Thomas Graham Balfour

Balfour, Thomas Graham (1813–1891), physician, the son of John Balfour, a merchant of Leith, and his wife, Helen, daughter of Thomas Buchanan of Ardoch, was born in Edinburgh on 18 March 1813. He was great-grandson of James Balfour, professor of moral philosophy at Edinburgh, and of Robert Whytt, physician. He graduated MD at Edinburgh in 1834, and in 1836 entered the Army Medical Service.

Soon after joining the service Balfour began work on the first four volumes of the Statistics of the British Army. From 1840 to 1848 he served as assistant surgeon in the Grenadier Guards. In 1848 he became surgeon to the Duke of York's Asylum for Soldiers' Orphans at Chelsea. In 1856 he married Georgina, daughter of George Prentice of Armagh; they had one son, Graham Balfour (1858–1929), author and educationist. In 1857 he was appointed secretary to Sidney Herbert's committee on the sanitary state of the army, and in 1859 he became deputy inspector-general in charge of the new statistical branch of the army medical department. He was elected FRS on 3 June 1858 and in 1860 became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London. Promoted to surgeon-general in 1873, he became principal medical officer at Netley and later at Gibraltar.

In 1876 Balfour was placed on half pay as surgeon-general. He was appointed honorary physician to the queen in 1887, and in the following year he became president of the Royal Statistical Society. Balfour died at his home, Coombe Lodge, Inner Park Road, Wimbledon Park, Surrey, on 17 January 1891.

Balfour is best-known for his reorganization of army medical statistics between 1857 and 1860 while serving in the new statistical branch of the Army Medical Service. His efforts yielded the Statistical Report on the Health of the Army, which he presented to parliament in 1860. A. R. Skelley considers this report to have contained such ‘accurate and complete’ medical statistics about the army that ‘they became the most reliable of any army's in Europe’ (Skelley, 44). Balfour's work in this area of military medical statistics also contributed to ‘the realisation that the ill-health of the British people was mirrored in the physical condition of army recruits’ (ibid.). Ultimately Skelley suggests that although Balfour is not as well known as Florence Nightingale and Sidney Herbert, he deserves consideration as an influential reformer of military medicine who showed contemporaries how this field could affect matters of public health.



Oxford DNB

Norman Moore, ‘Balfour, Thomas Graham (1813–1891)’, rev. Jeffrey S. Reznick, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 28 May 2017]

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