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William Cullen lived from 15 April 1710 to 5 February 1790. He was a well known doctor who went on to become an influential academic. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
William Cullen was born in Hamilton and educated at Hamilton Grammar School. In 1726 he went to Glasgow University, where he studied medicine. In 1729 he became a ship's surgeon on a merchant ship trading between London and the West Indies, before taking up a post the following year as assistant to an eminent doctor in London. He returned to Scotland in 1732 to practice as a doctor in Shotts in Lanarkshire. From 1734 to 1736 he studied medicine at Edinburgh University, where he helped found the Royal Medical Society and developed an interest in chemistry.
In 1736 Cullen returned to Hamilton, where he established a very successful medical practice, including among his patients the Duke of Hamilton and his family. He married in 1741 and in 1744 moved with his family to Glasgow. Glasgow University awarded him a lectureship in chemistry and he was elected President of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. In 1751 he was made Professor of Medicine at Glasgow, and also continued lecture on chemistry. Amongst his pupils was Joseph Black.
In 1755 he became Professor of Chemistry and Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, going on to lecture on clinical medicine in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. The following year he gave the first public demonstration of artificial refrigeration, but he was ahead of his time and no commercial application was found. During his time in Edinburgh, Cullen published a number of important works on medicine. He continued to teach until a short time before his death on 5 February 1790.