The Patrick Matthew who studied medicine at Edinburgh in 1804/5 and 1805/6 was a namesake of the arborist. This Patrick Matthew, who came from Newbigging, is the person recorded taking courses in anatomy, surgery, and medical practice at Edinburgh University. I quote from page 24f of a manuscript that is available online at

"Traces of the existence of Patrick Matthew from Newbigging (NPM for short) can be found in many independent documents. Before piling these historical records, here’s the short version:

NPM was baptised on 16 August 1785 in Errol, son of Peter/Patrick Matthew and Jean McCulloch of Newbigging, Errol.

He studied medicine at Edinburgh University from 1804-05 (1st year) to 1805-06 (2nd year).

The British India Office of Medical Staff appointed him as Assistant Surgeon in 1805.

At 18 April 1806, he earned a diploma from the Royal College of Surgeons.

His appointment as Assistant Surgeon was promptly approved on 14 November 1806.

On 13 December 1806, he boarded a ship headed for Bengal as assistant surgeon.

His illegitimate child with a Malay woman was baptised Eliza Dwyer on 6 Feb. 1817 in Fort William in Kolkata (Calcutta).

His legitimate child with Margaret née McGowan was baptised Margaret on 9 November 1818 in Benares (Varanasi).

He was promoted to surgeon on 16 April 1820. 13 years was quite the normal length of service for such a promotion in the Honorable East India Company (HEIC).

He died on 15 August 1830, aged 45, in the HEIC's Bengal Establishment and was buried in the kacheri (meaning headquarters in the language Kannada) cemetery in Cawnpore (Kanpur)."

Our Patrick Matthew from Gourdiehill, the arborculturist, may or may not have studied at Edinburgh, but he surely never studied medicine and surely not from 1804 to 1806. There is a possibility but no proof that Matthew attended lectures at the university. For example, the 1808 class list of Prof. Charles Thomas Hope contains an entry that might be from our Gourdiehill Matthew, but it is not clear whether this signifies a one-time visit to an entertaining experimental lecture (as we still know them today as Christmas lectures), or whether it signifies longer attendance. Whichever is the case, this entry cannot mean that Patrick Matthew had to terminate his course of studies because of the unexpected death of his father (as stated by everybody since Calman said so in 1912). This is impossible, because his father died in December 1807 (see page 15 in the above linked manuscript). The above mentioned entry in 1808 is from the session starting in October 1808, hence, his father had already been dead for 10 months.

Another possibility is that Patrick Matthew of Gourdiehill visited lectures of Andrew Coventry, the first professor of agriculture in Britain, as an extra-academic attendant (or what Americans term an auditor). Coventry, who welcomed the sons of farmers and the like to his courses, did not charge them to attend (since many would not have been able to afford the tuition), record them in his class lists (which seem to be lost anyway), or reported them in the university's matriculation books. That is, although none of the matriculation records of Edinburgh University can be from our Gourdiehill Matthew, he nonetheless could have obtained some smattering of university education from Coventry (p. 20 of the manuscript). Although a matter of mere speculation, such a university stint could have occurred before December 1807 and have been truncated by the father's death in December 1807. But since no record of it whatsoever remaines, it will forever remain speculation.

Another caveat with Foster's biography appears in his claims that Patrick Matthew became introduced to the ideas of St. Hilaire, Baron Georges Cuvier, and Jean Baptist de Lamarck during a visit to Paris in 1815. Such a visit is known, but I know of no evidence (historical source) of his meeting these scientists, since the only evidence of his traveling to Paris is an anecdote about his fleeing the city upon hearing of Napoleon's return. Of course, his travels are a likely source for his acquaintance with these continental ideas. But Foster should state this source of his ideas is an opinion or interpretation rather than as a fact.

Last modified 18 February 2019