Robert Sibbald

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Robert Sibbald
Sir Robert Sibbald. [1]
Born(1641-04-15)15 April 1641
Died1722 (aged 8081)
Education Edinburgh High School
University of Edinburgh
Known forPresident and founder of Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, [2]
Founder of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
First Professor of Medicine at University of Edinburgh [3]
Medical career
Professionphysician, antiquary, geographer
InstitutionsPresident, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (1684), Edinburgh
Professor of Medicine, Edinburgh University (1685)
Sub-specialtiesbotanic medicine
Researchbotany, medicine

Sir Robert Sibbald (15 April 1641 – August 1722) was a Scottish physician and antiquary.

Scotland Country in Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, by the North Sea to the northeast and by the Irish Sea to the south. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

Physician professional who practices medicine

A physician, medical practitioner, medical doctor, or simply doctor, is a professional who practises medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining, or restoring health through the study, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of disease, injury, and other physical and mental impairments. Physicians may focus their practice on certain disease categories, types of patients, and methods of treatment—known as specialities—or they may assume responsibility for the provision of continuing and comprehensive medical care to individuals, families, and communities—known as general practice. Medical practice properly requires both a detailed knowledge of the academic disciplines, such as anatomy and physiology, underlying diseases and their treatment—the science of medicine—and also a decent competence in its applied practice—the art or craft of medicine.



Robert Sibbald was born into a prosperous landed family in Fife. His father was David Sibbald (brother of Sir James Sibbald, Bt. Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland) of Rankeillor and his mother was Margaret Boyd (January 1606 – 10 July 1672) the daughter of Robert Boyd of Kipps in West Lothian. Sibbald's family lived first in Kipps but in 1645, to escape an outbreak of the plague, moved to the Sibbald's country home in Fife. [4] Sibbald was educated at the Royal High School and in 1659 graduated MA and began to prepare for a career in the church. His theological studies only lasted six months before shifting his attention to medicine.

In March 1660, Sibbald set off to study at the University of Leiden. There he learned anatomy, surgery, botany, chemistry, and natural philosophy. Shortly after arriving in Leiden, Sibbald's father died and he was obliged to cut his medical studies short owing to financial strain. After only 18 months in Leiden, Sibbald moved to Paris to study for nine months. There he presented himself to be examined for 'his patent as Doctor' at Angers where fees were lower than Leiden. [4] After graduating in 1662, he spent three months in London where he met Sir Robert Moray, president of the Royal Society.

Leiden University university in the Netherlands

Leiden University, founded in the city of Leiden, is the oldest university in the Netherlands. The university was founded in 1575 by William, Prince of Orange, leader of the Dutch Revolt in the Eighty Years' War. The Dutch Royal Family and Leiden University have a close association: Queen Juliana, Queen Beatrix and King Willem-Alexander are former students. The university came into particular prominence during the Dutch Golden Age, when scholars from around Europe were attracted to the Dutch Republic due to its climate of intellectual tolerance and Leiden's international reputation. During this time Leiden was home to such figures as René Descartes, Rembrandt, Christiaan Huygens, Hugo Grotius, Baruch Spinoza and Baron d'Holbach.

Royal Society English learned society for science

The President, Council and Fellows of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, commonly known as the Royal Society, is a learned society. Founded on 28 November 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as "The Royal Society". It is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. The society is the United Kingdom's and Commonwealth of Nations' Academy of Sciences and fulfils a number of roles: promoting science and its benefits, recognising excellence in science, supporting outstanding science, providing scientific advice for policy, fostering international and global co-operation, education and public engagement.

Upon returning to Scotland, Sibbald set out to recreate the institutions he had encountered in Europe. Without such institutions, Sibbald believed Scotland would never be fit to take its place amongst the modern nations of Europe. He was a physician by profession and thus focused his attentions on founding institutions for the advancement of medicine. [4]

In 1685 he was appointed the first professor of medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He was also appointed Geographer Royal in 1682, and his numerous and miscellaneous writings deal with historical, antiquarian, botanical and medical subjects. [5] He based many of his cartographical studies on the work of Timothy Pont. Sibbald and his cousin, Andrew Balfour, were key figures in the creation of the Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia.

Timothy Pont was a Scottish cartographer and topographer, the first to produce a detailed map of Scotland. Pont's maps are among the earliest surviving to show a European country in minute detail, from an actual survey.

<i>Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia</i>

The Edinburgh Pharmacopoeia was a medical guide consisting of recipes and methods for making medicine. It was first published by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1699 as the Pharmacopoea Collegii Regii Medicorum Edimburgensium. The Edinburgh Pharmacopeia merged with the London and Dublin Pharmacopoeia's in 1864 creating the British Pharmacopoeia.

Sibbald mausoleum in Greyfriars, Edinburgh Sibbald mausoleum, Greyfriars Kirkyard.JPG
Sibbald mausoleum in Greyfriars, Edinburgh

The wild flower Sibbaldia procumbens [6] is named after him.

Throughout his life, Sibbald concerned himself not only with medicine, but also with the improvement of agriculture, mining, industry and commerce. He is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh in a vault against the southern wall.

Physic Garden

Sibbald's first project for improvement of Scotland was the creation of a physic garden to rival the King's Garden in Paris where he had studied botany in 1661. He enlisted the help of his cousin, Andrew Balfour and Patrick Moray, a prosperous landowner and well-known plant collector. In 1667, they created a garden near Holyrood Abbey and within a short time the garden contained over 800 medicinal plants. [4]

Sibbald gained the financial support of the Town Council, the Town's College and the Faculty of Advocates. The garden was fully established by 1670 and in 1699 received a royal warrant.

The purpose of the garden was to supply fresh plants for medical prescriptions and to teach medical botany to students. The garden was looked after by James Sutherland who later became the Professor of Botany in the Town's College. In 1676, Balfour leased from the Town Council a second garden which belonged to the Trinity Hospital. The site of this garden can be found by platform 11 in Edinburgh Waverley Station, where there is a commemorative plaque. In 1763 the garden moved to an expanded site near Gayfield Square. [7]

After years of expansion and development Sibbald's garden moved to its present site at Inverleith Row in 1820. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is the second oldest in Britain.

Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

One of the concepts that made up Sibbald's grand design for the advancement of Scotland was the foundation of a College of Physicians. As a student, Sibbald admired the medical colleges in Europe, which had been given the authority to license their graduates to practise medicine. In Scotland, it had long been the practise to go abroad to receive medical training, though there were no medical universities within Scotland to license practitioners.

Earlier attempts had been made to receive a royal charter to found a College of Physicians, though all had failed. Sibbald began holding meetings in 1680. A Royal Charter was signed on St Andrew's Day in 1681 and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh was founded.

Taxonomy of the blue whale—Sibbaldus

The blue whale was originally named after Sibbald, who first described it scientifically.

Although the blue whale is today usually classified as one of eight species in the genus Balaenoptera, one authority still places it in a separate monotypic genus, Sibbaldus, [8] but this is not widely accepted.

The blue whale was once commonly referred to as Sibbald's rorqual.


Sibbald's historical and antiquarian works include:

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  1. Sir William Jardine, The Natural History of the Birds of Great Britain and Ireland, publ. W.H. Lizars, 1838. Frontispiece
  2. National Library of Scotland - Robert Sibbald
  3. Art UK [ dead link ] BBC Your Paintings - Robert Sibbald
  4. 1 2 3 4 McCrae, Morrice (2007). Physicians and Society: A Social History of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Birlinn Ltd. p. 7.
  5. Chisholm 1911.
  6. "Southwest Colorado Wildflowers, Sibbaldia procumbens". Retrieved 2018-02-16.
  7. "The Sibbald Physic Garden". Archived from the original on 4 November 2016.
  8. Barnes LG, McLeod SA. (1984). "The fossil record and phyletic relationships of gray whales.". In Jones ML; et al. The Gray Whale. Orlando, Florida: Academic Press. pp. 3–32. ISBN   0-12-389180-9.
  9. National Art Library (Great Britain) (1870). First proofs of the Universal catalogue of books on art. 2. London: Chapman and Hall. p. 1883. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  10. Sibbald (1707). Sibbald's History & Description of Stirlingshire Ancient and Modern 1707 (1892 ed.). Edinburgh: R. S. Shearer & Son. Retrieved 19 June 2017.