James Abercrombie, SV/PROG

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James Abercrombie, SV/PROG

Also Known As: "Abercromby"
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland
Death: Died in Cape Town, Cape, South Africa
Cause of death: Failing health after the cholera epidemic of 1867
Place of Burial: Cape Town
Immediate Family:

Son of Alexander Abercromby and Elizabeth Cuningham
Husband of Magdalena Elizabeth Abercromby, b3 SM
Father of Aletta Elizabeth Abercromby, b1; James Abercromby, b2; Magdalena Elizabeth Sheriff, b4 and Alexander Abercromby, b3

Occupation: Medical doctor, surgeon
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About James Abercrombie, SV/PROG

James was part of Moodie's Party on the Clyde in 1817


British Families in South Africa James Abercrombie, b. Edinburgh 26.10.1798, d. Rondebosch, Cape Town, 21.11.1870. Arr. 1817 with Moodie's party. Medical practitioner; Member of Legislative Council 1854-1858. M. Cape Town 26.11.1820 Magdalena Papas, d.o. Diederik Pallas, 4 c.; rem. Johanna S. Denneys, 1 c.


The spelling of the the surname is somewhat problematical. Both spellings are found in Scotland, but James Senior and his two sons' names were spelt ending "ie" both in the book cited below (extract appended) and in the original records of their graduation from St Andrews and Edinburgh Universities. However, it was always spelt "Abercromby" down the branch of Alexander's family, and Alexander spelt his grandparents' names this way on their memorial stone in Greyfriars Kirkyard (see links and info on the relevant profiles). -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Further information obtained from the University of St Andrews Alumni Relations (Sept 2015, by email):

Abercrombie, James. M.D. by examination 4.8.1840 Born Edinburgh 1797 (possibly baptised 8/10/1798 son of Alexander Abercrombie and Elizabeth Cunningham.) Apprentice to John Caird, Edinburgh. Medical student Edinburgh University 1813-1817. Practised Cape of Good Hope from 1817. His son, James was MD Edin. In 1851 and succeeded him in practice. Died 1871. (UY309; Burrows, A history of medicine in South Africa 110; Lancet 1872 I p97)

Then some further information from librarian Julie Greenhill, that the above information was sourced from "...St Andrews University Register 1747-1897 by Robert Smart. The text in brackets at the end of the entry is the sources used by the author. 'UY309' refers to the Joint Matriculation and Graduation Roll from 1739-1888. It lists the students who received the M.D qualification on 04/08/1840, including James Abercrombie. All the names are written in the same hand, so it is likely they were recorded by a University Official. In this document, James Abercrombie’s name is spelled with an ‘ie’."


"The second source listed by Smart is a book called A history of medicine in South Africa up to the end of the nineteenth century by E Burrows. As we have a copy in our library, I was able to check it for the reference to James Abercrombie. I have attached the relevant pages to this email. It contains quite a lot of information which you should find helpful to your research. In this book also, Abercrombie is spelled with an ‘ie’.

James Abercrombie was awarded an M.D by examination from the University of St Andrews in 1840, when he had already been a practicing medical professional for some years. This qualification essentially amalgamated all of his previous study and professional experience. At the time, it was not necessary to study at the university in order to sit the examination. However, the process would take several days, and candidates would have to prove that they were suitably qualified and of good moral standing in order to obtain the qualification.

Finally, I found an entry for James’ son (also James Abercrombie) in the 1865 Medical Register. His place of residence is listed as Cape Town, and his surname is also spelled with an ‘ie’. Historically, the spelling of surnames was not fixed, so it is quite possible that the ‘y’ spelling was adopted by the family further down the line."

An extract from A history of medicine in South Africa up to the end of the nineteenth century (Burrows, Edmund H. Cape Town : A.A. Balkema, 1958 [c1957]) is attached as a source, and provides much interesting information not only about Dr Abercrombie, but the practice and politics of medicine at the Cape at the time.


The prevalence of the name "Alexander" in the family, and a bit of research about the designs on the coat of arms, leads me to believe that he belongs to the Glassnaugh Abercrombies, so may be related to this one somehow: Alexander Abercromby, 2nd of Glasshaugh ???


Further notes on the first recorded usages of the name "Abercrombie, Abercromby" from A Dictionary of English Surnames: The Starndard Guide to English Surnames, by P.H.Reaney & R.M.Wilson (3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 1995). "William, John de Abercromby 1296, 1305... From the barony of Abercromby (Fife)." (G.F.Black's The Surnames of Scotland. New York, 1946.)

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James Abercrombie, SV/PROG's Timeline

October 26, 1798
Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland
- 1817
Age 14
Edinburgh, Edinburgh City, United Kingdom
Age 18
Swellendam, Western Cape, South Africa
January 1819
- 1867
Age 20
Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
Age 22
South Africa
June 1830
Age 31
Age 37
April 8, 1838
Age 39
November 21, 1870
Age 72
Cape Town, Cape, South Africa