an eminent physician and lecturer on botany, was born in Lanarkshire in
1683, and first studied at the university of Glasgow. While a student
there, he had the good fortune to be taken under the patronage of the
duchess of Hamilton, and spent his early years at Hamilton palace. By
the assistance of her grace he was enabled to accomplish the design of
devoting himself to the medical profession, and in the year 1716 he
went, with the celebrated Dr. Alexander Monro, to Leyden; where, after
studying for three years under the celebrated Boerhaave, he took his
degree of M.D. On his return he commenced practice in Edinburgh, and, by
the interest of the duke of Hamilton, heritable keeper of Holyrood
house, he obtained the sinecure office of king’s botanist. He began his
lectures on botany in 1720, in the king’s garden at Holyrood house,
which he enriched by large collections he had made in Holland. In 1738
he was chosen to succeed Professor Preston, in the chair of Botany and
Materia Medica united, in the university of Edinburgh; and in
conjunction with Dr. Monro, Dr. Rutherford, Dr. Sinclair, and Dr.
Plummer, laid the foundation of the high character since enjoyed by
Edinburgh as a school of medical science. In 1740, for the assistance of
his pupils, he published an Index of the plants demonstrated to them in
the Edinburgh medical garden. He continued to lecture till his death on
the 22d of November 1760. In the fifth volume of the Edinburgh Medical
Essays he published a short paper on the efficacy of the powder of tin
in destroying or expelling worms from the bowels. He was the author of
several botanical works, the principal of which is entitled ‘ Tirocinium
Botanicum Edinburgeuse,’ 1753. In the same year one of his papers, in
which he endeavoured to overturn the Linnaean doctrine of the sexual
system of plants, was published in the first volume of the ‘Edinburgh
Physical and Literary Essays.’ He also engaged in a controversy with Dr.
Whytt about quicklime; but the most valuable of all his works are his
‘Lectures on the Materia Medica,’ which appeared in two volumes 4to in
1770, edited by his friend and successor in the professor’s chair, Dr.
In botany a genus
of the Polyandria monogynia class and order is called
Alstonia after Dr. Alston. The following is a list of Dr. Alston’s
Index Plantarum in
Horto Medico Edinburgensi. Edin. 1740, 8vo.
Index Medicamentorum simpilcium triplex. Edin. 1752, 12mo.
Dissertations on Quick Lime and Lime Water. Edin. 1752, 12mo. The 2d
edition, with additions. 1754, 8vo.
Tyrocinium Botanicum Edinburgense. Edin. 1753, 8vo. 1765, 8vo.
Dissertation on Botany, translated from the Latin by a Physician. Edin.
1754, 8vo, perhaps a translation of the Tyrocinium.
A second Dissertation on Quick Lime and Lime Water. Edin. 1755, 12mo.
A third Dissertation on Quick Lime and Lime Water. Edin. 1757, 8vo.
Lectures on the Materia Medica, containing the Natural History of
Drugs, their Virtues and Doses; also Directions for the Study of the
Materia Medics, and an Appendix on the Method of Prescribing. Lond.
1770, 2 vols. 4to, edited by Dr. Hope.
Powder of Tin, an Anthelmentic Medicine. Med. Ess. v. p. 89, 1736.
Dissertation on Opium. Ib. p. 110, 1736.
Case of Extravasated Blood in the Pericardium. Ib. v. p. 609.
A Dissertation on the Sexes of Plants. Ess. Phys. and Lit. p. 205,
Two Letters on Lime and Lime Water. Phil. Trans. 1751, Abr. x. p. 204.