Sir George Ballingall
Biography of Sir George Ballingall
Sir George Ballingall first attended four literary sessions at the University of St Andrews, and then commenced medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, where for a period he was assistant physician under the anatomist John Barclay (1758-1826). He received his diploma from the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, on December 17, 1805.
In 1806 he entered the army and became assistant surgeon with the 2nd battalion of the Royal Scots or First Royals. The colonel of this battalion was the duke of Kent, who was a lifelong benefactor of Ballingall. Ballingall gained his expertise as an army surgeon between 1806 and his retiral on half-pay in 1818. Ballingall accompanied his regiment to Madras, India, and witnessed the capture of Java in 1811. In 1814 he returned to Europe, and in 1815 joined the occupational army in Paris as surgeon to the 33rd infantry regiment. Ballingall re-matriculated in 1816 to study chemistry and military surgery before formally graduating doctor of medicine in 1819, after having retired to Halbsold the previous year.
Upon the retirement of John Thomson (1765-1846), Ballingall in 1822 was appointed his successor as Regius Professor of Military Surgery at the University of Edinburgh, soon afterwards becoming surgeon to the Royal Infirmary. On the occasion of the accession of the throne by William IV in 1830, when Ballingall was a member of a homage deputation from the university senate, he was knighted. After Ballingall’s death the chair of military surgeon was abolished.
Ballingall had the title of Surgeon to the Queen, earlier also Surgeon to the Duke and Duchess of Kent. In his later years he was consulting surgeon to the Royal Infirmary.
An elephant’s skeleton he prepared and sent to the anatomist John Barclay from Bangalore became the subject of a caricature drawn by Edinburgh artist John Kay as a comment on a controversial proposed professorship of Comparative Anatomy. The equally controversial professorship of Military Surgery was to occupy much of Sir George’s time and effort during his tenure in the post, as he fervently sought to impress upon the political authorities of the day the necessity of teaching military surgery as a separate discipline, and to establish similar chairs or lectureships in London and Dublin.
He also took a keen interest in the running of the Army Medical Department, particularly during the disastrous Crimean years. He assembled preparations and exhibits, incorporating the collection of Sir Rutherford Alcock (1816–1897), to be displayed in a museum attached to the class of military surgery, and some of the dry preparations (bones) still survive.