The History of Leith

April 12, 2005

The Struthers Window. (South Leith Parish Church)

(The great West Window.)

The inscription on the Memorial Brass on North-West Pillar of Church runs thus:— “The Large West Window was placed as a Memorial to James Struthers, M.D., by his Patients and Friends, 1892. He was a Beloved Physician in this Town for 42 years. Died June 6th 1891.”

Dr JAMES Struthers was born in 1821, and was the eldest of three sons of Alexander Struthers of Brucefield, near Dunfermline, all of whom entered the medical profession. Privately educated, he not only knew the classical languages, but also French, German, and Italian. They were very useful to him when he had to do with sailors at the Port of Leith.
Study at the University of Edinburgh, he graduated as MD. in 1848, receiving a gold medal for his thesis on The Anatomy and Physiology of the Human Skin.” After some work in the Infirmary, during which in 1847 and 1848 he was busy with epidemics of cholera and typhoid, he settled down in Leith. He came to assist Dr. Bruce, who was in failing health, on the recommendation of Professor Alison, and resisted all temptations in succeed ing years to move to Edinburgh. He rapidly acquired a practice as large as he could undertake. By his fellow practitioners in Leith he was much trusted and consulted, He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1861, and acted for a time as one of the examiners. He was a man of commanding presence and of few words. But his words meant something, as patients soon discovered who disobeyed his instructions. If they continued to prefer their own way, they had to seek another doctor. Like all the true doctors of his day, Dr. Struthers was kind to the poor, not only attending needy eases free, but also sending in food and medicines free when that was necessary.
He took a deep interest in the benevolent institutions of Leith, the Ragged and Industrial School, the Destitute Sick Society, the Association for improving the Condition of the Poor, and above all, Leith Hospital. From 1851 to 1875 he was one of the acting medical officers of the Hospital. He then became consulting physician. In 1890 he was appointed President of the Hospital as a mark of his long and valuable services. He took a leading part in the reconstruction and enlargement of the Hospital in 1873– and also in 1888—89, when a third storey was added to the new part of the building.
The Volunteer movement also claimed his support, and he held commission as medical officer in the local corps from 1859 onwards. He was in charge of the medical arrangements for the great Review in the Queen’s Park in 1880.
The most authoritative estimate of his worth is from a former fellow-student, the famous Professor Gairdner of Glasgow. “The impression which Dr. Struthers made on me (in early life) was one which never required to be corrected or modified. He was a man far above the average intellectually, but whose moral distinction was even more striking than his intellectual. With him duty was paramount, and his judgments, both of men and opinions, were guided by an instinct which rarely allowed him to judge amiss. He was one of the most real men I ever knew.”

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