William Pulteney Alison : activist philanthropist and pioneer of social medicine
The thesis looks in detail at three inter-related aspects of Alison's life. It examines, firstly, his role in the development of Edinburgh's rudimentary 'health' network, achieved through the expansion of the existing medical charity structure and the introduction of a more interventionist and coordinated approach to the city's health problems. It traces, secondly, the development of Alison's social thought - in 1820 he believed that medical and practical relief for the poor could and should be supplied through the voluntary charities and only when that proved unsatisfactory through the poor law, whereas by 1840 he argued that public health should be the responsibility of government and that the excessive increase in poverty and disease in Scotland, which he believed had occurred, was proof that the charitable and legal relief provided was inadequate. Finally, Alison's influence on the passage of Scottish poor law and public health legislation in the 1840s and 1850s is examined - the latter involving an assessment of how far he was responsible for the legislative delay. The poor law debate, 1840-1845, which reveals the forces shaping the reform and the prevailing attitudes to poverty, highlights the challenge which Alison's opinions represented and the resulting turmoil in Scottish social thinking, while his reasons for opposing health legislation, which established London control are of great importance. They reveal differences in the rationale behind, and way in which, the concept of public health was developed in Scotland and England. Unlike Chadwick and his supporters, Alison emphasised poverty amelioration and sanitary reform. Part of the explanation for the differing opinions lay in their respective miasmatic and contagionist theories for fever generation, but it also reflects, perhaps more significantly, the impact of European medical police ideas on Scottish medical opinion - Alison's view of public health closely resembled that of the French hygienists.