Alexander Armstrong, son of Alexander Armstrong of Fermanagh, received his first medical education as the apprentice of a doctor at Limavady, County Derry. He then studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and at Edinburgh University, where he graduated in 1841. At the age of twenty-four he entered the medical department of the Royal Navy, and was posted to the Polyphemus. He was a member of a party landed in 1843 to explore Xanthus, and received the British Museum’s thanks for his scientific observations and the Commander-in-Chief’s commendation for his medical arrangements during the expedition. On his return to England in 1846 he received an appointment in the Royal Yacht. In 1849 he was appointed surgeon and naturalist to H.M.S. Investigator, which was sent in search of Sir John Franklin. This expedition lasted for five years, the Investigator having to be abandoned in the ice and its crew transferred, as the result of a gallant rescue, to H.M.S. Resolute. But it established the existence of a north-west passage. Moreover, the measures adopted by Armstrong to supply lime-juice to the crew prevented any appearance of scurvy for more than two years, which was then a record in the annals of Polar travel.
Afterwards, from 1855 to 1856, Armstrong served in the Cornwallis in the Baltic during the Crimean War, being present at the bombardment of Sveaborg, and on the North American station. In 1858 he was appointed deputy inspector-general of the Mediterranean Fleet, and from 1859 to 1864 he was in charge of the hospital at Malta. In 1866 he was promoted to be inspector-general, and three years later became director-general of the medical department of the Royal Navy. He received many honours, including the Arctic, Baltic, Jubilee and Blane medals. He was created K.C.B. in 1871. He published in 1857 a Personal Narrative of the Discovery of the North-West Passage and in the following year Observations on Naval Hygiene. Personally he was tall, good-looking and athletic, a man of combative temperament and merciless to inefficiency. But, on the other hand, he was known to be just, an implacable foe to any sort of jobbery, and always ready to give his subordinates full credit for good work. During his later years, he lived as a bachelor in the Albany, until in 1894 he married Charlotte, widow of Sir William King Hall. He died at his home near Loughborough.
G H Brown
[Lancet, 1899; B.M.J., 1899; Times, 7 July 1899; D.N.B., 1st Suppl., iI, 61]