Dr James Douglas FRS

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Dr James Douglas (born March 21, 1675, died April 2, 1742), was a Scottish physician and anatomist, member of the Royal Society, and physician to the Queen (Caroline). Brother of well-known lithotomist John Douglas (died 1759), James Douglas was born in Baads, West Calder, West Lothian, Scotland in 1675, one of the seven sons of William Douglas (d. 1705) and his wife, Joan, daughter of James Mason of Park, Blantyre.

In 1694 he graduated MA from the University of Edinburgh and then took his medical doctorate at Reims before returning to London in 1700. He worked as an obstetrician, and gaining a great reputation as a physician, was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1706, FCP in 1721. He was also appointed Physician Extraordinary to Queen Caroline, George II's wife. Douglas practiced midwifery and performed public dissections at home.

Douglas mentored and befriended anatomist and surgeon William Hunter (1718–1783), who he met in 1740 when Hunter came to London. Hunter would live in the Douglas household and remained there after Douglas died in London on April 2, 1742, leaving a widow and two children.

Douglas, one of the most respected anatomists in the country, was also a well-known man-midwife. He was asked to investigate the case of Mary Toft, an English woman from Godalming, Surrey, who in 1726 became the subject of considerable controversy when she tricked doctors into believing that she had given birth to rabbits. Despite his early scepticism (Douglas thought that a woman giving birth to rabbits was as likely as a rabbit giving birth to a human child), Douglas went to see Toft, and subsequently exposed her as a fraud.

As a result of Douglas's investigations of female pelvic anatomy, several anatonomical terms bear his name.

• Douglas pouch - Peritoneal space formed by deflection of the peritoneum.
• Douglasitis - Inflammation of Douglas pouch.
• Douglas abscess - Suppuration in Douglas pouch, most often seen in appendicitis or adnexitis.
• Douglas fold - A fold of peritoneum forming the lateral boundary of Douglas' pouch.
• Douglas line - The arcuate line of the sheath of the rectus abdominalis muscle.
• Douglas septum - The septum formed by the union of Rathke's folds, forming the rectum of the fetus.

In 1725 James Douglas FRS published an account in his A Description of the Guernsey Lilly, as it was known then. Douglas gave it the Latin name Lilio-Narcissus Sarniensis Autumno florens. Linnaeus called this Amaryllis sarniensis in 1753, after Douglas' usage.



Sources for this article include:

• Papers and Drawings of James Douglas, Glasgow University Library archives

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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024