In 1760, he accepted his first deaf pupil, Charles Shirreff (1749–1829), who later became known as a painter of portrait miniatures. Shirreff, then ten years old, was the son of Alexander Shirreff, a wealthy wine merchant based at the port of Leith, who convinced Braidwood to undertake to teach the deaf-mute child to write.
Braidwood changed his vocation from teaching hearing pupils to teaching the deaf, and renamed his building Braidwood's Academy for the Deaf and Dumb, the first school of its kind in Britain. Braidwood developed a combined system for educating deaf students, which included a form of sign language and the study of articulation and lip reading.:151 This early use of sign language was the forerunner of British Sign Language, recognized as a language in its own right in 2003.
There is one subject of philosophical curiosity in Edinburgh which no other city has to show; a College for the Deaf and Dumb, who are taught to speak, to read and to write, and to practise arithmetic, by a gentleman whose name is Braidwood. It was pleasing to see one of the most desperate of human calamities capable of so much help: whatever enlarges hope will exalt courage. After having seen the deaf taught arithmetic, who would be afraid to cultivate the Hebrides.
Joseph Watson, a nephew of Braidwood, began working with him in 1784. In 1792, Dr. Watson went on to become the first head teacher of the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, which was established on Old Kent Road in Bermondsey.:109–110 Watson's pupils included England's first deaf barrister, John William Lowe.
Braidwood died in 1806, in the parish of Hackney.
In addition to the painter Charles Shirreff, Braidwood's pupils included:
Braidwood married Margaret Pearson on 1 October 1752. The couple had three daughters, all born in Edinburgh: Margaret, born 4 September 1755; Elizabeth born 1757; and Isabella, born 27 January 1758.
All three daughters followed Braidwood in becoming teachers of the deaf, and Isabella continued the running of the school after Braidwood's death in 1806. Little is known about Margaret, and there is no mention or record of her having moved south of the Scottish border with her family in 1783. Elizabeth married early to a Durham surgeon and went to live in his city.
|Wikisource has the text of a 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article about Thomas Braidwood.|