“How many more of you are there?” A Family of Medics

In 1863 John Robertson, the son of a farmer, graduated MD (Doctor of Medicine) from the University of Glasgow. He then graduated CM (Master of Surgery) in 1869. This, in itself, is not unusual. The medical school at the University of Glasgow was well established. A definite curriculum, which included courses in anatomy, surgery, chemistry, and the theory and practice of medicine, had been in place since 1802. The first professors of Surgery and Midwifery had been appointed in 1815, and Chairs in Materia Medica, Physiology and Forensic Medicine established in the 1830s. John likely studied under Joseph Lister, Professor of Surgery 1860-69, who developed a revolutionary system of antiseptic surgery which put Glasgow at the forefront of modern surgery.

After he graduated John practised medicine in Dumbarton. He married Elizabeth McLean and started a (rather large) family. John had 15 children, 10 boys and 5 girls. Though women were permitted to study at Scottish universities in 1892, it appears none of the Robertson sisters attended the University of Glasgow or Queen Margaret College. But when it comes to the brothers, there is a very different story. Of the 10, 8 studied Medicine at the University of Glasgow. For over 20 years, between 1888 and 1914, there was a steady stream of Robertson brothers studying at the University. Mabel Robertson, the wife of the youngest brother, brought attention to this extraordinary medical dynasty in the Whitsun 1976 issue of the University’s College Courant: “How many more of you are there?” asked one bewildered professor, and it’s not hard to see why.

College Courant, Whitsun 1976. Glasgow University Archive Services, DC174/3/1/56

The University Archives contain the student records that bring this and many other UofG stories to life. Now researchers looking into the family of Australian film, television and theatre actress Marta Dusseldorp for Who Do You Think You Are Australia have helped highlight the story again for today’s audiences. Marta is the great grandchild of Frederick Gordon Robertson and she visited the Thurso Street reading room to hear first-hand about this extraordinary story from our Senior Archivist Moira Rankin.

See more about Marta’s WDYTYA episode on the SBS website here

We have matriculation (registration) records, which include personal information such as birthplace, address, and father’s details, allowing us to identify the Robertsons as brothers, as well as information about their university studies. We have graduation records, which tell us when they graduated and how well they did. And for some of the later brothers, we have small photographs.   

The first of the Robertson siblings to attend the University was James Andrew Robertson. He enrolled in 1888, and graduated in 1892.

Matriculation Album 1888-89. Glasgow University Archive Services, R8/5/9/7

James Andrew was followed by Allan McLean Robertson, who enrolled in 1889 and graduated in 1893. Allan died young, in 1896 at the age of 23.

Matriculation Album 1889-90. Glasgow University Archive Services, R8/5/10/7

There was a brief gap when there were no Robertson brothers studying medicine, until Arthur Robertson enrolled in 1900. He graduated in 1905.

Matriculation Album 1900-01. Glasgow University Archive Services, R8/5/21/7

The fourth brother was Frederick Gordon Robertson, who enrolled in 1901 and graduated in 1906. This was the first year that the Faculty of Medicine produced Final Year Dinner Books which included photographs of all of the graduates.

Matriculation Album 1901-02. Glasgow University Archive Services, R8/5/22/7
Faculty of Medicine Final Year Dinner Book. Glasgow University Archive Services, DC225/1/4

After Frederick Gordon came Edwin Robertson who enrolled in 1907 and graduated in 1912.

Matriculation Album 1907-08. Glasgow University Archive Services, R8/5/28/7

Faculty of Medicine Final Year Dinner Book. Glasgow University Archive Services, DC225/1/10

Then Frank Morton Robertson, who graduated in 1913.

Matriculation Album 1908-09. Glasgow University Archive Services, R8/5/29/7

Faculty of Medicine Final Year Dinner Book. Glasgow University Archive Services, DC225/1/11

And Stuart Robertson, who enrolled in 1909 and graduated in 1914.

Matriculation Album 1909-10. Glasgow University Archive Services, R8/5/30/7

Faculty of Medicine Final Year Dinner Book. Glasgow University Archive Services, DC225/1/12

And finally, Stanley Robertson, also a 1914 graduate.

Matriculation Album 1909-10. Glasgow University Archive Services, R8/5/31/7

Faculty of Medicine Final Year Dinner Book. Glasgow University Archive Services, DC225/1/12

This is just one of the many remarkable stories that can be found in the archives.

Categories: Archives and Special Collections

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