George Duncan Gibb



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George Duncan Gibb (MD 1846)

George Duncan Gibb was born in Montréal on Christmas Day 1821, the eldest son of a Scottish-born merchant, Thomas Gibb. After his father died in August 1832, he and his two siblings were brought up by their mother, Magdalena Campbell. After leaving Rev. Dr. Edward Black’s school (connected to St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church), George Gibb entered the study of law, and then spent some time in business — he was listed in the Montreal Directory of 1842/43 and 1843/44 as a “Clerk” and a “Bookkeeper” (1). In 1843, he entered the Faculty of Medicine at McGill College, and graduated with an MD in May 1846; his thesis topic was “Morbid states of the urine” (2). Gibb was also interested in geology and an eager student of chemistry: his entry in Bibliotheca Canadensis — possibly self-written — says, “he was the best chemical student of his day in McGill Coll., and before taking his degree was offered the appointment of Chemist to the newly founded Geological Survey of Can., which he declined, not wishing to devote himself exclusively to that branch of science” (3, p. 143). On October 3rd 1846 he was elected as an “Ordinary Member” of the Montreal Medico-Chirurgical Society. From 1845 to 1847 he was resident apothecary and an assistant house surgeon at the Montreal General Hospital, and he was also appointed Surgeon to the 3rd Battalion of the Montreal Militia. (“This was in some measure a reward for his services as a Volunteer during the Rebellion of 1837” (3, p. 141)).

Between 1847 and 1849 he travelled in Europe and studied in both London and Dublin, where, on April 27th 1848, he obtained a Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. He then went to Paris, arriving in the middle of the June 1848 revolution. While he was in Paris, he presented a paper to the Société de Médecine de Paris on the gunshot wounds he had observed during the revolution (subsequently he was elected a member of the Société); he later published this paper, in three parts, in The British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science, a Montréal journal edited by his former professors Archibald Hall and Robert Lea MacDonnell (4 – 6) .

In 1849 he returned to Montréal, via New York, as surgeon on the packet ship “St George”; an avid reporter, Gibb wrote up his shipboard medical experiences (7). As stated in one of his obituaries, he was “always industrious and with a keen desire to record all that appeared to him of interest” (8, p. 527). Gibb was clearly a very active young man, and the list of his publications covering medicine, natural history, numismatics, geology, anthropology and chemistry is extensive (3, 9).

On his return to Montréal, Gibb took up medical practice again (he lived and practiced on Craig Street) but he soon also became involved in other professional activities. In 1849, he and George Edgeworth Fenwick (McGill MD 1847) advertised a series of lectures on the “different branches of Medical Science, for the instruction of Students about to present themselves before the Medical Boards of the Province” (10, 11), and in 1851 he and Fenwick were among the founders of the St. Lawrence School of Medicine of Montreal ( École de médecine de St. Laurent, à Montréal). The other founders included Francis Arnoldi, who had, in 1845, been involved in the foundation of the Montréal School of Medicine and Surgery ( École de médecine et de chirurgie de Montréal) ; Robert Lea MacDonnell, an Irishman who had formerly been a member of the McGill medical faculty before going, for a short time, to Toronto; and Robert Palmer Howard, (McGill MD 1848) (12, 13).

Gibb was appointed as the professor of the institutes of medicine (See Note A) and comparative anatomy at the St. Lawrence School to which, in the words of W.H. Drummond, “he attracted by his marvellous powers as a lecturer and demonstrator, students from all parts of the country” (14, p. 649). (See note B.) In summer 1852 it was advertised that he would give a three-month series of lectures on pathology (15). As if all this were not enough, he also assisted in the re-founding the Montréal Dispensary at the time of the 1849 cholera epidemic, and was physician there; delivered lectures at the Natural History Society, the Mercantile Library Association, and the Addisonian Literary Society; and was the “Cabinet Keeper” and Librarian of the Natural History Society. He was also Secretary of the Medico-Chirurgical Society from 1849 to 1851 and served on its Committee of Management in 1851. He was a founder and first President of the Montréal Pathological Society, and the Secretary of the Montréal General Hospital (he later became a Life Governor) . During these years he also indulged in his hobby, numismatics, and gathered the information for an unpublished work on the geology of the Montréal area (16). In 1851 Gibb married Mary Elizabeth Rumley (who died in 1861); they had three daughters: Ricarda Cecilia, Helena Theresa, and Julia Sophia (17).

Though the St. Lawrence School of Medicine attracted 24 students (18), it closed after only one year of operation. As noted by Campbell: "it could not compete on equal terms with with McGill University [That year McGill had 64 matriculated students and graduated 15.] The graduates from McGill received their licences from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Lower Canada without further examination … those whose Medical course would have been completed at the St. Lawrence School, had it lived and requiring the Provincial licence, would have had to present themselves to the College for examination on all the branches of Medical Science. The examiners of this Board, were, many of them, Professors in McGill. I have been told by several who were Lecturers in the St. Lawrence School, that it was not considered either wise or fair to submit the chance of their students getting fair play from a Board largely composed of rival Professors. With the termination of its first session the St. Lawrence School of Medicine therefore closed its doors." (19 .

Following the demise of the School, and after unsuccessfully applying for an appointment to the attending staff of the Montréal General Hospital, Gibb decided to leave Montréal again: in June 1853 he settled in London, England. As one might expect from such an industrious man, he soon established a practice there, and in 1855 was also appointed as a Reporter to the Lancet, a position he held for over 10 years. (His entry in Bibliotheca Canadensis notes that this involved writing 3120 columns over ten years, at least six per week) (3, p. 150). He was also attached to two dispensaries, and held an appointment at the West London Hospital. In 1867 he obtained an appointment as Assistant Physician at the prestigious Westminster Hospital, an appointment he considered “one of the most important events in the history of his medical career” (3, p. 142). In 1874 he was appointed Physician there, and was also appointed lecturer in forensic medicine in its medical school. His professional life was busy: he was soon invited to become a Fellow of the Medical Society of London, was elected to its Council in 1855, and was its Orator in 1869. He joined many scientific societies, such as the Geological Society (he was elected a Fellow on June 13th 1855), the Kent Archaeological Society, and the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Shortly after his arrival in London he published a book on whooping cough, dedicated to Lord Elgin, the former Governor General of British North America (20). In 1859 he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians, in 1860 was on the Council of the Obstetrical Society of London, and in 1864 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society. He became more interested in diseases of the throat, and in 1860 published a well-received book on this subject (21). Gibb was subsequently asked by Johann Nepomuk Czermak to translate into English the French edition of his book on the laryngoscope (22); it appeared, in 1861, as Czermak on the laryngoscope and its employment in physiology and medicine in the New Sydenham Society’s prestigious monograph series (23). This translation was very well received, and established Gibb as the laryngologist in London. In 1863 he published his own book on the laryngoscope (24) which was very favourably reviewed in the Lancet:

"Dr. Gibb was an authority on affections of the throat long before the introduction of the laryngoscope, and translated for the New Sydenham Society the monograph of Czermak on the employment of this instrument. His skill in examination of the laryngeal apparatus, and in the treatment of its disorders and diseases, was, therefore, obtained under exceptionally favourable circumstances. He has fully availed himself of the opportunities presented to him, and in this pamphlet gives to the profession some of the results of his large experience. It is written clearly and succinctly; giving just that amount of information about the history and employment of the laryngoscope which the practitioner requires for his guidance in its use." (25)

Gibb followed this with a second edition of his Diseases of the Throat in 1864 and two further editions of his book on the laryngoscope in 1867 and 1868. As Laurenson noted, “Gibb was indeed London’s foremost laryngologist” (26, p. 208).

Though he was clearly busy in London, Gibb was not forgotten in and did not forget Québec. He remained a Member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Lower Canada [Québec] until he died, and apparently welcomed many Québec students to London (27). He was a corresponding member of the Montréal Natural History Society and a donor to the Québec Literary and Historical Society. In 1856 he was awarded an honorary M.A. by McGill, and in 1864 a Doctorate en Droit honoris causa by Université Laval. In 1865 he became an Honorary Member of the Montréal Medico-Chirurgical Society, and was elected one of the first Honorary Members of the Canadian Medical Association at its second annual meeting in 1869. He was the anonymous “London Correspondent” of the Montréal medical publications Medical Chronicle from 1854 to 1859 and the British American Journal from 1860 to 1862. He dedicated several of his books to his old colleague from the St. Lawrence School, George Fenwick. In October 1857 he presented a substantial collection of maps and artifacts of the Crimea to the Montréal Natural History Society and, in 1870, he presented two prizes in clinical surgery to the Faculty of Medicine at McGill (copies of the 3rd edition of his book on the laryngoscope) which were won by Alexander Henderson and Octavius Clarke – Henderson’s copy is now in McGill's Osler Library. In addition to many contributions to British publications, he continued to publish in Canadian journals and clearly kept in touch with his former colleagues.

In his later years, as well as publishing several papers on longevity and (under the pseudonym Carribber) a geology book for “young persons” dedicated to his daughter, Ricarda Cecilia (28), Gibb became obsessed with tracing his decent from the Scottish family of Gib and establishing his claim to the defunct baronetcy of Falkland and Carribber — a pursuit that resulted in some scorn. As noted in one of his obituaries, “unfortunately he left the beaten track he had so far trod so well and devoted the remaining years of his life in seeking after a bauble which, when found, was worthless” (8, p. 529). Gibb published two pamphlets on this genealogical research (29, 30) and a book in 1874 (31); sadly, these publications sullied his considerable reputation. The eminent Edinburgh historian Aeneas J. G. Mackay reviewed the book at some length for the literary journal Academy, noting,

"It is, under the disguise of a family history, an attempt to construct a family, and establish a title to a baronetcy which would at once be rejected if presented to any competent Court. (32, p. 417)

There are a good many baronets, especially in Scotland, with dubious titles; but none of them, so far as we know, has fallen upon Dr. Gibb’s device of supporting them by the publication of biographies of imaginary ancestors. (ibid., p. 418)

In narrating his title to what he calls the Barouny of Carribber, Dr. Gibb, unfortunately for the credit of the Transatlantic University which made him M.A. [i.e. McGill], quotes a Latin Charter and Precept … the errors of which can scarcely be laid to the charge of the printer." (ibid., p. 417)

Gibb died, of tuberculosis, on February 16th 1876, leaving an estate of “Under £600”. (See Note C). As indicated in several quite-extensive obituaries (8, 27, 33– 35) , he was a major figure in medical circles in the mid-nineteenth century in both Montréal and London, and a pioneer in the use of the laryngoscope. He should not be forgotten.


A. “Institutes of Medicine” is equivalent to “physiology” in today’s nomenclature. Gibb’s contemporary Robley Dunglison defined the province of a professor of the Institutes of Medicine as: "to expound the phenomena and laws of the phenomena of the human organism more especially in all their bearings; or to teach what has been, by many, termed, in the aggregate, the ‘philosophy of medicine’—a department which, although not in the curriculum of certain of our schools, ought not to be omitted in any that profess to give full instruction in the science, as well as the art of medicine." (36, p. 7)

Samuel Jackson stated: "The Institutes of Medicine are, comprehensively, the science of medicine as distinguished from medicine as an art, or an empiricism. They may be said, in this view, … to be applied physiology, as mechanic arts are now named applied mechanics." (37, p. 8)

William Osler was appointed to the position of Professor of the Institutes of Medicine at McGill in 1875.

B. In late 2016, during research on Gibb, the serendipitous discovery was made on the online bookselling site Abebooks, of two bound volumes containing manuscript copies of 114 of Gibb’s lectures at the St. Lawrence School of Medicine (38), which were then purchased by the Osler Library at McGill University. It is hoped that, in due course, these will be catalogued properly and fully studied as it is comparatively rare to find a (presumably) complete set of a professor’s lecture notes from this period. The Osler Library already held several volumes of Gibb’s (London) case books in Archive Fonds PO36.

C. Probated wills, including that of George Duncan Gibb, are available, for a fee, from


1. Mackay, Robert W.S. Montreal Directory. 1842–1855, Montreal: Lovell and Gibson.

2. Gibb, George Duncan. Treatise on Morbid States of the Urine, with the Chemical and Other Means of Diagnosis: Together with some General Remarks on Urinary Diseases; Illustrated by Several Cases (Doctoral thesis, McGill University. 1846). 1857, London: Printed by J.J. Metcalfe. (Four printed copies of this thesis are known to exist: one in the Osler Library, one in the British Library, one in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (digitised by Google) and one currently for sale. The copy in the British Library has two hand-written notes: “Presented to the Library of the British Museum by the author. 14th Oct. 1857” and “30 copies only were printed for private distribution.” (The Osler copy has no annotations, the Bodleian Library copy has annotations similar to those in the British Museum copy.) The January 1846 date on the title page is when the thesis was submitted, and it is assumed that the copies were printed in 1857.)

3. Morgan, Henry J. Bibliotheca Canadensis. or A Manual of Canadian Literature. 1867, Ottawa: G.E. Desbarats.

4. Gibb, George Duncan. Cases of gunshot wounds occurring in the month of June in Paris. [head and face].British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science, 1848, October. 4(6): p. 150–3 (Art. XLIV).

5. Gibb, George Duncan. Cases of gunshot wounds occurring in the month of June, 1848, in Paris. No. II [Chest and abdomen].British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science, 1849, January. 4(9): p. 228–30 (Art. LIX).

6. Gibb, George Duncan. Cases of gunshot wounds occurring in the month of June, in Paris. No. III [upper and lower extremities].British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science, 1849, March. 4(11): p. 296–302 (Art. LXXVII).

7. Gibb, George Duncan. Report of the sick on board of the ship "St. George," from Liverpool, bound for New York, with 338 steerage passengers with cases, and remarks on ventilation .British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science, 1849, May. 5(1): p. 9–13 (Art. IV).

8. [obituary of George Duncan Gibb], Sir George Duncan Gibb, Bart. Canada Medical and Surgical Journal, 1876, May. 4(11): p. 527–30.

9. Gibb, George Duncan. Published Works, Memoirs, and Communications, on Medical and Physical Science. (A reprint and update of the bibliography in Morgan's Bibliotheca Canadensis). 1869, London: s.n.

10. Gibb, George Duncan and Fenwick, George E. To Medical Students [advertisement].British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science, 1849, October. 5(6): p. unnumbered

11. Gibb, George Duncan and Fenwick, George E. To Medical Students [advertisement].British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science, 1849, November. 5(7): p. unnumbered.

12. Abbott, Maude Elizabeth. A History of Medicine in the Province of Quebec. (McGill University Publications. Series VIII (Medicine). vol. 63). 1931, Montreal: McGill University.

13. Hanaway, Joseph and Cruess, Richard. McGill Medicine. Vol. 1. 1996, Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

14. Drummond, William Henry. Pioneers of Medicine in the Province of Quebec .Montreal Medical Journal, 1898, September. 27(9): p. 645–53.

15. David, Aaron Hart. St. Lawrence School of Medicine of Montreal [advertisement for summer course of lectures].Canada Medical Journal and Monthly Record of Medical and Surgical Science, 1852, March. 1(1): p. advertising sheet 3.

16. Gibb, George Duncan. Geological Rambles Around Montreal and its Vicinity: With an Account of the History, Physical Geography and Geology of the Island. With numerous woodcuts, and a geological map. 1868, unpublished manuscript. (Manuscript copy held in the Archives of the Geological Society (London). LDGSL/26.)

17. Lodge, Edmund. The Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire as at Present Existing. Arranged and printed from the personal communications of the nobility. Under the gracious patronage of the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty. 38th edition. 1869, London: Hurst and Blackett.

18. Editor(s). The Canadian schools of medicine .British American Medical and Physical Journal, 1852, January. 7 (new series vol. 2)(8 (i.e. 9)): p. 407.

19. Campbell, Francis Wayland. History of the Formation of the Medical Faculty, University of Bishop's College in Montreal. (pamphlet). 1900, Waterville, P.Q.: Osgood.

20. Gibb, George Duncan. A Treatise on Hooping-Cough [sic]: Its Complications, Pathology, and Terminations, with Its Successful Treatment by a New Remedy. 1854, London: Renshaw.

21. Gibb, George Duncan, On Diseases of the Throat, Epiglottis, and Windpipe: Including Diphtheria, Nervous Sore-Throat, Displacements of the Cartilages, Weakness of the Voice and Chest: Their Symptoms, Progress, and Treatment. 1860, London: J. Churchill.

22. Czermak, Johann N., Du laryngoscope et de son emploi en physiologie et en médecine. Translation of Der Kehlkhofspiegel und seine Verwerthung für Physiologie und Medizin: Eine Monographie. Leipzig: Verlag von Wilhelm Engelmann, 1860. 1860, Paris: J.B. Baillière et fils.

23. Czermak, Johann N. On the laryngoscope and its employment in physiology and medicine (translated from the French by G.D. Gibb), in Selected Monographs: Czermak on the Practical Uses of the Laryngoscope; Dusch on Thrombosis of the Cerebral Sinuses; Schroeder Van der Kolk on atrophy of the Brain; Radicke on the Application of Statistics to Medical Enquiries; Esmarch on the Uses of Cold in Surgical Practice. ( Publications of the New Sydenham Society, vol. 11) . 1861, The New Sydenham Society: London.

24. Gibb, George Duncan. The Laryngoscope: Illustrations of its Practical Application, and Description of its Mechanism. 1863, London: Churchill.

25. Editor(s) of The Lancet. Reviews and Notices of Books [review of Gibb's The Laryngoscope: Illustrations of its Practical Application, and Description of its Mechanism].Lancet, 1863, October 31. 82(2096): p. 512.

26. Laurenson, Rae Duncan. George Duncan Gibb (1821–1876): London's foremost laryngologist.Journal of Medical Biography, 1997, November. 5(4): p. 205–9.

27. [obituary of George Duncan Gibb]. Death of Sir George Duncan Gibb, Bart., M.A., M.D., M.R.C.P., London, L.R.C.S., F.G.S., LL.D. Canada Medical Record, 1876, April. 4(7): p. 162–4.

28. Carribber [i.e. Gibb, George Duncan]. Odd Showers: or, Explanations of the Rain of Insects, Fishes, and Lizards; Soot, Sand, and Ashes; Red ain and Snow; Meteoric Stones; and other Bodies. 1870, London: Kerby and Son.

29. Gibb, George Duncan. Pedigrees of James Reid Campbell, of Inverardine, Cornwall, Canada and of Sir George Duncan Gibb, Bart. of Falkland, Fife. Compiled by the latter. 1872, London: Billing. (one sheet.)

30. Gibb, George Duncan. Pedigree of the Ancient Scottish Family of Gibb, Lords of Carribber, Knights and Baronets of Falkland. 1874, London: Guildford (printed by Billing). (one sheet.)

31. Gibb, George Duncan. The Life and Times of Robert Gib, Lord of Carribber, Familiar Servitor and Master of the Stables to King James V. of Scotland. 1874, London: Longmans, Green, and Co. ("By Sir George Duncan Gibb, Bart. of Falkland and of Carribber, M.A., M.D., LL.D".)

32. Mackay, Aeneas J.G. Literature [book review of Gibb's The Life and Times of Robert Gib, Lord of Carribber, Familiar Servitor ... 1874].The Academy, 1874, April 18. 5: p. 417–8.

33. [obituary of George Duncan Gibb]. Obituary .Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal, 1876, April. 4(4): p. 185–6. 34.

34. [obituary of George Duncan Gibb]. Obituary. Sir George Duncan Gibb, Bart., M.A., M.D., M.R.C.P., L.R.C.S.I., F.G.S., Hon. LL.D. Medical Examiner [London, England], 1876, February 24. 1(8): p. 154.

35. [obituary of George Duncan Gibb]. Obituary. Sir George Duncan Gibb, Bart., M.A., M.D., M.R.C.P., L.R.C.S.I., F.G.S., Hon. LL.D. Medical Times and Gazette, 1876, March. 1(11): p. 295.

36. Dunglison, Robley. An Introductory Lecture to the Course of the Institutes of Medicine, &c. in Jefferson Medical College, delivered October 9, 1860. 1843, Philadelphia: "Published by the Class"; Joseph M. Wilson.

37. Jackson, Samuel. Introductory Lecture to the Course of the Institutes of Medicine in the University of Pennsylvania. Delivered October 12, 1855. 1855, Philadelphia: Published by the Class; T.K. and P.G. Collins, Printers.

38. Gibb, George Duncan. Lectures on Physiology Delivered in the St Lawrence School of Medicine at Montreal. 1865, [London]: bound by E. Riley.

Thanks: Many thanks are owed to my friend and colleague Deanna Cowan who untangled my syntax and tidied up my prose and the references. Any errors that may remain are, of course, mine.

Written in spring 2017, published on this website July 2017.