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Biographical entry MacCormick, Sir Alexander (1856 - 1947)

KCMG 1926; KB 1913; MRCS 16 May 1881; Hon FRCS 11 October 1900; Hon FRCS Edinburgh 1905; MB ChM Edinburgh 1880; MD 1885; MD ad eundem Sydney 1888; FRACS foundation 1927.

31 July 1856
25 October 1947
St Brelades, Jersey
General surgeon


Born at Taynish, North Knapdale, Argyll on 31 July 1856, son of Archibald MacCormick, farmer and ship-master, and his wife Mary Campbell of Barnashaly, North Knapdale. He was educated by Mr Stewart at Lochgilphead, Argyll, and at Edinburgh University, where he was a class-mate in the medical school with Arthur Conan Doyle, David Orme Massey, and Robert Scot Skirving, who remained his lifelong friend. He took a gold medal at his graduation in 1880, and served as university demonstrator of physiology. After being house surgeon to E R Bickersteth at Liverpool Royal Infirmary, he went to Australia in 1883 on his appointment as demonstrator of anatomy at Sydney Univer¬sity, the demonstrator of physiology being Thomas Anderson Stuart, who afterwards proved himself a first-rate administrator in developing the Sydney Medical School.

MacCormick became in due course lecturer on surgery at the University and surgeon to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. He was surgeon to the Sydney Hospital 1888-96. On his retirement from the Prince Alfred as consulting surgeon in 1915, he became surgeon to St Vincent's Hospital, which he served till 1932. He was also consulting surgeon to the Coast Hospital, Little Bay. Finding the hospitals in early days unnecessarily primitive, and conditions for surgical work in private houses even worse, he built his own private hospital, The Terraces, which he ultimately presented in 1926, with land and an endowment of £25,000, to the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales, and its name was changed to "The Scottish Hospital". During the South African war in 1900, Mac-Cormick, with his friend Scot Skirving, served in the New South Wales contingent with the rank of major, and was mentioned in despatches. In the first world war he was a consulting surgeon, with the rank of colonel, with the British Army in France 1914-17.
MacCormick was a big burly man with the appearance of a prosperous farmer, but he was a skilled diagnostician as well as an accomplished and thoughtful anatomist and surgeon. With T Anderson Stuart he carried through some very original work on the mechanism of swallowing, in a patient who lived for twenty years with a pharyngeal "window", after operation by MacCormick for eradication of metastases, following epithelioma of the lip with extensive glandular involvement. He had taken his Edinburgh doctorate in 1885, with a thesis on the myology of the Australian wild cat, and contributed some thirty articles to the Australian Medical Gazette between 1884 and 1906, including many on cystotomy. MacCormick was endowed with enormous bodily and mental vigour; he usually worked at The Terraces from 6.30 in the morning, beginning to operate at 7 am and after a hasty lunch began again at the Prince Alfred or the Coast Hospital at 1.30 and went on till the late evening. He got through a vast amount of work of high quality. He was also a deep reader, and his business ability made him much in demand on the boards of insurance companies. He was a man of few words, but he inspired confidence in all his assistants and patients. His most original contributions to surgery were (1) his insistence on patency of the whole biliary tract before closing the abdomen in gall-bladder operations; (2) his operation for removal of cancer of the tongue, devised in 1899; and his operation for irreducible dislocation of the metacarpal joint of the thumb, by passing a tenotome through the back of the joint, which remains the simplest and best method. MacCormick was a keen and skilled yachtsman, who once sailed his own craft from Australia to England with a crew who, like himself, were all over sixty years old.
MacCormick married in 1895 Ada Fanny, daughter of Charles Cropper of Yamma, New South Wales. He was knighted in 1913 and created a KCMG in 1926. Lady MacCormick survived him with a son and two daughters; their elder son, Campbell, was killed in France in the first world war while serving as an officer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. In Australia they lived at Kilmory, Point Piper, Sydney, but settled after his retirement at St Brelades, Jersey where he enjoyed much good sailing. From the German invasion of the Channel Islands in 1940 they escaped by a few hours, but went back after the liberation, and there MacCormick died on 25 October 1947, aged 91.


The myology of the limbs of Dasyurus viverrinus. J Anat Physiol 1886-87, 21, 103 and 199. Thesis for MD Edinburgh.
The position of the epiglottis in swallowing, with T P Anderson Stuart. Ibid 1892, 26, 231.
Aneurysm by anastomosis. Austral med Gaz 1888, 8, 39.
The practice of cystotomy. Ibid 1889, 8, 227.
Cases of pylorectomy for carcinoma. Intercolon quart J Med Surg 1894, 1, 17.
Operative treatment of senile disease of the prostate. Australas med Congr 1905, 7, 143.
Treatment of cerebral hydatids. Ibid p 154.
For a complete bibliography see the obituary in the Medical Journal of Australia, listed below.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 27 October 1947, no memoir, 11 November p 7e, and 13 November p 7d, correction; Lancet, 1947, 2, 852, with portrait and appreciations; Brit med J 1947, 2, 888, with reproduction of the portrait by John Langstaff, which was unveiled by HRH the Duke of Gloucester in the Great Hall of Sydney University in 1927; Med J Austral 1948, 1, 118, with portrait, appreciations by Drs B T Edye, D Miller, K Byrne, and J Storey, and bibliography; Aust NZ J Surg 1948. 17, 228, by Dr R S Skirving, with portrait; information from Lady MacCormick].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England