Alexander Wood, (1725-1807)

14] Alexander Wood, (1725-1807) popularly known as Lang Sandy Wood was a much loved and respected surgeon with a large private practice but is best remembered for his genial nature, his convivial disposition and his eccentricities. He was an enthusiastic supporter and founder member of the medical Aesculapian Club and the Harveian Society, which survive to this day, and of the Gymnastic Club in which he held the office of Gymnaciarchus Magnificus.  A poem read at the Gymnastic Club gives a colourful description of this sociable member.[i]

Here lies Sandy Wood, a good honest fellow,
Very wise when sober, but wiser when mellow;
At sensible nonsense by no man excell’d.
With wit and good humour dull care he repell’d.
In the cure of diseases, his talents long shone; As a good operator he was second to none: A friend and a bottle were long his delight; He could toil all the day, and yet laugh all the night.
But though now he’s laid low, we must not complain, For, after a sleep, he’ll be with us again: Shed no tears my good friends, wear no garments of sable, SANDY WOOD is not dead, but laid under the table.

Wood had a fondness for animals and had many cats and dogs as pets in his house in York Place and always carried a supply of pet food in his pockets. He was sometimes accompanied on domiciliary visits to his patients by Willy, a tame sheep, which was pastured in the site of what is now the Royal Bank in St Andrew Square.  A tame raven which frequented a bar in North Castle Street would perch on his shoulder when he walked by.

His fame was such that he was immortalised by Byron in 5th Canto of Childe Harold

Oh for an hour of him who know no feud The octogenarian chief, the kind old Sandy Wood;

Sir Walter Scott, who was one of his patients, also refers to him in Meg Merrilees. Robert Burns who was treated by Woods for a leg injury, referred to him as ‘my very worthy respected friend, Mr Alexander Wood.’  Wood was one of the subscribers to the first edition of Burns’ poems and recommended Burns for the post of commissioner for excise.

Wood lived to a ripe old age remaining active to the end, still operating and playing golf into his eighties. On his death a member of the Gymnastic Club wrote:

Let us profit by example, Let us imitate the good; With courage, yet with tender feeling, Let us live and die like Wood.

He was President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh from 1762-64. 

[i] Chalmers, J Andrew Duncan Senior p129


Alexander Wood by George Watson
Courtesy of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh