From the Book of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee 1513 to 1885.

Sir Robert Sibbald of Kipps, Physician - 3rd May 1670



The name of SIR ROBERT SIBBALD of Kipps is memorable, both because of his eminence in his own profession as a Physician and for the great service which he rendered to the country by his numerous literary works. Several biographies of him have been published, but they are all incomplete in points of vital importance. The following sketch is founded principally upon the manuscript Autobiography that he wrote in 1695, and which is now in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, amongst the valuable documents that were acquired by the Faculty of Advocates at the sale of his collection in 1723. This Autobiography was formerly in the possession of JAMES BOSWELL of Auchinleck, who contemplated publishing it; but it lay in manuscript until JAMES MAIDMENT included it in the first volume of his Analecta Scotica. It is of special interest as recording a striking incident in the Siege of Dundee by GENERAL MONK, in 1651, at which time Sir ROBERT was resident in the Burgh.

SIR ROBERT SIBBALD was born in Edinburgh, on 15th April, 1641, being the fifth child of his parents.

"MY father," he writes, "was Mr DAVID SIBBALD, third brother to Sir JAMES SIBBALD, Knight, Baronet of Rankillor, and Keeper of the Great Seal under the EARLE OF KINOUL while he was Chancelor, after which he lived privately upon his own fortune. He was a man of a mild spirit, very civill and kynd to his relations and acquaintences. He dyed the year 1660, and was buried at Edinburgh. . . . He was 71 years old." SIR ROBERT'S mother was MARGARET BOYD, daughter of Mr ROBERT BOYD of Kipps, Advocate, and he describes her as "a vertuous and pious matron of great sagacity and firmnesse of mynde, and very carefull of my education." His taste for literature was apparent at a very early age, for he quaintly relates that "while I was a child in my nurse's arms my grandfather did observe my inclination for letters, for when I cryed and weept upon any occasion, I stilled upon the giving me the Psalms of BUCHANAN he keept in his pocket." He began his studies at the Grammar School of Cupar in 1650, but the turmoil caused by the invasion of Scotland by CROMWELL forced his family to take refuge in Dundee.

"The following yeer," he writes, "my parents removed me with them to Dundee, wher we were when the towne was taken by storme. My father was hurt with a strock given him by a footman with a carabin. We were all plundered, and lost in jewells, silverwork, and money, and all the furniture of the house to a great value. We sold some meal to gett a pass and to pay forre our transportation wher I went on foot from the Ferry to Cowper, there not being enough of money to purchase a horse for me.
"In the time the Inglishes were storming the town there was a battery erected by them, from which they fyred canon and muskets into the High Street from the Banet raw, opposite to the Morow gate. The townsmen had putt up a sconce of dealls in the middle of the streat. My sister, Geals, a child then of eight years of age, had passed somewhat higher than the sconce, and was exposed to ther view. I ran after her to bring her back, and they fyred at us in the returning; the ball missed us, and battered upon the street. I took it up and brought it with me."

His academical course was continued at the High School of Edinburgh and completed at the University there, whilst ROBERT LEIGHTON, afterwards Bishop of Dunblane and Archbishop of Glasgow, was Principal. Under the tuition of this saintly prelate SIBBALD made great advances in his studies, and confesses that he was influenced in the direction of "a serious and good lyfe" by the advice of the Principal.

"I shunned the playes and divertisements the other students followed," he writes, "and read much in my study, for which my fellowes gave me the name of DIOGENES in dolio."

Like many other Scottish matrons, MARGARET SIBBALD wished to devote her son to the Church; but the dissensions amongst the numerous sects at the time gave him "ane disgust of them." His opinion of the religious questions of the day is put tersely and truthfully:

"I saw non could enter to the ministerie without ingadging in some of these factions, and espousing their interests. . . . Upon this consideration I fixed upon the studie of medicine, wherein I thought I might be of no faction, and might be usefull in my generation, if not here, elsewhere. Upon which consideration I resolved to goe abroad to prosecute that studie, and see the world, and know men."

In March, 1660, SIBBALD embarked in a Dutch frigate, and went to Holland, where he studied at Leyden for a year and a half under several of the most famous Professors of his time. Having completed his course at Leyden, he went on a tour through the Continent, remaining at Paris for nine months. His studies here were principally directed towards botany, clinical surgery, and anatomy, and shortly afterwards he obtained his degree as Doctor of Medicine at Angiers. Thence he returned by London to Edinburgh, where he arrived at the end of October, 1662.

During his absence on the Continent, his father had died deeply involved in debt in consequence of his losses at the Siege of Dundee, and young SIBBALD devoted himself with intense ardour to clearing off the liabilities of his parents. He applied himself with energy to the practice of Medicine, and soon gathered around him a large circle of patients. "The designe I proposed to myself," he writes, "was to passe quietly through the world, and content myself with a moderate fortune, and it was a dozen of yeers after I came here before I resolved to marry."

Whilst abroad prosecuting his studies, SIBBALD had become acquainted with SIR ANDREW BALFOUR, Son of SIR MICHAEL BALFOUR of Denmiln, in Fife, one of the most eminent Physicians of his time, and the acquaintance was renewed when SIR ANDREW settled in Edinburgh. He and SIBBALD projected and set out the first Botanic Garden in Scotland, having obtained a portion of the ground belonging to Trinity Hospital, in Edinburgh, for that purpose. The intention of the projectors was to make this garden a place for the rearing of foreign plants used in Medicine and thus to direct the attention of the Faculty towards the study of Botany.

After his Mother's death in 1672, SIBBALD became the proprietor of the estate of Kipps and the Mill of Torphichen, which had belonged to his maternal grandfather, and from which he took his territorial designation. Five years afterwards he was married to ANNA LOWES of Merchistoun, and settled on the estate of Kipps.

In his Autobiography, SIR ROBERT explains, with great amplitude, how he became acquainted with the EARL OF PERTH, and by what means that nobleman induced him to adopt the Roman Catholic faith. It is not necessary to detail the steps by which this conversion was effected. It is sufficient to state that he was blamed by the multitude for perverting the EARL himself, and only escaped assassination through the aid of JOHN GRAHAM of Claverhouse, VISCOUNT OF DUNDEE.

The principal work accomplished by SIR ROBERT SIBBALD was the establishment of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Edinburgh. For some time before its foundation, several of the most prominent physicians had been accustomed to meet regularly in the house of SIR ROBERT SIBBALD, and they were ultimately formed into a College and constituted by Royal Patent, dated 30th November, 1681. In the following year SIR ROBERT was knighted by the DUKE OF YORK, then High Commissioner in Scotland, and was appointed Physician to CHARLES II. and Geographer of Scotland. The latter appointment was made in consequence of some steps which SIR ROBERT had taken to procure accurate information as to the topography and condition of Scotland, by sending a series of questions in the form of a circular to prominent persons precisely the method adopted by SIR JOHN SINCLAIR a century afterwards when preparing his Statistical Account of Scotland. According to his own statement, SIR ROBERT SIBBALD "employed JOHN ADAIR for surveying, and did bestow much upon him, and payed a guinea for each double of the Mapps he made." but ADAIR afterwards repudiated this bargain, and SIR ROBERT was deprived by the Privy Council of any profit which might have arisen from this first complete map of Scotland. To SIR ROBERT do we owe the credit of producing the earliest intelligent account of the Kingdom of Scotland, which he called Scotia Illustrata, for the work that TIMOTHY PONT and SIR JOHN SCOT of Scotstarvet had brought out before his time was very imperfect and inexact. SIBBALD's History of the Sheriffdom of Fife and Kinross, published by him in 1710, is still referred to as an authority, and displays a wonderful amount of antiquarian research.

The reputation which SIR ROBERT had won as a Physician led to his appointment, on 5th March, 1685, as the first Professor of Medicine in the University of Edinburgh, at which time he was also President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons that had been founded mainly through his instrumentality. He continued actively engaged in literature until his death. His biographers only state the time of his death inferentially as taking place in 1722, because his books were sold in February of the following year. The exact date is shown by this announcement in the Caledonian Mercury for 12th August, 1722:

"Last week Sir ROBERT SIBBALD of Kipps, M.D., Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, died here, in the 83rd year of his age. He was a person of great piety and learning, and author of many learned and useful books, especially in Natural History."

A portrait of SIR ROBERT SIBBALD was presented to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1744 by LADY DUNTARVY, one of his daughters, and is still preserved in the Hall at Edinburgh.