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Biographical entry Macpherson, Cluny (1879 - 1966)

CMG 1918; Canadian Forces Decoration 1964; FRCS by election 1959; MD, CM McGill 1901; LMS Newfoundland 1901; DMS 1916; DSc 1962; JP.

18 March 1879
St John's, Newfoundland, Canada
16 November 1966
St John's, Newfoundland, Canada
General surgeon


Cluny Macpherson was born at St John's, Newfoundland on 18 March 1879, eldest of the two sons and two daughters of Campbell Macpherson and Emma Duder, his wife. Campbell Macpherson had created the Royal Stores, which spread most successfully through Newfoundland, and had been noted for his gifts to charity; he was the son of a settler from Greenock; the Duder family had come from Devonshire.

Cluny Macpherson trained at McGill Medical School, Montreal, made further study in Edinburgh and Paris, and registered as a medical practitioner in Newfoundland in 1901. He worked as a surgeon with Wilfred Grenfell in his mission on the Labrador during 1902-04, serving also as a special constable and Justice of the Peace. Macpherson was a most adventurous, self-reliant man, and a first-class sailor and fisherman, ideally suited for life in such wild country. Later he became a director of the Newfoundland and the International Grenfell Associations, to support and continue the good work.

He practised as a surgeon at St John's from 1904, became in due course the leading practitioner in Newfoundland, and took an active part in many professional and public bodies. He was, at various times, Chairman of the Lunacy Commissioners, Registrar of the Medical Board, President of the St John Ambulance Council, and Vice-President of the Newfoundland Division of the Canadian Red Cross Society. He was a member of the Medical Council of Canada from 1950 and its President in 1954-55. He was appointed a Knight of the British Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1913 and a Knight of Justice in 1955. He was Chairman of the Clan Macpherson Association and President of its Canadian branch.

When the first world war began in August 1914 Macpherson was commissioned as a Captain and principal medical officer of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment, then newly formed; this was really an official recognition of a useful and efficient role which he had himself created. He was soon on active service in Belgium and France, and later in Gallipoli, in Egypt, and at Salonika; his work was twice mentioned in despatches. His great contribution to war medicine was the invention of the first efficient gas-mask, to meet the unanticipated horror of the German poison-gas attacks against the Canadian troops in France. He made the prototype with his own hands, and his design was adopted by the British Army, while he was appointed to the War Office Committee for Protection against Poisonous Gases. He was created CMG for his war service, and retired with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. During the second world war he served in ship convoys in the North Atlantic. He was appointed Honorary Colonel of the 1st Company, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1957, and was awarded the Canadian Forces Decoration in 1964.

Macpherson married on 16 September 1902 Eleanora Barbara Macleod Thompson of Northumberland, Ontario. Mrs Macpherson was later created OBE and became a Dame of the Order of St John; she died in 1964, survived by their son and daughter. The son, the Hon Campbell Macpherson OBE was Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland 1957-63 during his parents' life-time.

Cluny Macpherson died at his home, Calvert House, St John's on 16 November 1966, aged eighty-seven. He was a man of great energy, courage and gaiety, unconventional and an enhancer of other people's lives. He pursued his many interests actively till near the end of his long life, often travelling across Canada or to Britain to attend professional or family gatherings, where he was always welcome.

The Macphersons of St John's, Creag Dhubh, Annual of the Clan Macpherson Association (Edinburgh), no.9, 1957, pages 13-14.
The first recognition of beri-beri in in Canada [Battle Harbour, Labrador 1903 or 1904]. Canad med Ass J 1966, 95, 278-279.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 18 November 1966 page 23g; Canad med Ass J 1967, 96, 172-174, by Dr James McGrath, Ministry of Health, Newfoundland, with a good portrait. Creag Dhubh, Ann Clan Macpherson Assoc no.9 (1957), pp.16-17 with informal portrait; information from his nephew, Captain J H Macpherson of Dunmore, KLJ, FSA Scot].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England