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Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Dr Matthew Daniel Eddy

Eddy, M. (2008). ‘An adept in medicine’ the Reverend Dr William Laing, nervous complaints and the commodification of spa water. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 39(1): 1-13.

Author(s) from Durham


This essay addresses mineral water as a medical, experimental and economic material. It focuses on the career of the Reverend Dr William Laing (1742–1812), a physician and cleric who wrote two pamphlets about the water of provincial spa located in Peterhead, a town on the north-east coast of Scotland. I begin by outlining his education and I then reconstruct the medical theory that guided his efforts to identify tonics in the well’s water. Next, I explain why Laing and several other local inhabitants thought themselves to be authorities on the palliative power of the water and I close by showing how such effects were commodified by local entrepreneurs. Although I concentrate primarily upon Peterhead Spa, this study touches upon several issues relevant to the types of medical theory and chemical experimentation that were being used in provincial Scotland during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.