BOYLE, ALEXANDER, physician, surgeon, and army officer; b. 1771 in Aberdeen, Scotland; m. 11 Feb. 1818 Cornelia Jane Boyd of Saint John, N.B.; d. 14 April 1854 in Saint John.
Little is known of Alexander Boyle’s early life. He received his md from Marischal College (University of Aberdeen) and then as a young man entered the British army. Stationed in Saint John from 1817 to 1822, he became a personal friend of Lieutenant Governor George Stracey Smyth*. In 1818, with Smyth’s support, he established the Provincial Vaccine Establishment in Saint John, which was supervised by his father-in-law, Dr John Boyd Sr. At that time concern was being expressed throughout the province over the care of sick and disabled seamen. When many sick immigrants arrived in 1818 and 1819 the overseers of the poor complained that many seamen and immigrants were being cared for in almshouses, at the expense of the parishes, whereas they should be treated in hospitals. As a result, in March 1820, the House of Assembly passed an act to provide for the care of seamen: a duty of one penny per ton was to be imposed on all vessels over 60 tons entering the province’s ports and the money was to go to the overseers of the poor in the parish where it was collected. The following March the act was amended to allow excess funds collected in one port to be transferred to the overseers in another parish where they might be required. However, the problem was not solved, and Boyle and others urged the establishment of a marine hospital.
In April 1822 Boyle announced in the newspapers that he intended to retire from the army and set up a practice in Saint John. This statement came one month after the House of Assembly passed an act providing for the creation in Saint John of the province’s first marine hospital as well as a pest-house. Duties collected under the earlier acts would be transferred to a board of commissioners, which was to have five or more members appointed by the lieutenant governor. The first board consisted of William Black*, president, Thomas Heaviside, secretary treasurer, Edward James Jarvis, Zalmon Wheeler, and Boyle. The commissioners were empowered to hire a building for use until proper facilities could be erected and Boyle took up the search. In June he rented one for £70 per annum. Boyle also drew up the first regulations for the hospital, which was called the Kent Marine Hospital. A number of seamen were transferred immediately to this building; immigrants too were to use the hospital for several years.
The question of a medical officer was also discussed in June 1822. At a meeting which Boyle did not attend, it was decided that he should be offered the position at a salary of £180 per year, and he subsequently accepted it. No one at the time considered it irregular that the board should appoint one of its own members to the position. In 1823 Boyle went to Fredericton to attend Smyth in his last illness and he was named an executor of the governor’s will. Shortly after Smyth’s death, a committee of the House of Assembly decided that Boyle’s salary as medical officer was too high and that it was improper for a member of the board also to be its employee. The board of commissioners disagreed, claiming that under the act of 1822 they had the right to appoint whomever they pleased and that they could set the salary of the medical officer just as they regulated all other expenditures of the hospital. They said they had already reduced the salary to £150, pointed out how valuable Boyle’s services had been in establishing the hospital, and maintained “that they should have looked in vain for such aid elsewhere in the Province.” The implication was that Boyle was irreplaceable.
The commissioners also claimed they were responsible to the lieutenant governor and not to the assembly. While Smyth had been alive, this arrangement had worked well. However, the new lieutenant governor, Sir Howard Douglas*, sided with the house. It was soon obvious that Boyle could be replaced and in September 1824 the position was offered to his brother-in-law, Dr John Boyd Jr, at a salary of £100. He accepted and continued to hold the position until his death in 1857.
During the squabble between the board and the assembly, Boyle had tactfully withdrawn from the province. He returned to Scotland and in 1826 was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Later the same year he returned to Saint John where he continued to practise medicine until his death. Little is known about his activities as a medical practitioner after his return, but he had no further connection with the hospital. He was described as a “reserved and courtly gentleman who had a habit, when walking, of throwing his head back as if gazing at heaven.” He was generally respected as a physician and surgeon and during the 1830s served on examining committees which licensed physicians to practise in the province.
N.B. Museum, Elizabeth Innes, notebooks: 27; Marine Hospital, minute-book, 1822–27; Reg. of marriages for the city and county of Saint John, book A (1810–28): 112. N.B., Acts, [1786–1836], 1820, c.15; 1821, c.9; 1822, c.27. Morning News (Saint John, N.B.), 17 April 1854. “Provincial chronology,” New Brunswick Magazine (Saint John), 2 (January–June 1899): 229. W. B. Stewart, Medicine in New Brunswick . . . (Moncton, N.B., 1974). A. D. Gibbon, “The Kent Marine Hospital,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll. (Saint John), no.14 (1955): 1–19. J. W. Lawrence, “The medical men of St. John in its first half century,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 1 (1894–97), no.3: 292–93. Observer [E. S. Carter], “Linking the past with the present,” Telegraph-Journal (Saint John), 30 April 1930: 4; 1 Dec. 1930: 4.