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Significant Scots
Alexander Grey

GREY, ALEXANDER, a surgeon in the service of the honourable East India Company, and founder of an hospital for the sick poor of the town and county of Elgin, was the son of deacon Alexander Grey, a respectable and ingenious tradesman of Elgin, who exercised the united crafts of a wheel-wright and watchmaker, and of Janet Sutherland, of whose brother, Dr Sutherland, the following anecdote is related by some of the oldest inhabitants of Elgin. It is said that the king of Prussia, Frederick William I. being desirous to have his family inoculated with small pox, applied in England for a surgeon to repair to Berlin for that purpose. Though this was an honourable, and probably lucrative mission, yet from the severe and arbitrary character of the king, it was regarded by many as a perilous undertaking to the individual, as it was not impossible that he might lose some of his patients. Sutherland, at all hazards, offered his service, was successful in the treatment of his royal patients, and was handsomely rewarded. On his return to England, his expedition probably brought him more into public notice, for we afterwards find him an M.D. residing and practising as a physician at Bath, until he lost his sight, when he came to Elgin, and lived with the Greys for some years previous to 1775, when he died.

Deacon Grey had a family of three sons and two daughters, and by his own industry and some pecuniary assistance from Dr Sutherland, he was enabled to give them a better education than most others in their station. Alexander, the subject of this memoir, born in 1751, was the youngest of the family. Induced by the advice or success of his uncle, he made choice of the medical profession, and was apprenticed for the usual term of three years to Dr Thomas Stephen, a physician of great respectability in Elgin. He afterwards attended the medical classes in the college of Edinburgh, and having completed his education he obtained the appointment of an assistant surgeoncy on the Bengal establishment. It does not appear that he was distinguished either by his professional skill or literary acquirements from the greater proportion of his professional brethren in the east. When advanced in life, he married a lady much younger than himself, and this ill-assorted match caused him much vexation, and embittered his few remaining years. They had no children, and as there was no congeniality in their dispositions nor agreement in their habits, they separated some time before Dr Grey’s death, which happened in 1808. By economical habits he amassed a considerable fortune, and it is the manner in which he disposed of it that gives him a claim to be ranked among distinguished Scotsmen.

It is no improbable supposition that, in visiting the indigent patients of the humane physician under whom he commenced his professional studies, his youthful mind was impressed with the neglected and uncomfortable condition of the sick poor of his native town, and that when he found himself a man of wealth without family, the recollection of their situation recurred, and he formed the benevolent resolution of devoting the bulk of his fortune to the endowment of an hospital for their relief. He bequeathed for this purpose, in the first instance, twenty thousand pounds, besides about seven thousand available at the deaths of certain annuitants, and four thousand pounds more, liable to another contingency. From various causes, over which the trustees appointed by the deed of settlement had no control, considerable delay was occasioned in realizing the funds, and the hospital was not opened for the reception of patients until the beginning of 1819. It is an elegant building of two stories, in the Grecian style, after a design by James Gillespie, Esq. architect, and is erected on a rising ground to the west of Elgin. The funds are under the management of the member of parliament for the county, the sheriff depute, and the two clergymen of the established church, ex officio, with three life directors named by the founder in the deed of settlement. A physician and surgeon appointed by the trustees at fixed salaries, attend daily in the hospital. For several years there was a prejudice against the institution among the class for whom it was founded, but this gradually wore off, and the public are now fully alive to, and freely avail themselves of the advantages it affords.

Mr Grey did not limit his beneficence to the founding and endowing of the hospital which will transmit his name to future generations; he bequeathed the annual interest of two thousand pounds to "the reputed old maids in the town of Elgin, daughters of respectable but decayed families." This charity is placed under the management of the two clergymen and the physicians of the town of Elgin, and it is suggested that, to be useful, it ought not to extend beyond eight or ten individuals. At the death of Mrs Grey, a farther sum of one thousand pounds was to fall into this fund. The annual interest of seven thousand pounds was settled on the widow during her life, and it was directed that at her death four thousand pounds of the principal should be appropriated to the building of a new church in the town of Elgin, under the inspection of the two clergymen of the town, and that the interest of this sum should be applied to the use of the hospital until a church should be required. This is the contingency already referred to; and as a durable and handsome new church, of dimensions sufficient to accommodate the population of the town and parish, was erected by the heritors, at an expense exceeding eight thousand pounds, not many years ago, the funds of the hospital, in all probability, will for a long time have the advantage of the interest of this bequest. Grey was kind, and even liberal to his relatives during his life, and to his sister, the only member of his family who survived him, he left a handsome annuity, with legacies to all her family unprovided for at her death. On the whole he seems to have been a warm-hearted and benevolent man; but being disappointed in the happiness which he expected from his matrimonial connexion, his temper was soured, and a considerable degree of peevishness and distrust is evident throughout the whole of his deed of settlement. Whatever were his failings, his memory will be cherished by the thousands of poor for whom he has provided medical succour in the hour of distress; while the public at large cannot fail to remember with respect, a man who displayed so much benevolence and judgment in the disposal of the gifts of fortune.

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