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Biographical entry Shaw, Alexander (1804 - 1890)

MRCS Sept 12th 1828; FRCS Dec 11th 1843, one of the original 300 Fellows; LSA, 1827; MD Glasgow April 11th 1822.

6 February 1804
19 January 1890


Born on Feb 6th, 1804, the sixth son of Charles Shaw, Clerk of the County of Ayr, and Barbara Wright, his wife, daughter of a Collector of Customs at Greenock. John Shaw (1792-1827), Lecturer on Anatomy at the Great Windmill Street School of Medicine, who helped Sir Charles Bell in making his discoveries on the nervous system; Sir Charles Shaw (1795-1871), who saw much service in the Carlist Wars; and Patrick Shaw (1796-1872), the legal writer, were his brothers. One of his sisters, Marion, married Sir Charles Bell, another became the wife of Professor George Joseph Bell.

Shaw was educated at the Edinburgh High School and afterwards went to the University of Glasgow, matriculated in 1819, and graduated MA on April 11th, 1822. He then entered the Middlesex Hospital, London, where Sir Charles Bell had been Surgeon since 1812, and was elected Assistant Surgeon in 1836 and Surgeon in 1842. On his retirement in 1872 he was appointed Consulting Surgeon. He joined the Medical School of the Middlesex Hospital when it was first founded, and at the time of his death was the sole survivor of the original members of the staff.

He was admitted a pensioner at Downing College, Cambridge, on June 28th, 1826, but the death of his brother John in 1827 caused him to leave Cambridge and take up duty at the Great Windmill Street School.

At the Royal College of Surgeons he served as a Member of the Council from 1858-1865. At the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society he served as Hon Secretary, Vice-President, and Treasurer, publishing some papers on rickets in the Medico-¬Chirurgical Transactions(1832, xvii, 434; 1840, xxiii, 336); also "Dislocation of the Atlas upon the Vertebra Dentata" (Ibid, 1848, xxxi, 289) and "Successful Treatment of Popliteal Aneurism" (Ibid,1859, xlii, 209). In 1869 he republished, with additions, Sir Charles Bell's New Idea of the Anatomy of the Brain, which had originally been issued privately in 1811. Sir Charles Bell died in 1842, and Lady Bell then kept house for her brother, making it a centre for the literary and scientific society of the period.

Shaw married in 1856 Susan Turner (d 1891), widow of J Randall, and by her had one son, who died an infant He practised at 22A Cavendish Square, but retired to 136 Abbey Road, NW, and died on Jan 18th, 1890.

Shaw was perhaps better known as an anatomist interested in the physiological experiments of his brother-in-law, Sir Charles Bell, than as a surgeon; but he was a good surgeon who never lost interest in his profession, although he was incapacitated from work for some years before his death. There is a portrait in the Fellows' Album.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Dict Nat Biog sub nomine et auct ibi cit. Lancet, 1911, i, 290].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England