Royal Reels: Gambling


The cover was addressed to The Dean, The Faculty of Medicine, The University of Edinburgh, Scotland. It had the ½d bicolour orange and mauve‘Tablet’ and the green ‘TWO PENCE Sideface’ stamps of Tasmania, cancelled with DELORAINE/ JU 22/ 94 and the numeral ‘25′, second allocation. The reverse had a transit Launceston (Figure 1).

An enquiry of the Centre for Research Collections of the University of Edinburgh revealed that Sir Thomas Fraser MD, FRS was the incumbent Dean of Medicine in 1894 (he was Dean of Medicine for many years, unstated except for 1894). Neither of his 2 obituaries gave the term dates for this position, but I did find that Professor Cunningham was Dean in 1906. Both obituaries did not give any data on his parents.

Sir Thomas Richard Fraser (1841-1920) was one of the ‘Big Five’ of Edinburgh medicine at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the last one to die. Fraser had been born in Calcutta in February 1841, and educated in public schools in Scotland before attending the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated M.D. in 1862 and received the gold medal for his thesis on the early scientific study of physostigmine. This was the beginning of an outstanding and influential career in pharmacology. Working closely with Professor Alexander Crum Brown, Fraser defined the chemical and physiological action of drugs as well as carrying out pioneering research on the antagonists of poisons. His papers examined subjects such as arrow and snake poisons and immunity. Much of this work was reported in lectures to the College (of Physicians) and subsequently published in the British Medical Journal or the Journal of Anatomy and Physiology in 1868 -69.

In 1874 Fraser somewhat unexpectedly took up the position of Medical Officer for Health for Mid-Cheshire. He continued to lecture in London and Edinburgh until 1877, when he was appointed with much acclaim as successor to Sir Robert Christison, the ‘father’ of materia medica and Fraser’s mentor in Edinburgh. In the following year he was also made Professor of Clinical Medicine, and he held both posts until his retirement in 1917.

A natural leader, Fraser served as Dean of Medicine at Edinburgh University, sat on the University Court and on the General Medical Council and was president of the College from 1900-1902, during which time he chaired the Indian Plague Commission. For this particular work he was knighted in 1902.

Fraser was President of the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland (1908-09) and from 1907 he was honorary Physician in Ordinary to the King in Scotland. He received honorary LLD degrees from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, an ScD from Cambridge and an honorary MD from Dublin, as well as numerous overseas honours. He was a Fellow of both the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The only personal details were left to the end, as follows: Surprisingly, Fraser occasionally found time for fishing, shooting and photography. Of his 11 children (eight sons and three daughters), one son became Professor of Medicine in London. Only the first page of his obituary in the British Medical Journal of January 17, 1920 (he died on the morning of January 4, 1920) could be accessed, so there may have been more personal details on the second page.A picture of Fraser is seen in Figure 2.

I thank Ann Henderson (Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh, Scotland) for  supplying Thomas Richard Fraser’s name as being Dean of Medicine, Edinburgh.