Duncan McPherson (1812—1867)

Duncan McPherson (1812—1867)

Duncan McPherson (1812—1867)

SURGEON GENERAL DUNCAN McPHERSON, MD
Inspector General of the Madras Presidency
1812—1867

Duncan Macpherson was an army surgeon and writer of distinction, descended from the old Macphersons of Banchor family in Badenoch. He was born on 25 September 1812 and studied medicine at th University of Edinburgh. He was appointed surgeon to the army in Madras, India, in 1836 and served with the 37th Grenadier Regiment in China during 1840-2. He published a narrative of the expedition titled The War in China, From April 1840 to the Treaty of Peace, August 1842. The work was well received, and passed to a third edition in 1843.

On his return to India, he served chiefly with the irregular horse in the Hyderabad contingent acquiring in this way a thorough insight into the manner of treatment needed by a Mahommedan soldiery. On the outbreak of war with Russia in 1855, Macpherson was, on the strong recommendation of his former commander, Lord Gough, appointed head of the medical staff of the Turkish contingent. During his sojourn on the Bosphorus he prepared his Antiquities of Kertch and Researches in the Crimmerian Bosphorus, London, 1857. Containing a sketch of the history and archaeology as well as of the physical and ethnological features of the country. Besides woodcuts it contains a number of highly finished and artistic coloured lithograph plates, chiefly vessels in terra cotta, glass or bronze. Most of the pottery described and depicted was subsequently transmitted to the British Museum (cf. Athenaeum, 1857, p. 561).

His war service had been neither few nor insignificant, as the following statement from the Army List confirms: «Served in China 1841-42, present at the battle of Chuenpee, bombardment of Bocca Tigris, in investment of Hong Kong and battle of the heights of the City of Canton 1841-42. Wounded in the head and blown up by the explosion of a mine at Chuenpee, the hearing of the left ear partially impaired in consequence ‚ served on three tours in H.H. Nizam’s service in 1842-43-44. Medal for China. Served in the Crimea in 1855-56 as Inspector General of Hospitals to the Turkish Contingent amounting to 30,000 men.»

Returning to India, Macpherson was at once promoted to Inspector General of the medical service of Madras. This infraction of the hitherto sacred rule of seniority, together with the feverish activity of the new inspector in the performance of his duties and his large schemes of reorganisation, rendered him not a little ‘repugnant to the older official class.’ It was however, generally admitted that he anticipated progress in several important departments of military sanitation.

In recognition of his valuable services, Queen Victoria decorated him with the insignia of the Imperial Order of the Medjidia. In this, he held the highest order accorded to officers of the Army of Madras, and was the only medical officer of this Army so decorated. To this honour, accorded early in 1858, some three years later was added his selection as Honorary Surgeon and Honorary Physician to Her Majesty. This well deserved reward of long and honourable service was not only a compliment to the recipient but also to the Army he so ably represented.

Dr. Duncan Macpherson married Mitchell, daughter of Archibald Iver of Edinburgh, and had three sons. He died suddenly of a fever at Merkára, Coorg, on the 8 June 1867. At the time of his death he was about to be gazetted president of the Madras sanitary commission.

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