the name of a family in the county of Ayr, said to be descended from St.
Blane, one of the most distinguished saints in the Scotch Calendar. It is,
however, more probably territorial, and derived from lands – of which there
were many in the west of Scotland – bestowed for support of an
establishment, or a place of worship, called after his name.
BLANE, SIR GILBERT,
of Blanefield, bart., an eminent physician, the fourth son of Gilbert Blane,
Esq. of Blanefield, in Ayrshire, an opulent merchant who had been long
settled in London, was born in the family mansion in the county of Ayr,
August, 29, 1749. One of his brothers, Andrew, had studied for the law, and
became a respectable writer to the signet in Edinburgh. Gilbert was
originally destined for the church, and with that object he studied for five
years at the university of Edinburgh, which he entered at the age of
fourteen; but in the course of his academical career his views changed, and
he resolved to study medicine. He accordingly pursued his medical studies
for five years more, and his character stood so high among his
fellow-students that he was elected one of the presidents of the Medical
Society. On November 25, 1767, he was admitted a member of the Speculative
Society, then in its infancy. The essays he read to the society during the
time that he was a member, were on the following subjects: – The Influence
of situation on Character; The comparative faculties of Man and other
his degree of doctor of medicine, he repaired to London, where he spent two
years longer in study. Being recommended by Dr. Cullen to Dr. William
Hunter, at that time the most eminent teacher of anatomy in London, through
his influence he was appointed private physician to the earl of Holderness.
This appointment introduced him to the notice of many distinguished
individuals, and among others to Admiral Sir George Rodney, afterwards Lord
Rodney, who nominated him his private physician, in which capacity he
accompanied him, when, in 1780, he assumed the command of the squadron in
the West Indies. He was present at no less than six general engagements with
that renowned commander. In the course of the first engagement, every
officer being either killed, wounded, or employed, Dr. Blane was intrusted
by the admiral with the duty of conveying his orders to the officers at the
guns, and in one of these dangerous missions he was severely wounded. As a
reward for his services on this occasion, on the recommendation of the
admiral, he was, without going through the subordinate grades, appointed at
once physician to the fleet, a situation which he held till the conclusion
of the war in 1783. He was present at the engagement between the English and
French fleets, April 12, 1782, when Rodney gained the celebrated victory
over Count De Grasse, of which he wrote an account. For this victory Sir
George Rodney was created a baron of the United Kingdom, under the title of
While on board the
fleet, Dr. Blane kept a regular account of his discoveries, experience, and
practice in the service, which, with the conclusions drawn from the returns
of the surgeons of the ships, he published, in 1783, under the title of
‘Observations on the Diseases incident to Seamen,’ a work several times
reprinted, with additions. On the conclusion of the war, on the unanimous
recommendation of the Flag officers and captains of the West India fleet to
the board of admiralty, his majesty conferred on him a pension, half-pay not
being then established.
On settling in
London as a physician, he was, by the influence of the duke of Clarence,
afterwards William the Fourth, whom he had frequently met in the West Indies
when his royal highness was serving as a midshipman on board the Prince
George, appointed physician extraordinary to the prince of Wales. Soon after
he was nominated physician to the Household, and in 1785 he was elected
physician to St. Thomas’ Hospital.
On the appointment
of Earl Spencer as first lord of the admiralty, Dr. Blane was nominated one
of the commissioners of sick and wounded sailors, the duties of which
important office he continued to execute till the peace of Amiens, when a
reduction of all the naval establishments took place. Soon after this his
pension was doubled, on a representation of the board of admiralty to the
king in council.
In 1786 Dr. Blane
was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1788 he was chosen to
deliver the Croonian lecture, when he selected for his subject, ‘Muscular
Motion.’ The lecture was published in 1791, and reprinted in his ‘Select
Dissertations,’ 1822. He also wrote in the year 1790, for the Transactions
of the Royal Society, volume lxxx., an essay on the ‘Nardus Indica,’ or
spikenard of the ancients. In 1795 he was placed at the head of the Navy
Medical Board; and during the time that Earl Spencer remained in office,
with the assistance of that nobleman, he effected the introduction into
every ship, of the use of lemon juice, as a preventive and cure of scurvy.
This measure has had the beneficial effect of almost completely eradicating
scurvy at sea.
important occasions, Dr. Blane’s professional opinion was solicited and
followed by government. In conjunction with the king’s physicians and other
leading characters, he was called upon to draw up the regulations on the
subject of quarantine, which formed the basis of the act of parliament on
this head. In the year 1800, his advice was likewise resorted to on the
proper mode of accommodating the convicts in the hulks at Woolwich, to
prevent the progress of infection. For the same purpose he officially
visited Newgate by the authority of the secretary of state for the home
department. The army from Egypt was transported to Britain, in the manner
pointed out by him, at the desire of the secretary for war and colonies, to
avoid the danger of importing the plague into this country. The Board of
Control applied for his suggestions, in ameliorating the regulations of the
medical service in India; and the transports carrying the convicts to Botany
Bay were, under his direction, fitted up so as to lessen the mortality of
former voyages, by a free ventilation and cleanliness, which he was called
upon to do by a warrant from the home secretary. During the scarcity of 1799
and 1800, his opinion was requested by a committee of the House of Commons,
and to correct the popular prejudices then entertained, he published a small
tract on the subject of forestalling and combination. In the unfortunate
Walcheren expedition in 1809, when the government were undecided what
measures to adopt, Dr. Blane was despatched to give his opinion as to the
troops remaining on the island, and his report, which was afterwards
published, made with the concurrence of the army physicians, determined
government to abandon the expedition. Besides a liberal remuneration from
government, he received the thanks of the commander-in-chief, officially
conveyed to him through the war-office. In consequence of his great merit
and public services he was created a baronet by patent, dated December 26,
In 1805, his
private practice having become very extensive, he resigned his office of
physician to St. Thomas’ Hospital; and in the fourth volume of the
‘Transactions of the Medical and Chirurgical Society’ he published an
‘Exposition of the prevailing Diseases of the Metropolis,’ during the twenty
years that he had held that situation. This paper was reprinted in his
‘Select Dissertations.’ In 1813 he succeeded Sir Henry Halford as president
of the Medical and Chirurgical Society. In 1819 he published his ‘Elements
of Medical Logic,’ in which he gives his ideas respecting medical education
and certain topics connected with it. This work has reached several
editions. In 1826 he was elected a member of the Institute of France. In
November 1829, with the sanction of the lords of the admiralty, he founded a
prize medal for the best journal kept by the surgeons of the navy. The medal
is awarded every second year, the Commissioners selecting four journals; and
the president of the college of physicians, with the president of the
college of surgeons, deciding which of such four is best entitled to this
honorary distinction. In 1830, on the accession of King William the Fourth,
he was nominated first physician to his majesty. In 1831 he published a
‘Warning to the British public against the alarming approach of the Indian
Cholera.’ Sir Gilbert was a Fellow of the college of Physicians, and of the
Royal Society of Edinburgh as well as of London, a proprietor of the Royal
Institution, and a member of the Imperial Society of Sciences at St.
Petersburgh. Having been consulted by the sovereigns of Russia and Prussia,
and the president of the United States of America, on subjects of public
police and national interest, he received frm the two former gold medals,
expressive of their high sense of his professional merit, and from the last
a letter of thanks. His latter years were spend in retirement from
professional labours. He died June 27, 1834, in his 85th year.
in the county of Ayr, Dr. Blane possessed the estate of Culverlands in
Berkshire. He had married July 11, 1786, Elizabeth, only daughter of Abraham
Gardner, merchant, by whom he had six sons and three daughters. His two
eldest sons having predeceased him, he was succeeded by his third son, Sir
Hugh Seymour Blane, who served with distinction at Waterloo, as an officer
of the third guards. One of Sir Gilbert’s daughters, Louisa, was
accidentally drowned in a piece of water on her uncle’s estate at Winkfield
Park, August 24, 1813, ages 19. His other daughters died in infancy. Sir
Gilbert Blane’s works are:
A Short Account of
the most effectual Means of preserving the Health of Seamen. Lond. 1780,
the Diseases incident to Seamen. Lond. 1785, 8vo. 3d edition, with
corrections and additions. 1799, 8vo.
A Lecture on
Muscular Motion, read at the Royal Society, the 13th and the 20th
November, 1788. Lond. 1791, 4to.
Medical Logic, illustrated by practical proofs and examples. London, 1818.
Account of a Case
in which Death was brought on by a Hemorrhage from the Liver. Trans. Med.
and Chir. ii. p. 18, 1800.
On the Effect of
the Pure Fixt Alkalies, and of Lime Water, in several Complaints.
History of some
Cases of Disease in the Brain, with an Account of the Appearances after
Death, and some general Observations on Complaints of the Head.
An Account of the
Hurricane at Barbadoes on the 10th of October 1780. Ed. Phil.
Trans. i. Part First, 30, 1788.
Observations respecting Intermittent Fevers, and the Exhalations which
occasion them. Med. Chir. Trans. iii. 1. 1812.
the comparative Prevalence, Mortality, and Treatment of different Diseases.