Alexander Gordon

1752 - 1799

Alexander Gordon graduated in medicine in Aberdeen in 1780. He served in the Royal Navy as a surgeon until 1783 then trained in midwifery in London. In 1785 he returned to Aberdeen where he gained an MD from Marischal College. He became physician to the Aberdeen Dispensary and practised obstetrics and lectured on the subject at Marischal College.

From 1789 Aberdeen suffered a series of epidemics of puerperal fever. Gordon carefully gathered statistics on these and published the results in "A Treatise on the Epidemic Puerperal Fever of Aberdeen" in 1795 (digitised by the Wellcome Collection). Fifty years before Semmelweis he showed that it was not caused by 'a noxious constitution of the atmosphere' as doctors then believed but only 'seized such women only as were visited, or delivered, by a practitioner or taken care of by a nurse who had previously attended patients affected by the disease'.

He recognised that he was not blameless. 'It is a disagreeable declaration for me to mention that I myself was the means of carrying the disease to a great number of women.' He argued that spread could be prevented by attendants carefully washing their hands and wearing clean clothes after attending patients with the disease. His views were ridiculed by medical and nursing colleagues and soon after the publication of his book Gordon was recalled to the Navy. In 1799 he developed tuberculosis from which he died. He is commemorated by a plaque at 17 Belmont Street.

Alexander Gordon

The image above shows the poor state of his gravestone in St Nicholas kirkyard, Aberdeen. There are plans to restore it. images