Posts Tagged ‘Dr William Pulteney Alison’

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Laura Pulteney 1st Countess of Bath
26 December 1766 – 14 July 1808


Laura Pulteney

Born Henrietta Laura Johnstone, she was the only child of the wealthy William Johnstone, later Sir William Pulteney, 5th Baronet, and his wife, Frances Pulteney, daughter of Daniel Pulteney.

When her mother inherited the estate of her kinsman, Harry Pulteney (who had previously inherited them from William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath) in 1767, her parents took the name Pulteney. They moved to Bath House on Piccadilly, where she spent her childhood.

On her mother’s death in 1782, she inherited the vast Pulteney estates. Initially educated at home, Pulteney completed her education at the convent of Montparnasse in Paris in 1783. There she was visited by her kinswoman, the Countess of Hopetoun, her friend Lady Belmore and the Countess of Dundonald, the latter of whom introduced her to Parisian society.

As a young woman, Pulteney spent time at Sudborough in Northamptonshire (later endowing a school there as well as in Clewer, Berkshire) where her neighbour was Archibald Alison, to whom she agreed to be a godmother to his son, William.

Although Pulteney’s father never sought political office, he did procure a peerage for her and she was created Baroness of Bath, in the County of Somerset, in 1792, aged twenty-six. Despite her mother’s family having previously held the earldom of Bath until its extinction in 1764, a marquessate of Bath had been created for the 3rd Viscount Weymouth in 1789. Some peers attempted to have her peerage cancelled due to the unprecedented use of the same place name in two separate peerages for separate people. This was rejected and she was further elevated as Countess of Bath, in the County of Somerset, in 1803. In 1794, she married her father’s first cousin, Sir James Murray, 7th Baronet who took the additional surname of Pulteney.

When Lady Bath’s father died, his estate was divided between her and his second wife. Lady Bath inherited two thirds including property in England and America. She died just over three years later in 1808, possibly from consumption and was buried in the south cloister of Westminster Abbey. As she had no children, her titles became extinct.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Dr William Pulteney Alison
12 November 1790 – 22 September 1859


Dr William Pulteney Alison

A Scottish physician, social reformer and philanthropist. He was a distinguished professor of medicine at Edinburgh University. He served as president of the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Edinburgh (1833), president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (1836–8), and vice-president of the British Medical Association, convening its meeting in Edinburgh in 1858.

Alison was the eldest son of the Rev Archibald Alison and Dorothea Gregory; the elder brother of the advocate Archibald Alison; and godson of Laura Pulteney, 1st Countess of Bath. In his youth he climbed Mont Blanc and other mountains as a pastime and in 1811 he graduated as a physician from Edinburgh University. He studied under his father’s friend Dugald Stewart, and for a time he was expected to follow a career in philosophy rather than medicine.

His uncle was Professor James Gregory and his cousin was Professor William Gregory.

Struck by the poverty he encountered Alison advocated poor relief in Scotland be extended from the sick and infirm to include the healthy impoverished. This was a radical suggestion as the ethos of the age was for poor relief to be withheld from the able-bodied destitute who were presumed to be indolent and sinful.

Alison proposed using the Scottish Poor Law to alleviate poverty as a means of assuaging disease, but the Poor Law Commissioners supported the position of English reformer Edwin Chadwick that disease was caused by filth and miasmas. Alison held to the contagion theory of disease, stating its spread was facilitated through poverty and overcrowding. He argued that poverty arose from social factors, not sin and sloth, and that higher wages should be paid to workers to mitigate disease by reducing the effect of overcrowding and destitution. In stating a case for fighting disease that appeared to be outside the province of contemporary medicine Alison was a pioneer of “political” medicine, as well as social epidemiology and public health.

In his 1840 publication Observations on the management of the poor in Scotland and its effect on the health in the great towns, Alison argued that the government and its agencies had a major role in the alleviation of poverty and that this undertaking should not be left to religious groups or private charities. He advocated using public taxes to assist widows, orphans and the unemployed poor, and criticised the establishment for ignoring those who were fit but impoverished. The findings of the 1844 Royal Commission on Poor Laws (Scotland) lent support to Alison’s viewpoint.

Alison promoted preventive social medicine and initiated a program to vaccinate children against smallpox, and he established Edinburgh’s Fever Board to combat epidemics. He advocated speedy diagnosis of the ill and, where found to be contagious or infectious, he recommended fumigation and ventilation of the residence and prompt hospitalisation for the patient. His methods bore fruit during the cholera epidemic of 1831–1832, whereby Edinburgh took immediate and effective action to mitigate the outbreak without awaiting instructions from London.

In strongly advocating government intervention to alleviate poverty as a means to combat disease Alison was ahead of his time but he lived to see public opinion move closer to his initiatives.

He married his first cousin Margaret Craufurd/Crawford Gregory (1809–1849), daughter of James Gregory in 1832; the marriage was childless.

Attacks of epilepsy forced him to retire in 1856, and he died at Colinton on 22 September, 1859. He was interred at St John’s Episcopal Cemetery in Edinburgh.

He wrote – Outlines of physiology (1831)

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