Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2017: The Lives of Doctors

The bright spark who lit up Glasgow

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 08 December 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5597
  1. Chris Holme, freelance historian
  1. Gullane, East Lothian, UK
  1. cholme{at}

Chris Holme explores the life of the 19th century physician and electrician John Macintyre

Pressure on doctors to keep up with technology can be a pain, but it’s nothing new. For John Macintyre, it was not just a pleasure but an all consuming passion.

Macintyre had an astonishingly inventive mind, making some of the earliest sound recordings of the great singers and actors of the late Victorian era. He had humble origins, born the son of a tailor in Glasgow’s High Street in 1857. He became an apprentice “sparkie” (electrician), but an aunt’s bequest enabled him to study medicine. After graduating in 1882 he gained experience in London, Paris, and Vienna.

These twin interests shaped his early career in gaslit Glasgow. As consulting medical electrician, he literally brought electric light to the wards of the Royal Infirmary. He also worked as an ear, …

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