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Biographical entry Primrose, Alexander (1861 - 1944)

CB 1918; MRCS 10 May 1888; FRCS by election 2 April 1925; MB CM Edinburgh 1886; LRCP London 1888; FACS 1913; Hon LLD Edinburgh 1926; FRCS(C) 1929; Hon LLD Dalhousie 1930.

5 April 1861
Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada
8 February 1944
Toronto, Canada
General surgeon


Born 5 April 1861 at Pictou, Nova Scotia, the third child and eldest son of Howard Primrose, of the Bank of Nova Scotia, and Oliva Campbell, his wife. He was educated at Pictou Academy, at Edinburgh University, where he qualified, and at the Middlesex Hospital. After taking the English Conjoint degree, he went back to Canada, began to practise at Toronto in 1889, and was appointed to the staff of the General Hospital, where he ultimately became consulting surgeon. He was also consulting surgeon to the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto. He was a member of the examining board of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, 1885-1902. In 1896 he became professor of anatomy at Toronto University, a chair he held till 1907, having previously served as demonstrator.

During the first world war, in which his only son was killed in action, Primrose served as surgeon to No 4 Canadian General Hospital in France. In 1915-16 he was posted to Salonika, and then appointed consultant with the Canadian Army in England. He was mentioned in despatches for his coolness and devotion to duty, and created CB (military division) in 1918. He held the rank of colonel, CAMC Reserve. On his return to Toronto he became professor of clinical surgery, and held the chair from 1918 to 1931. He was also dean of the Faculty of Medicine from 1920 to 1932.

Primrose took an active part in professional societies: he served as president of the Toronto Pathological Society 1898, Toronto Medical Society 1900, Toronto Academy of Medicine 1918, American Surgical Association 1931, and Canadian Medical Association 1932. He was a member of the Medical Council of Canada 1930-32; an honorary Fellow of the American Medical Association and the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Edinburgh, and a vice-president of the British Medical Association. He was a member of the Société internationale de Chirurgie, and a regent of the American College of Surgeons 1919-24. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons as a member of twenty years' standing in 1925. In 1941 he represented the College at the centenary celebrations of Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario.

Primrose married (1) in 1889 Clara Christine, daughter of George Ewart of Toronto; they had three daughters and a son. He married (2) in 1920 Elizabeth, daughter of Mr Justice Britton and widow of Major Charles A Moss of Toronto; Mrs Primrose survived him only two months, dying on 11 April 1944. Primrose died on 8 February 1944 in the Toronto General Hospital, aged 83. He was survived by two daughters: Mrs N S Macdonnell and Mrs John Coulter. His only son Howard was killed in action in 1916, and the third daughter, Mrs Grahame Joy, also died before her father.

Tuberculous diseases of the bones and joints. American practice of surgery, 1907. War wounds, with E S Ryerson. Brit med J 1916, 2, 384. This paper, based on his own experience at Salonika, had a wide influence on British practice.
Pancreatic cysts and pseudocysts. Surg Gynec Obstet 1923, 36, 575.
Tumours of the breast. Ann Surg 1923, 77, 668.
The interrelationship of anatomy and surgery and its historical background, Balfour Lecture. Toronto, 1933.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Canad med Assoc J 1944,50, 389, with portrait and eulogy by George S Young, MD; Bull Acad Med Toronto, 1944, 17, 107; Brit med J 1944, 2, 257, eulogy by G Grey Turner; information given by his son-in-law, E Grahame Joy, barrister-at-law, of Toronto].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England