Dr William Maclean

Attribution: S. Fraser (Maryburgh Primary School March 2015)

Dr William Maclean (1866-1930) General Practitioner and Archaeologist

A summary of Dr Maclean’s life is taken from his obituary in The Ross-shire Journal of 12 December 1930:

Dr William Maclean, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ross and Cromarty, died at his residence at Maryburgh early on Wednesday afternoon. Recurrence of a trouble from which he suffered a few years ago brought about the end after an illness, which confined him to bed for a week. On Tuesday, 2nd December, although far from well, he was still attending outside to his official duties. For the last few years Dr Maclean’s health had been such as would have made most men physically stronger, seek rest and the seclusion of the sick room, whereas he carried on with little complaint and at times with infinite courage, drawn from a strong mentality.

His death will be widely deplored. Officially and otherwise he touched the private lives of many people at many points. An adornment to the best traditions of the disinterested service of his great profession, Dr Maclean was at the call of rich and poor, friend or foe, if the latter existed, nor counted it toil nor sought for it reward. The very poor alone were not his debtors. Ever since he withdrew from private practice, he has been the unpaid consultant of many whom he counted friends, perhaps on stronger tie than the help and advice he was pre-eminently qualified to bestow.

Dr William Maclean was a native of Dingwall. The son of the late Mr Hector Maclean, a widely known mason contractor, whose work remains a monument to his craftmanship and conscientious work, Dr Maclean’s early life was spent in Maryburgh. Born in 1866, he was educated at the Public School, Maryburgh, under the late Major Mackenzie. Then in the early eighties he came to Dingwall Academy under the late Rev. Mr Morrison, where his mental qualities were quickly recognised and the comparative ease with which he mastered subjects that appealed to him was readily acknowledged. Thence, after a period at Raining’s School (Inverness), he passed to Edinburgh University, where he graduated MB, CM, and there also he took the DPH degree. At the University the same facility in study was noted.

Evidence of the extreme alertness of his mind and the wideness of his range of study was strikingly afforded in the Loch Maree food poisoning tragedy, where as Medical Officer of Health with specialists on the spot he was the first to diagnose botulism as the probable cause of death, which scientific evidence subsequently confirmed. His evidence before the inquiry that followed, and his ease and confidence under cross-examination by the Dean of Faculty, were proofs of rare knowledge modestly taking refuge in outward casualness.

Soon after qualifying, Dr Maclean became assistant, about 1891, to Dr Adam, Dingwall, where he remained for a year or two, and thereafter settled in practice in Fortrose. In 1908, when Lady Seaforth and the late Lord Seaforth built, endowed and opened the Seaforth Sanatorium at Maryburgh, Dr Maclean gave up his practice at Fortrose and became medical superintendent of the Sanatorium, a position he retained to the end.

In May, 1920, following the resignation of the late Dr William Bruce, Dingwall, Dr Maclean was offered and accepted the position of Chief Medical Officer of Health, under an arrangement that accepted his obligations to the Seaforth Sanatorium. He died in harness.

During his all-too-brief period of official responsibility as Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr Maclean performed with great competence and easy courage the multifarious requirements of the position. Frank and fearless in the expression of his views, inspired by the confidence of great professional skill, and still always willing to accept the limitations which are set by “the diseases at the bottom of the bag” (as he himself once referred to the obscure diseases), he discharged his duties loyally and brought his deep personal enthusiasms to the task. His latest official responsibilities had been icnreased by the new tasks set to Public Health administration under the new Local Government Act, but the scheme of administration he had planned provided a system that was operating in its initial stages with great promise of high efficiency. He held the confidence of the County Council in an extraordinary degree, a remark which applies equally to his relationship with Lady Seaforth and the Medical Superintendence of the Seaforth Sanatorium.

Outside his profession, Dr Maclean was not less the cultured and restless student. His range of interests was wide. Archaeology in all its branches intrigued him intensely and generalities he sought to strangthen with penetrative detail such as only a student and deep thinker might approach. His library, with many old editions, revealed his tastes; the curios he collected spoke similarly.

Humanity in the wider sense was his and his attachements were sincere and his services profound. No more agreeable conversationalist, no more pleasant social companion on long or short journey or at the fireside, no surer friend in good report or ill. Many are those who lament his passing.

Dr Maclean married Louise Fowler Grant, a daughter of the late Provost Grant, Fortrose, and a grand-daughter of the late Mr Fowler of Raddery. With Mrs Maclean the deepest sympathy is felt. The funeral will be strictly private.

For further information about Dr Maclean, and in particular his achievements in the field of archaeology, see Dr William Maclean: A Forgotten Black Isle Antiquary, published by Chris and Dave Rendell, and on the website: of the Black Isle Archaeology Study Group: www.iterations.co.uk

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