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Thomas Keith
by William Skeoch Cumming
Whitehorse Close in Edinburgh

Thomas Keith MD, LL.D., FRCS (27 May 1827 St Cyrus, Aberdeenshire - 9 October 1895 London), was a Victorian surgeon and amateur photographer from Scotland. He was one of seven sons of Rev. Dr. Alexander Keith, one of the ministers who broke away to form the Free Church of Scotland; his mother, Jane Blaikie (1793-1837), was the sister of Sir Thomas Blaikie, the Scottish magistrate. Three of Thomas Keith's brothers entered the medical profession. [1]

Thomas Keith was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, then studied Art at Marischal College and in 1845 became a medical apprentice - the last in Edinburgh - to Sir James Young Simpson. Keith produced innovations in both surgery and photography. He qualified in surgery at the University of Edinburgh after which he moved to Turin as House Surgeon to Sir William Abercromby in the British Embassy, returning to Edinburgh in 1851.

Thomas shared a practice in Great Stuart Street with his brother George Skene Keith - both were members of Sir James Young Simpson’s team that pioneered the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic. George was also a founding member of the Photographic Society of Scotland. Their surgery flourished and Keith became a prominent gynaecologist and a specialist in ovarian and uterine disorders. Thomas became a close friend of Joseph Lister and was one of the first surgeons to introduce Lister's antiseptic procedures in his surgery.

In his photography Thomas used the waxed paper process. His work showed great artistic skill and a mastery of the chemical processes involved. He often shared his photographic excursions around Edinburgh with his brother-in-law John Forbes White. Because of the pressures inflicted by his medical practice, Keith neglected photography after 1859, but by this time he had created a priceless photographic record of nineteenth-century Edinburgh. Keith's prints and negatives are kept at the Edinburgh Central LIbrary, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Scottish Academy, the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, George Eastman House, Harry Ransom Center [2][3][4][5]

His death early on the morning of Wednesday 9 October 1895, after a lifetime of battling kidney stones, was hastened by constant exposure to early antiseptics. He had been living at Charles Street, Berkeley Square in London and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. He had married a Miss Johnston, first cousin to the wife of Sir James Young Simpson and they had produced six children.

He contributed numerous papers on ovariotomy to the Edinburgh Medical Journal and to the British Medical Journal.




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