The memorial to James Borthwick of Stow (1615-1676) is one of several in Greyfriars Kirk Yard, Edinburgh dedicated to eminent surgeons and doctors.
James Borthwick was a 17th century Apothecary who had served abroad as a surgeon with Alexander Pennycuick during the Thirty Years War in the 1640’s.
Most surgeons at this time were Surgeon Barbers belonging to guild of surgeons and barbers.
Surgical qualification in the 17th Century was a very grey area, with some serving apprenticeships under surgeon barbers and others who’s only qualification was the ability to attract patients.
Although James had not served a formal apprenticeship, he was admitted to the Incorporation as a Master Surgeon in 1645 and it is suspected that the timing may have something to do with Pennycuick being Deacon at the time.
Borthwicks’ appointment was for the sole purpose of teaching anatomy, the first person in the history of the college to do so.
By 1647 disease and Plague had reduced the Incorporated masters’ numbers to only eight active tutors.
The Surgeon Apothecary came into being in 1657 when Borthwick and his colleague, Thomas Kincaid, joined the study of pharmacy to that of surgery.
Borthwick held the post of Deacon from 1648 to 1651 and 1659 to 1661. His son, Francis, became a member of the Incorporation in 1675.
James Borthwick owned the estate of Stow and was Member of Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh for a number of years.
The imposing memorial stands about 4 metres high and two metres wide on this side of Greyfriars Church but the first thing that strikes the eye is the almost full size dancing skeleton in relief carrying a scythe.
Below the skeleton is a crown which is said to denote righteousness.
A skull and cross bones is carved centrally at the bottom.
The side panels are carved with illustrations of surgical instruments.
Greyfriars Kirk (church) – History
|A Famous and Flourishing Society: The History of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, 1505-2005