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Biographical entry Macnamara, Nottidge Charles (1832 - 1918)

MRCS April 17th 1854; FRCS June 10th 1875; Hon FRCSI 1887.

14 October 1832
21 November 1918
General surgeon and Ophthalmic surgeon


Born on Oct 14th, 1832, the son of Daniel Macnamara, surgeon, of Uxbridge, a brother, George Macnamara, succeeding his father in the practice. Charles Macnamara in late years travelled in Co Clare and traced the origin of his Sept with full topographical detail in his Story of an Irish Sept (1900). He studied at King's College Hospital under Fergusson, and immediately after qualifying MRCS entered the Bengal Army as Assistant Surgeon on Nov 4th, 1854. He was first Civil Surgeon at Mirzapur, and served in the Sonthal Rebellion (1855-1856), where he had medical charge of the Divisional Staff. During the Mutiny he was Medical Officer to the Tirhut Volunteers. During this period he had much experience in surgical practice among natives: in general surgery, especially the practice of lateral lithotomy; in eye diseases, particularly in the operation for cataract by removing the lens with its capsule. A sensitive yet charming, highly-strung Irishman, he was very popular among natives from the suppresssion of the Mutiny until he left India, where he had a large practice, both in general and ophthalmic surgery.

In 1863 he was appointed Professor of Ophthalmic Surgery in the Calcutta Medical College. He was also much engaged in founding and organizing the Mayo Hospital as a large general hospital for Indians, additional to the Native Hospital, the new hospital receiving an annual subsidy of half a lac of rupees from the Mayo Fund. Macnamara became the first Surgeon Superintendent. Experience in practice and exacerbations of endemic disease together with wide reading led up to Macnamara's chief claim to be remembered in medical history, viz, that cholera was a water-borne infection, spread by contamination of faces from cholera patients. Nothing was more opposed by the mass of medical writers, and it remained for Koch and the German Emperor to gain the credit. Apart from the discovery by Koch of the comma bacillus, Macnamara ought to be considered as the true historian of Asiatic cholera before 1892. On the much-disputed subject of leprosy he held that it was a communicable disease.

Macnamara was promoted to Surgeon on Nov 4th, 1866, and to Surgeon Major on July 1st, 1873. From 1871 until he left India he was co-editor with Kenneth Macleod (q.v.) of the Indian Medical Gazette (1871-1873).

Lieut-Colonel Crawford gives his Indian record as: Assistant Surgeon, Nov 4th, 1854; Surgeon, Nov 4th, 1866; Surgeon Major, July 1st, 1873; retired, April 15th, 1876. He served in the Sonthal campaign of 1855-1856, and held the Chair of Ophthalmic Surgery at Calcutta from December, 1863, until his retirement in 1876.

At the age of 42 he retired from India, and passed the FRCS examination on June 10th, 1875. The reputation which had accompanied him home and a wide and important family connection gained him on the following Oct 20th the appointment of full Surgeon at Westminster Hospital over the heads of the three Assistant Surgeons. He was also appointed Surgeon to the Royal Westminster Ophthalmic Hospital, and he held both posts to the age of 65 in 1897. In general surgery he gave most attention to diseases of bones and joints, success following the closer adherence to Lister's methods. In ophthalmic surgery he quite skilfully removed the cataractous lens with its capsule, without much loss of the vitreous. His students' Manual on Diseases of the Eye was also a success, the later editions being strengthened by Gustavus Hartridge, FRCS, particularly in the sections on refraction.

As a consequence of his Indian experience he was nominated a Member of the Government Committee on Leprosy, also of the Collective Investigation Committee's Memorandum on Inherited and Acquired Syphilis. He was, too, an Examiner in Surgery for the Army Medical Department and the Indian Medical Service from 1892-1907, Examiner of Surgical Instruments for the Indian Office, and a Member of the Committee of the War Office on the Army and Navy Medical Services, 1889.

Macnamara became an active and influential member of the British Medical Association, President of the Section of Surgery at the Annual Meetings of 1881 and 1895, President of the Section of Ophthalmology in 1891, Treasurer of the Association from 1885-1887, and for several years a Member of Council. He was Chairman of the Committee on the Eyesight of Railway Servants; in 1891, as President of the Metropolitan Counties Branch of the Association, he directed attention to the unsatisfactory position of the teaching of medicine in London, and he served as Chairman of the Committee of the British Medical Association on medical education and a teaching University for London. As a Member of the Parliamentary Bills Committee he took an active interest in the movement to obtain Army rank for Medical Officers and to secure the formation of the RAMC.

In 1887 he came to the aid of J Y W MacAlister in the purchasing of 20 Hanover Square, by guaranteeing the amount, £23,000, which forced the hand of the Council of the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society, hesitating as to removing from the cramped quarters in Berners Street.

He was elected on the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1885, and after re-election in 1893 served until 1901, being elected to the office of Vice-President in 1893. In 1895 he delivered the Bradshaw Lecture on "Osteitis". He was Hunterian Orator in 1901, and in the course of the oration he introduced observations upon skulls found in Co Clare and the West of Ireland, which pointed to the spread of the race from the Mediterranean along Western Spain to France, to Cornwall, and to Ireland, as distinguished from the Nordic invasion from Scotland to North-east Ireland.

He continued in London habits begun in India; rising at four or five o'clock, he either read or wrote or took exercise. His energy and industry as a wide reader continued after he left the house where he had practised in Grosvenor Street, to live to the end of his life at The Lodge, Chorley Wood, Hertfordshire. But he was almost daily in London at the Athenaeum Club, the British Museum, or the College of Surgeons. He published in connection with his Hunterian Oration The Origin and Character of the British People, also Human Speech, which includes a quantity of most interesting matter, and Instinct and Intelligence. His health and activity held good until shortly before his death at the age of 86 on Nov 21st, 1918. He had married a daughter of the Hon Henry Vincent Bayley, and had a family of sons and daughters.

A Treatise on Asiatic Cholera - Maps and Diagrams, 8vo, London, 1870.
Report on Cholera in Calcutta, 4to, Calcutta, 1871-2.
A History of Asiatic Cholera, 8vo, London, 1876.
Asiatic Cholera. History up to the 15th July, 1892. Causes and Treatment, 8vo, 1892.
"Leprosy: A Communicable Disease." - Indian Med Gaz, 1866, i, 13 etc.
Lectures on Diseases of the Eye. Part I referring principally to those affections requiring the aid of the ophthalmoscope for their diagnosis, 8vo, London and Calcutta, 1866 5th ed, 1891.
On the Minute Anatomy of Muscles and allied Structures, 4to, plates, 1867.
A Manual of the Diseases of the Eye, 1868, and subsequent editions.
Diseases and Refraction of the Eye, 5th ed with G HARTRIDGE, 1891.
Lectures on Diseases of Bones and Joints, 1878; 2nd ed, 1881; 3rd ed, 1887.
"Address on the Pathology and Treatment of Osteitis." - Brit Med Jour, 1884, ii, 3.
Bradshaw Lecture on Osteitis, 1895.
"Osteomyelitis and Tuberculous Disease of Bones and Joints." - Lancet.
"Life in the Indian Medical Service." - Westminster Hosp Rep, 1897, x, 7.
The Story of an Irish Sept, 1900.
Origin and Character of the British People, 1900.
The Hunterian Oration, 1901.
"Studien über den prähistorischen Menschen und sein Verhältniss zu der jetzigen Bevölkerung West Europas." - Arch f Anthropologie. 1900-1, xxvii, 365.
"Beweisschrift betreffend die gemeinsame Abstammung der Menschen und der anthropoiden Affen." - Ibid, 1904-5, NF, iii, 77.
Kraniologischer Beweis für die Stellung des Menschen in der Natur, 4to, 1903. Human Speech - a Study in the Purposive Action of Living Matter, 8vo, 44 illustrations, London, 1908. International Science Series.
Instinct and Intelligence, 8vo, illustrated, London, 1915. International Science Series.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Crawford's History of the Indian Medical Service, ii, 178. Brit Med Jour, 1918, ii, 619, with Sir J Y W MacAlister's note. Fayrer's Recollections of My Life, Edinburgh and London, 1900, 267, 468. Personal knowledge].

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