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Restoration of Dr James Lawson Drummond’s grave marked with ceremony at Ahoghill Old Graveyard

Newly restored grave of Dr James Lawson Drummond

Councillor Beth Adger was delighted to be invited last week (Friday June 2nd) by Professor Alun Evans, President of the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, to an event marking the restoration of the burial place of Dr James Lawson Drummond in Ahoghill Old Graveyard.

The event was Cllr Adger's last civic duty as deputy mayor of Mid and East Antrim borough in what she says was "a year packed full of engagements".

Dr James Lawson Drummond was born in Larne in 1783 and grew up to lead a remarkable life. He grew up and joined the Naval Medical Service in 1806 at 23-years-old.

Based in the Mediterranean, where the fleet was under the command of Admiral Lord Cuthbert Collingwood, who had succeeded Nelson at Trafalgar, Drummond served on a number of vessels, eventually, on Collingwood's orders, being appointed surgeon on HMS San Juan, a warship which had been captured from the French.

According to the monument in Ahoghill graveyard  Drummond served 'his country with distinction' under Collingwood, 'by whom his talents, zeal and professional skill were highly appreciated.'

Plaque on wall

Service in the Mediterranean allowed Drummond to study the natural world in different settings.

From 1811-13 the San Juan was anchored close to the New Mole at Gibraltar, which provided Drummond with the opportunity in the spring and autumn to observe the migration paths of swallows, as he related years afterwards to his friend, the naturalist William Thompson.

After receiving permission to retire from the Navy in May 1813, Drummond qualified in Medicine from Edinburgh in 1814 with an MD Thesis concerning the comparative anatomy of the eye. Written entirely in Latin, as was then the custom, it was dedicated to William Bruce, the Principal of his old school.

His real passion, however, lay in teaching and after further study in October 1817 he wrote to the Joint Boards of the recently established Belfast Academical Institution (Inst') offering gratis a series of lectures on medicine, specifically on the Anatomy, Physiology, and Diseases of the Human Bones.


A little over a year later, he gave up general practice and other medical commitments, and joined the staff of Inst as Professor of Anatomy and Physiology, retaining this position for 31 years.

His main role at Inst was to help students preparing for the Presbyterian ministry to acquire a smattering of medical knowledge, and, as he told a parliamentary committee in 1825, he taught 'a very wide field of natural history', which set his course apart from courses in Anatomy taught in medical schools.

His remuneration was small, initially only £50 per annum, and for two years from 1823, when funds were tight, he drew no pay at all.

Drummond's most resounding achievement was the establishing of the Faculty of Medicine at Inst in 1835.

He had promoted the idea of a joint surgical and medical school for the province as early as 1826. Drummond supervised construction of the accommodation of the new Faculty and even contributed over £200 (at least £20,000 today) from his own pocket.

It was therefore fitting that when the Medical Faculty opened, Drummond became its first President, and again in 1844.

Councillor Beth Adger

Councillor Beth Adger

Former deputy mayor Councillor Beth Adger said:

"I am aware that as part of the Society's Bicentennial celebrations in June 2021, attention was turned to Dr Drummond's grave and that of his wife Eliza.

"As Council has responsibility for Ahoghill Old Graveyard, we were happy to facilitate the Society's commitment to bring the grave furniture back to a fitting condition as a way of honouring the memory of Dr Drummond.

"I understand that Nathan Morrow, of local firm, Rock Stone Masonry in Glenarm, was commissioned to undertake this restoration and I would like to commend his work along with the decision of the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society to fund raise to successful undertake this refurbishment project.

"I am also very pleased today, just a few weeks after the 170th Anniversary of Dr Drummond's passing, to note a new booklet on James Lawson Drummond produced in partnership between the Society, and Council's Museum and Heritage service.

"In a very engaging and accessible way the booklet reminds us of Dr Drummond's family connections to the Mid and East Antrim area, in Larne as well as Ahoghill.

"It also reveals his role as the founder President of the Belfast Natural History Society and his lasting importance to scientific learning and debate in 19 century Belfast."

Cllr Adger continued:

"We are very proud of our villages across the borough and the strong sense of their history and civic pride that they demonstrate, alongside their notable built heritage surrounded by the natural beauty of our local countryside.

"In that context, we consider project's such as this one, that undertakes Dr Drummond and his wife Eliza's grave (Eliza lived in Gracehill for a number of years) to be an enhancement that Mid and East Antrim has to offer our cultural tourists, linking Larne, Belfast and beyond.

"We have been very pleased to work with the Belfast Natural History and philosophical society and recognise the input from Dr William Roulston, Dr David Johnston and others to today’s event."

Cllr Beth Adger and ceremony attendees

Councillor Beth Adger concluded:

"This was my last civic duty in a year packed full of engagements.

"I am always happy when I among the community - to feel the warmth of their reception, fills me with peace and contentment."


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