Monro (Secondus) | Alexander | 1733-1817 | professor of anatomy, University of Edinburgh

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Alexander Monro (1733-1817), Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at the University of Edinburgh, was a member of a family of anatomists - he followed his father in his post and his son followed him. He was educated at the High School in Edinburgh and then, from age 12, at the city's university. At university, he studied mathematics and philosophy (in which he did not graduate, as was the custom with arts students) before specialising in medicine. He became a Doctor of Medicine in 1755.

In 1754, Monro was appointed as conjoint Professor of Anatomy and Surgery, along with his father. Monro was a popular lecturer - his post was granted after students of his father (for whom he occasionally lectured before he gained his own position) expressed their approval of his teaching. He eventually took over the full responsibilities and the title of Professor of Anatomy and Surgery. His skills encouraged growing numbers to attend his lectures, and attendance reached a peak of 436 in 1783. Though Monro was an anatomist, not a surgeon, his jealousy made him block all attempts to establish a separate chair of surgery at the university.

Monro is notable for the medical records he kept (10,007 cases detailed in 33 volumes) and for his discovery of the Foramen of Monro, which links the lateral and third ventricles of the brain. This discovery was explained in his publication, Observations on the Structure and Functions of the Nervous System.


Alexander Monro was the youngest son of Alexander Monro, his predecessor in the chair of Anatomy and Surgery at the University of Edinburgh. His own son, Alexander Monro, succeeded him in the chair of Anatomy and Surgery, and lectured, among other things, on the phrenology of serial killer Burke, whose body he had dissected.

Other Significant Information

Notable Publications:

The Structure and Physiology of Fishes Explained and Compared With Those of Man and Other Animals , (1785)

A Description of All the Bursae Mucosae of the Human Body; Their Structure Explained and Compared With That of the Capsular Ligaments of the Joints, and of Those Sacs which Line the Cavities of the Thorax and Abdomen: With Remarks on the Accidents and Diseases Which Affect Those Several Sacs, and on the Operations Necessary for their Cure., ( 1788)

In Experiments on the Nervous System, With Opium and Metalline Substances; Made Chiefly With the View of Determining the Nature and Effects of Animal Electricity, (1794)

Observations on the Muscles and Particularly on the Effects of their Oblique Fibres: With an Appendix, in Which the Pretension of Dr. Gilbert Blande, That He First Demonstrated the Same Effect to Be Produced by Oblique Muscles as by Straight Ones, With a Less Proportional Decurtation of Fibres is Proved to be Quite Unfounded, (1797)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1754: Appointed conjoint Professor of Anatomy and Surgery, University of Edinburgh

1755: Awarded Doctor of Medicine (MD), University of Edinburgh

1758: Appointed Profesor of Anatomy and Surgery, University of Edinburgh

1759: Elected Fellow, Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh

1760-1763: Elected Joint Secretary, Philosophical Society of Edinburgh

1763: Elected President, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

1763-1783: Elected Secretary, Royal Society of Edinburgh


List of sources for the biographical information:

Gillispie, Charles C, Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol IX, (New York , Scribner's, 1974)

Lee, Sidney, Dictionary of National Biography, vol XIII, (London, Smith, Elder & Co, 1909)

Sheila Devlin-Thorp, Scotland's Cultural Heritage, vol I, (Edinburgh, Manpower Services Commision (STEP) and the University of Edinburgh, 1981)