George Kellie (1770-1829)

George Kellie (1770-1829) was a Scottish surgeon.

George Kellie’s work, that ultimately led to the Monro-Kellie doctrine, began after he was asked to examine the bodies of two people who died in a storm in Leith, near Edinburgh on the morning of the 4th of November 1821.

Kellie noted that the veins in the meninges and surface of the brains of the two unfortunate souls were congested and the associated arteries were relatively bloodless, while the brain was otherwise normal.

Together with Alexander Monro secundus gave his name to the Monro-Kellie doctrine

  • Born 23 July 1770 Leith, Scotland.
  • 1786 Apprentice surgeon to James Arrott (1760–1818)
  • 1786–1788 University of Edinburgh medical studies, where he first studied under Alexander Monro secundus , who he would later collaborate with and eventually be eponomously bonded.
  • 1790 – 1800 Royal Navy surgeon. During his 10 years of service he is known to have served aboard HMS Champion, Expedition, Sphynx, Iris, Leopard, Romney and Ardent.
  • 1801 Physician at Valencienne, where english prisoners of the Napoleonic war were held.
  • 1802 Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
  • 1803 MD, University of Edinburgh. Thesis ‘de Electricitate animale’,
  • 1805 Married Anne Wight, with whom he had 2 children.
  • 1823 Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
  • 1827 President of the Edinburgh Medico-Chirurgical Society
  • Died 28 September 1829, suddenly, whilst returning from visiting a patient.

Medical Eponyms
Monro-Kellie doctrine (1783, 1824)

The sum of volumes of brain, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and intracerebral blood is constant. An increase in one should cause a reciprocal decrease in either one or both of the remaining two.

Kellie’s contribution to the doctrine stems from papers he published on the post mortem examination of two individuals that were found deceased in Leith the morning after a winter storm.

The circulation within the head is, in truth, of a very peculiar description. The brain itself, little compressible, is contained within a firm and unyielding case of bone, which it exactly fills and by which it is defended from the weight and pressure of the atmosphere (…) a force, therefore, that must be constantly operating to maintain the plenitude of the vascular system within the head. If these premises be true, it does not appear very conceivable how any portion of the circulating fluid can ever be withdrawn from the cranium, without its place being simultaneously occupied by some equivalent; or how any thing new or exuberant can be intruded, without an equivalent displacement.

[Kellie, 1824]

Fun Facts

George Kellie also forayed into other areas of science and medicine. During his time in the Royal Navy he sent many letters to his Father many of which were published on a variety of topics both medical and anatomical.

In one of his letters he reports to his father on the anatomy of the shark, commenting in great detail on the intestinal tract or ‘primae viae’ as it was then described.

On dissecting the shark, the primae viae appeared to me extremely curious and a striking deviation from the plans of nature.

Kellie 1796

George Kellie lived at a time where venereal disease was rife, particularly amongst sailers who George Kellie lived with. In a letter again to his Father, he detailed his treatment for syphillitic ulcers which consisted of application of nitric acid to the areas. He reported some success in reducing the size or completely eradicating ulcers.

The ulcer is now nearly filled up with florid granulations, and the healing process commencing. Belly open, but not loose. Sweats during the night. Pulse 80. Continue acid.

Kellie 1797


Complicating research on George Kellie includes wrong dates of birth (1758–1779); alternate spelling as Kellie or Kelly; and confusion with his father George Kelly (1742–1805) – also a surgeon in Leith.

Major Publications

Thanks must go to David Crowe, direct relative (Great grandson^4) of George Kellie for allowing us to use the portrait of George Kellie, which has been passed down his family. We must also thank David for his research into George Kellie’s life’s work and military career.

George Kellie (1770-1829)
George Kellie (1770-1829)



the person behind the name

Dr Callum MacLean MBChB. | LinkedIn |

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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