He was born in Edinburgh, the son of David Sibbald (brother of Sir James Sibbald) and Margaret Boyd (January 1606 – 10 July 1672). Educated at the Royal High School and the Universities of Edinburgh, Leiden, and Paris, he took his doctor's degree at the University of Angers in 1662, and soon afterwards settled as a physician working in Edinburgh. He resided at "Kipps Castle" near Linlithgow. In 1667 with Sir Andrew Balfour he started the botanical garden in Edinburgh, and he took a leading part in establishing the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, of which he was elected president in 1684.
In 1685 he was appointed the first professor of medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He was also appointed Geographer Royal in 1682, and his numerous and miscellaneous writings deal with historical and antiquarian as well as with botanical and medical subjects. He based many of his cartographical studies on the work of Timothy Pont. He is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh.
The wild flower Sibbaldia procumbens  is named after him.
Taxonomy of the blue whale—Sibbaldus
Originally the blue whale was named after Sibbald, who first described it scientifically.
Although the blue whale is today usually classified as one of eight species in the genus Balaenoptera, one authority still places it in a separate monotypic genus, Sibbaldus, but this is not widely accepted.
The blue whale was once commonly referred to as Sibbald's rorqual.
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Sibbald's historical and antiquarian works include:
- 1683: An Account of the Scottish Atlas. Folio, Edinburgh
- 1684: Scotia illustrata. Edinburgh
- 1699: Memoria Balfouriana; sive, Historia rerum, pro literis promovendis, gestarum a ... fratribus Balfouriis ... Jacobo ... et ... Andrea. Authore R.S.. Edinburgi: Typis Hæredum Andreæ Anderson
- 1699: Provision for the poor in time of dearth and scarcity
- 1710: A History Ancient and Modern of the Sheriffdoms of Fife and Kinross. Edinburgh
- 1711: Description of the Isles of Orkney and Shetland. Folio, Edinburgh
- 1803: A History Ancient and Modern of the Sheriffdoms of Fife and Kinross. Cupar
- 1837: The Remains of Sir Robert Sibbald, containing his autobiography, memoirs of the Royal College of Physicians, a portion of his literary correspondence, and an account of his MSS.; [edited by James Maidment], 2 pt. in 1 vol. Edinburgh: [printed for the editor]; edition of thirty-five copies; the titlepage of the Autobiography bears the date 1833
- 1845: Description of the Isles of Orkney and Shetland (folio, Edinburgh)
- Sir William Jardine, The Natural History of the Birds of Great Britain and Ireland, publ. W.H. Lizars, 1838. Frontispiece
- History of Livingston, William F hendrie
- "http://www.rcpe.ac.uk/about/history.php". Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Retrieved 28 March 2010.
- Barnes LG, McLeod SA. (1984). "The fossil record and phyletic relationships of gray whales.". In Jones ML et al. The Gray Whale. Orlando, Florida: Academic Press. pp. 3–32. ISBN 0-12-389180-9.
Article at National Library of Scotland