James Burn Russell
James Burn Russell graduated from the University of Glasgow, BA in 1858, MDCM in 1862 and LLD in 1885. He is considered one of the top pioneers in public health, reforming the way infectious disease was managed and prevented in Glasgow, and battling slum landlords and town councillors to improve the living conditions of the city’s poorest inhabitants.
He was born in Glasgow in 1837 to David Russell, a printer, and Agnes Bryson. The family moved to Rutherglen the following year, but his mother died when he was only two years old. His father went bankrupt by 1851, and moved to Australia to work for the Sydney Morning Herald in 1853, leaving James and his sister Agnes in the care of their grandparents, at Auburn Cottage, Rutherglen. His grandfather was James Russell, Glasgow’s first steamboat harbour master.
James Burn Russell received his early education at the High School of Glasgow. After completing his Arts degree at the University of Glasgow in 1858, he acted as assistant to his former teacher Lord Kelvin. Russell assisted Kelvin with laying the first Atlantic cable. He then moved from electrical engineering to the study of medicine, graduating from the University of Glasgow, MD CM, in 1862.
After completing his studies, Russell worked as a Resident Assistant at the fever wards of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, gaining experience in the treatment of infectious disease. During the typhoid outbreak of 1864-1865, Russell was appointed as Physician Superintendent of Glasgow’s first fever hospital.
In 1872 he was made Medical Officer of Health for Glasgow, developing sanitation and hygiene policies which greatly reduced the city’s death rate. Reforms developed by Russell included the compulsory notification of infectious diseases, as well as increased training for nurses. In 1898 he was chosen to be the Medical Member of the Local Government Board for Scotland. He died in 1904.
Above, Auburn Cottage, Rutherglen, home of James Burn Russell.
Source: The University of Glasgow Story. Additional information by Cynthia Wardle
Project Muse - review of the book ‘Glasgow's Doctor: James Burn Russell, 1837-1904’ by Edna Robertson, published by Tuckwell Press Ltd. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Vol. 74, No. 1, Johns Hopkins University Press.
The Herald, 17/12/1998 – review of Edna Robertson’s book, details as above.
Rutherglen Reformer article 17/10/2016 about JBR’s great granddaughter visiting his home in Rutherglen
© Rutherglen Heritage Society