Cuming, James (1833–99), medical professor in QCB, was born in Markethill, Co. Armagh, son of Edward Cuming, a prosperous catholic merchant in coal, spirits, and foodstuffs, who had at least two other children, a daughter and another son, who became a barrister. James's mother's name is not known. It has not been possible to trace any relationship to another Armagh doctor, Thomas Cuming (1798–1829), son of a presbyterian minister in Armagh, who became a distinguished and influential doctor in Dublin, was first to describe aortic regurgitation, and was one of the founders of the Institute for Sick Children, a forerunner of the National Children's Hospital.
James Cuming attended St Patrick's College, Armagh, and then was one of the first students to enter the new QCB (1849). He was a student in 1849–52, 1853–4, and 1855–6; an outstanding one who studied medicine and arts simultaneously, winning scholarships in arts, medicine, and chemistry. He graduated BA with first-class honours (1854), MD (1855), and MA (1858). He studied medicine in 1852–3 in Paris and Dublin, and later in Vienna, spoke three languages, and was an accomplished classical scholar. After a period in private practice, he was appointed deputy professor of medicine in QCB (1864) while the professor was on sick leave. A year later (26 August 1865) he succeeded to the chair on the death of his predecessor, and was appointed attending physician in the Belfast General Hospital; he retained both posts until his death. He was the first alumnus of QCB to become a professor in the college, and was the only catholic on the staff during his whole career. His catholicism appears to have been no bar to his success: he was the leading Belfast medical man of his generation. He developed a gastric sedative, sold as ‘Cuming's powder’, which was popular as a palliative for dyspepsia. His renown as a teacher did a great deal to establish the reputation of the medical school at QCB; he published some research papers, and was elected president of the British Medical Association (1884), when that body met at Belfast. An obituary by Sir William Whitla (qv) commented that Cuming ‘reigned with undisputed sway over a loyal kingdom whose subjects were nearly all his old pupils and friends’ (quoted in Moody and Beckett, 176). He was associated with several charities and public bodies, was the lord chancellor's 'visitor in lunacy', and the chairman of the board of the Lunatic Asylum. Cuming was closely associated with the planning and fund-raising for the new hospital in Belfast, which was to become the Royal Victoria Hospital; it was he who convinced Viscount Pirrie (qv) and Lady Pirrie (qv) that the city needed a new hospital of the highest standard. Despite months of ill health, Cuming did not give up work, and was hoping to live to see the Victoria Hospital opened. He was just about to visit several famous American hospitals, in search of the latest ideas on hospital equipment and design, when he died of a heart attack at Loughside, his Greenisland home (27 August 1899). The funeral was the largest in Belfast for years; a ward in the hospital was funded in his memory, at a cost of £10,000. At the time of his death three of his former students were professors at QCB.
His wife (who predeceased him), a daughter of Francis McLaughlin of Belfast, was in her youth a celebrated beauty; two of her sisters married the novelist and journalist Denis Holland (1826–72) and Charles Gavan Duffy (qv), and her cousins were Rosa Mulholland (qv), Lady Gilbert; Clara Mulholland (d. 1934), novelist; and Ellen Mulholland, later wife of Charles Russell (qv), Lord Russell of Killowen. The Cumings had a son and a daughter; the latter married her second cousin, Arthur Russell. There is a portrait in QUB, and another likeness in the Illustrated London News, 2 September 1899.