Dr William Edward


William Haldane Edward was born around 1817 at Over Ascreavie in Kingoldrum parish (near Kirriemuir, Angus), one of seven children known to have been born to Janet Ramsay and Peter (or Patrick) Edward, a small tenant farmer. He was the only child who seems to have been given a middle name: ‘Haldane’ was the name of the local minister at the parish church. If the incumbent was a family friend, it seems a little odd that none of the Edward children were recorded in the parish register, even though the minister’s son would later complain that “Parents are very negligent in registering the births of their children”.


The writers of the Kingoldrum Statistical Accounts have next to nothing to say about the educational facilities of the parish, suggesting there was little to boast about. Yet the Edward sons must have received a good enough education for three of them to enter the medical profession. One imagines that on leaving the parochial school in his early teens, William would have found work, perhaps as a weaver, in Kirriemuir. Without well-to-do parents or a generous patron, it is hard to envisage the son of a poor farmer making it through the medical schools of the day. There is no figure available for the cost of four years medical training in Scotland, but in London in 1860 it was between £228 and £268. However, the missionary David Livingstone, also a child of poor parents, is known to have paid for his medical education by working as a cotton spinner. We have to conclude that William must also have earned enough to pay for tuition fees, for lodgings and for his licence to practise medicine. The cost of the licence between 1803 and 1821 was £5 5s, which would have taken an agricultural labourer six months to earn.


Most general practitioners were educated by attending lectures at private medical schools or schools attached to the great hospitals and dispensaries, followed by bedside instruction in hospitals. Classes were also given by teachers associated with some of the ancient medical corporations. These were the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Surgeons in London and Edinburgh, the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. These surgical corporations, besides offering medical classes, were also examining and licensing bodies. A student properly equipped with certificates of attendance at the requisite number of recognised courses could present himself for examination at one these bodies and, if successful, would receive a licence to practise. A student would normally attend classes on anatomy, physiology, chemistry, materia medica (the study of drugs and their actions), the operations and principles of surgery and the theory of disease. Students would attend a hospital and follow two or more courses of clinical (bedside) instruction in surgery and medicine. A compulsory course in midwifery and attendance at surgical operations were also required. This was the educational route that Edward chose.

He probably attended Anderson’s College, a private medical school loosely affiliated to Glasgow University. Since the curriculum required four years of medical study, he must have matriculated at the age of 17, in 1834 (four years later, the regulations changed, requiring students to be over the age of 21 on matriculation). During his time there, one presumes that he met David Livingstone, who began his studies at the same college in 1836. He would have taken an anatomy course, which comprised a series of lectures, possibly enlivened by the display of wax models and injected preparations followed by lessons in practical anatomy. The anatomy classes were probably given by Robert Hunter MD, who was later to be on the local committee of the Phrenological Association. On the practical anatomy course, William would have observed dissection and almost certainly dissected human corpses for himself. He would also have attended lectures on surgery given by James Adair Lawrie MD.  After completing his courses and two years of hospital attendance, he took a course in midwifery and obtained an LM (Licentiate in Midwifery) from Edinburgh in 1838. He graduated with an LFPS (Licentiate of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons) from Glasgow the following year.


In 1841 he was to be found in Forfar High Street, a Surgeon living with his brother James, who was also a Surgeon. Ten years later, he had moved to Letham, where he described himself as a Surgeon - General Practitioner. His sister Jane became his housekeeper. Dr Edward was employed as a Medical Officer to his own parish - Dunnichen - and the neighbouring Carmyllie parish. The level of earnings - less than £29 a year - suggests that these were strictly part-time posts. His duties might have included visiting sick parishioners who were supported by parish funds - those on poor relief could receive visits from the parish doctor or call at his surgery free of charge. To judge from the number of people who owed him money when he died - at least 28, with a collective debt of some £58, his main income came from visiting the sick and by providing death certificates.


He occupied a modest house, which he did not own, in the main square of the village of Letham and never married. This may help to explain how he came to be worth over £8120 in cash at his death on 6 August 1889. Oddly, considering his profession, no doctor attended or signed his death certificate - the entry in the Register simply reported a “(supposed) brain haemorrhage - not certified”. Clearly something of an eccentric, perhaps a little cantankerous, his Will makes interesting reading. He gets straight down to business with the first item: his nephew Charles Smith Edward “is to get nothing, nor to be allowed to enter my house; that's him settled”. William believed in the value of education. He stipulated that the small amounts he disbursed to his other nephews and nieces were to be for their education. He stated that it has “taken me hard work fifty years to make the money that I have and I want it kept for another fifty years”. He wanted the bulk of his money invested and, in 50 years’ time, an Estate was to be purchased in his name that would never be sold. Such belief in the stability of the world of human affairs and in his own power to control matters from beyond the grave was accompanied by the uncompromising instruction to his agent to “beat off” anyone who objected.

And object they did. In November 1890 his heirs went to the Court of Session, contending that the “bequest of legacy was void from uncertainty”. In addition, two men claiming to be nephews of the deceased crept from the woodwork and demanded a share. The Court rejected the suit, though it did reduce the 50 year restriction to 21 years.