever hospitals. Despite the controversy which followed the publication of his pamphlet an "Association for obtaining an official inquiry into the pauperism of Scotland" was formed in Edinburgh in 1840. This body finally obtained the appointment of a Royal Commission in 1843, whose recommendations led to the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act in 1845, embodying some, though not all, of Alison's demands.

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