James Williamson : 1805-1858

Falmouth Packet Surgeon, 1828-1835.

Born in 1805, James Williamson was the son of James Williamson, Excise Officer, & Mary Williamson (nee Blair). The family may have come from Dumbarton, but this is by no means certain.

In 1851 he gave his profession as a Licentiate of College of Surgeons Edinburgh & Druggist, so it seems reasonable to assume that he studied and qualified at the Royal College of Surgeons of the City of Edinburgh – who had been granted a new Charter by King George III, on 22nd May 1778. His enrolment had not been discovered, but –

During the first two centuries of its existence, the Surgeons admitted to membership those apprentices who had been trained for six years by master surgeons and who had given satisfactory service. A statutory fee had to be paid and the aspiring surgeon was required to produce his ‘ticket’ as a Burgess of the City of Edinburgh, but the most important condition of entry was the passing of an examination, conducted by the senior members of the Incorporation.

Many newly qualified surgeons sought employment in the Falmouth Packet service in order to gain practical experience. We know that in the early 1800s aspirant packet surgeons had to present a Certificate of Examination at Surgeon’s Hall, London, but a certificate from one of the Scottish institutions must have been equally acceptable, and from their names a number of Scots appear to have served as packet surgeons.

No correspondence has been yet discovered about James’s appointment to the Falmouth Packet Duke of York. Given the civil status of that packet, it is not known for certain whether his appointment was a naval or a civil one, but the probability is that it was a civil appointment. This assumption is supported by the fact that his name has not been discovered in the lists of Surgeons, and Assistant Surgeons published in the Navy Lists.

The opening passage of his first voyage account reads – ‘On Monday the 11th August 1828 at exactly five weeks after having entered the service …,’ giving his date of entry as July 7th 1828, when he would have been 23 years of age.

James appears to have left the packet service on the termination of the Duke of York’s contract of hire, which further supports the assumption that his was not a naval appointment. He now appears to have returned to his native Scotland, and to have gone into private practice. In 1834 his mother Mary was living at Gardners Crescent, Edinburgh, and there is mention in the journals of a brother – Jacob. I have been unable to trace either of them in the ‘on-line’1841 census reports.

In the 1851 census returns, James is residing at 16, Grove Place, Edinburgh (which was also his address at the time of his death). Then aged 45, he gave his occupation as a ‘Licentiate of College of Surgeons Edinburgh & Druggist,’ and lived there with his sister Margaret (50), and an elderly cousin Benia (79), otherwise Brenca, or Binca.

James died on January 26th 1858, when the cause of death was given as ‘apparently dysentery which continued for some days,’ as certified by J. Cornwall, M.D. The death certificate records him as being a single man, and at the time of his death he was a Surgeon & Chemist, residing at 16, Grove Street, Edinburgh. According to the certificate of Thomas Ellis, undertaker, he was buried at Dalry Cemetery. His death was registered on March 1st 1858, when his next of kin appears to have been William Williamson of 37, Gallowtree Gate, Leicester, who was ‘not present.’

The Journals have passed down through William Williamson’s branch of the family.