High on the west wall of Drum’s Aisle in the Kirk of St Nicholas Uniting is an elaborate monument, as shown in the first photograph. This memorial relates to two members of the distinguished Aberdeen Gregory family, five generations of whom became professors. To the left of the monument reference is to Elizabeth Gregory, nee Forbes, who was married to John Gregory. The latter was professor of medicine at King’s College in Aberdeen and then moved to Edinburgh University. The section to the right refers to James Gregory, son of Elizabeth and John Gregory. The inscriptions are in Latin, and for James Gregory it records that he visited the place where his mother was buried and, together with his wife and surviving children, to mourn the passing of his daughter Jane MacLeod Gregory in 1813 at the tender age of eight (see below).
Like his father, James Gregory was an Aberdeen-born physician who achieved great distinction. The family had moved to Edinburgh in 1764 when James was 11 years old. He graduated in medicine from Edinburgh University in 1774. His father died whilst he was still a student and he delivered the lectures his father should have given. Just two years after graduating he was appointed to the chair which his father had held. Later he became first physician to the king of Scotland (George III), a position renewed by George IV in 1820. James Gregory died in April 1821 and is buried at the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh.
A closer view of the section referring to James Gregory is shown in the second photograph. The translation of the Latin reads: “Here also her son James Gregory, MD, FRSE, Professor of Medicine in the University of Edinburgh and His Majesty’s principal physician in Scotland – who when a boy, as yet a stranger to sorrow, had paid the just dues to his beloved mother – after 52 years, now an old man, and not unacquainted with misfortunes, but glad to revisit with his wife and children this district and his native city, surrounded by four of his sons and a circle of weeping friends did sorrowing pay the same just dues to his eldest daughter Jane MacLeod, a child most winsome, of highest promise, her father’s delight, her mother’s other soul, by cruel death snatched away in the eighth year of her age, 27 August, 1813”
During his academic life James was popular with students but often not far from controversy. However, he is probably best remembered for his popular remedy of Gregory’s Powders also known as Gregory’s Mixture. This is a mixture of powdered Rhubarb root (2 parts), Light Magnesium Carbonate (6 parts) and Ginger 1 part. The normal dose was about 1 to 4 g. The powder mixture could be taken as such with a draught of water, or dispersed in the water before taking. It was used as a stomach sedative and also had mild laxative properties. It did not taste good – but there is the old adage that if it tastes bad it does you good! Along with many ‘traditional’ medicines, it has fallen out of use in the last half century.