Alexander MacGregor Buchanan (1844-1915)
Alexander Macgregor Buchanan, M.D. Glasc., F.R.F.P.S.G.
By the death of Dr. Alex. M. Buchanan the cause of extra-mural medical teaching in Glasgow has lost one of its chief supporters, while the loss to the Anderson College of Medicine, where for the last forty-one years he acted as Professor of Anatomy, is simply incalculable. Other professors and lecturers might come and go, adorning its class-rooms for a few years till they were provided for elsewhere; but Dr. Buchanan was a fixture. His name became as well known as that of the College itself, and admiring students, infected by the reports of their predecessors, came in numbers every year to study anatomy in his rooms. He had a great reputation as a teacher of anatomy, and he well deserved it. He had a long and varied training for the post he so long held and adorned.
Born in 1844, Dr. Buchanan was educated at the High School, Glasgow, was dux of the junior division of the late Dr. M‘Kindlay’s Latin class, 1855-60, and captured all the first prizes and medals open to him. He entered the University of Glasgow in 1860, graduating in Arts in 1864, taking the degrees of M.B., C.M. four years later, and that of M.D. in 1871. In 1874 he became a Fellow of the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons, and at the time of his death was the oldest member of its board of examiners. As a student of anatomy he studied under the late Professor Allen Thomson and Dr. Mitchell Banks, afterwards the eminent anatomist and surgeon of Liverpool. As soon as he graduated he was appointed Senior Demonstrator of Anatomy by Professor Allen Thomson, and held this post for four years. During this period he formed that method of lecturing and demonstrating which he afterwards carried out so brilliantly in the Anderson College. At the close of his demonstratorship he spent two years as house surgeon and house physician in the Royal Infirmary, thus gaining a thorough knowledge both of surgery and medicine, and especially of the points which could be most aptly illustrated in his anatomical lectures. In 1874 he was appointed to the Chair of Anatomy in Anderson’s College Medical School on the promotion of the late Professor George Buchanan to the Chair of Clinical Surgery in the University.
In his new Chair Dr. Buchanan had but one aim—to become a great teacher of anatomy. He was a brilliant dissector, and though much less of an artist than his great teacher, Professor Allen Thomson, he had imbibed much of the latter’s skill at the black-board. He made not only clear pictures in chalk, but every specimen he demonstrated was converted by his scalpel into a picture designed to show without confusion the points he wished to insist on, and such that no student could fail to recognise and understand every topic prelected on. His students were the first to perceive the artistic clearness and precision of every demonstration, and were often heard to say, as they left his class-room, “ Well, we have learnt a lot to-day.” His style and manner in lecturing were formed partly after those of Professor Allen Thomson, but also, and to a greater degree, on those of Thiedemann, of Heidelburg, for whom Dr. Buchanan frequently expressed the greatest admiration. In 1906 Dr. Buchanan published a Manual of Anatomy in two handsome volumes, fully illustrated by drawings, some original, others from many different sources. The descriptions given are in his most characteristic style—short, terse, and clear, suited to the wants of students.
The work he did for the Anderson College was manifold. His teaching maintained and even advanced its reputation, and this was recognised alike by his students and by his colleagues, who from the oldest to the youngest regarded him as a source of strength both in their councils and in the daily performance of the duties of his chair. On the removal of the College to its present position his labours on its behalf were exceptionally arduous and fruitful, and he was of the utmost assistance by the practical aid he gave in the work of its building and establishment.
His Manual of Anatomy was not only an aid to learners far beyond the limits of the College, but its graphie and clear descriptions attracted within the walls many students desirous of sitting at the feet of one in whose hands the study of anatomy could be rendered so perspicuous and so attractive. Those who had learnt of him became in their turn further messengers of his fame; and it is no exaggeration to say that there are former students of his in every part of the world to bear testimony to the value of his work, and to grieve at the news of his decease.
Held as he was by all in high estimation as a teacher and scientific worker, the pleasures of familiar intercourse with him were amplified by the ease and affability of his relations alike with colleagues and students. Dignity and courtesy were ever the characteristics of his association with them, and those among them who knew him more intimately entertained for him feelings of a warmth perhaps somewhat unusual between teacher and taught.
In addition to the work of his Chair, Dr. Buchanan occupied for fifteen years the post of Freeland Lecturer on Anatomy and Physiology in the Anderson College, the lectures being directed towards the teaching of the general principles of these subjects to laymen. In this popular branch of his subject he was no less successful than in its scientific exposition, and his course attracted large numbers of the laity to the Anderson College. These lectures are now included in the course of the Technical College. Froin 1890 to 1896 he was Examiner in Anatomy to the University of Glasgow, and for many years, as has been already indicated, he was examiner in that subject to the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons.
Many years ago Dr. Buchanan’s health broke down, and, though he partially recovered, he had been in recent years more or less of an invalid. He was able to discharge the duties of his Chair till last summer. His death on 9th November was rather unexpected, and to the many students who loved him with a whole-hearted affection it will come as the news of the loss of a dear and intimate friend.
The following is a list of Dr. Buchanan’s publications :—
- Well-marked lobulation of kidneys in a human adult, Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 1892.
- Use of peroxide of hydrogen in the preparation of bones, Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 1893.
- Diverticulum of small intestine, Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 1894.
- Abnormal cecum and vermiform appendix, Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 1894.
- Calcareous body from burse over patella, Journal of Anatomy and Physiology, 1894.
- Abnormal sternum, Journal of Anatomy and Physiology,
- Manual of Anatomy, Systematic and Practical, including Embryology, two volumes, 1906.