CollectionGB 0231 University of Aberdeen, Special Collections
Ref NoMS 38
TitleDavid Skene, M.D.: correspondence
Date1751 - 1770
Extent1 box (176 items)
Creator NameDavid Skene (1731 - 1770), M.D., of Aberdeen
Administrative HistoryDavid Skene was baptised on 13 August 1731, the son of Andrew Skene and Margaret, daughter of David Lumsden of Cushnie. His family owned the mansion house of Pitmuxton in Aberdeen and Skene was one of 8 children.

He attended school in the town and graduated MA from Marischal College in 1748. He continued his education in Edinburgh where he studied under John Rutherford (1695-1779) and Alexander Monro primus (1697-1767) before travelling to London where he trained in midwifery, studying under William Smellie (1697-1763). He completed his education in Paris before returning to Aberdeen.

In 1753 he received the degree of MD from King's College, Aberdeen. He established midwifery training in Aberdeen and went into practice with his father. His practice was extensive and his case notes show that he vaccinated children against smallpox and also experimented with measles vaccinations. He also became the manager of Aberdeen Infirmary.

He was proposed for university chairs at various times in his career- once in Glasgow, once in Aberdeen and once in Edinburgh - despite this he never held a university chair although he was elected Dean of Faculty at Marischal College from 1767 annually until his death three years later.

He was a member of the Gordon's Mill Farming Club; the Edinburgh Philosophical Society, and a founder member of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society. He was a polymath with interests in botany, natural history, philosophy and mineralogy as well as medicine and he corresponded with leading contemporary scholars in these fields.

He died in Aberdeen on 27 December 1770.
Custodial HistorySkene's papers passed to his grand-nephew, Alexander Thomson of Banchory, who transcribed some and had the majority bound in quarter calf volumes. It is believed that he bequeathed the collection to the University Library on his death in 1868. Transcriptions and indexes of some of the papers were compiled at a later date, and these are included in the collection (see Description and Publication Note for further details).

Several of Thomson's volumes have been disbound since their deposit in the University Library, and are now stored as loose papers or pamphlets.
DescriptionBox entitled 'Correspondence' containing drafts or copies of letters sent by David Skene, letters received by him and correspondence of other members of the family, 1751 - 1770

This collection contains the personal and professional correspondence of David Skene with members of his family, John Ellis, John Hope, Lord Kames and William Cullen among others. His letters to his family, mainly his father, cover the period of his medical education in Edinburgh, London and Paris. Topics discussed include his teachers (amongst them some of the great physicians of the day such as Alexander Monro Primus in Edinburgh and William Hunter and William Smellie in London); the works and views of other great physicians such as Herman Boerhaave and Van Swieten; descriptions of operations he had seen performed at the Infirmary in Edinburgh; his journey to and from Paris and his time there. He comments unfavourably on both the lectures and the hospitals and left earlier than he had intended to return to Scotland. He also frequently defends his expenditure against the apparently severe criticisms of his father.

Throughout his life, he maintained a professional correspondence with his peers in his chosen profession of medicine and his passion which was for botany. With William Cullen, he discussed the condition and treatment of patients; with John Ellis he discussed corallines and sertularia, his correspondence with Linnaeus, their botanical colleagues and publications; with John Hope, he also discussed his botanical interests including the publications containing lists of indigenous plants in various areas. John Hope also offered him the Materia Medica post in the University of Edinburgh that he intended to resign, but Skene refused it. He discussed geology with Henry Home, Lord Kames, and asked assistance for 'his favourite bleacher', Miss Scott.
AppraisalThis material has been appraised in line with normal procedures.
AccrualsNone expected.
ArrangementThe material in this collection has been arranged and re-numbered into groups devised by Prof. James Trail. The original numbering scheme has been maintained in the alt ref field
Access StatusOpen
Access ConditionsThe records are available subject to the signed acceptance of the Department's access conditions.
Related MaterialMS 501: Lexicon of Medical Terms, mid 18th century

MS 540: Notes of Discourses in the Philosophical Society of Aberdeen by David Skene, 1741 - c1770

MS 539 and 597: Records of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society

MS 30 and 555: Papers of James Beattie

MS 2360, 2131 and 3061: Papers of Thomas Reid

MS 851 - 871 and 3083: Papers of James Trail
Publication NoteLetters and Papers of Dr David Skene, 1731-1770. Northern Scotland, Volume 1, Number 1 (1972), pp.115-7.

Alexander Thomson, 'A brief biographical sketch of David Skene', in 'Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal', 2nd ser., 5 (Oct 1859). It should be noted that some of the original papers referred to by Thomson have not been discovered in the collection listed here.

'Natural Science in the Aberdeen Universities', James W.H. Trail, in 'Studies in the History of the University', ed. by P.J. Anderson (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1906), pp. 147-200. This paper contains a short biography of Skene, in the context of his position as Dean of Faculty at Marischal College.

Ella Hill Burton Rodger, 'Aberdeen Doctors at Home and Abroad: the narrative of a medical school', (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1893). This account was based largely on Thomson and Trail's work.

James Trail, 'Flora of Aberdeen', in James William Helenus 'Trail: A Memorial Volume', Aberdeen Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 4 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1923).

Bernhard Fabian, 'David Skene and the Aberdeen Philosophical Society', in 'The Bibliotheck', 5 (1967 - 1970), 81-99.

'Minutes of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society, 1758 - 1773', ed. by H. Lewis Ulman, Aberdeen University: Studies 158 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1990)
Related RecordMS 39
MS 40
MS 37
MS 471
MS 472
MS 473
MS 474
MS 475
MS 476
MS 477
MS 478
MS 479
MS 480
MS 481
MS 482
MS 483
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