Local links found in the Seychelles

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An Inchmarlo man made an interesting discovery surrounding a former Donside doctor, whilst visiting the Seychelles on a cruise.

Ron Gordon came across a plaque describing a ‘doctors house’ on the Island of Curieuse, in the Seychelles.

According to the plaque, the house belonged to Dr William MacGregor, of Aberdeenshire, who arrived in the Seychelles in 1873 as assistant medical officer and moved to the island of Curieuse to be near his leprosy patients, in exile on the island.

He lived there with his wife and child - a brave thing to do in those days, when leprosy was considered so contagious and lepers untouchable - until his departure from the Seychelles in 1875.

After more research, Mr Gordon discovered that Dr MacGregor, who later became Sir William Macgregor, was born on October 20, 1846, at Hillockhead in the parish of Towie, Strathdon. He was the eldest son John MacGregor, a crofter, and his wife Agnes. The family was large and poor, so William worked as a farm labourer.

According to Mr Gordon, William was educated at the school of Tillyduke, where his ability was recognised by his schoolmaster who, along with the minister and the local doctor assisted and encouraged him towards entering Aberdeen Grammar School in April 1866 and after studying for and obtaining a bursary, enrol in Aberdeen University the following year. He graduated MB and CM in 1872, helping to pay his college and university courses by undertaking farm work during his vacations. He obtained his MD in 1874.

He became medical assistant in the Royal Lunatic Asylum, Aberdeen, but left to join the Colonial Service in the Seychelles at an attractive annual salary of £250.

Whilst in the Seychelles, he also became superintendent of the lunatic asylum in Mauritius. When the Governor of Mauritius, Sir Arthur Gordon, was transferred to be Governor of Fiji, he obtained the transfer of Macgregor as Chief Medical Officer there. In Fiji, MacGregor had to grapple with a terrible epidemic of measles, which resulted in the death of 50,000 natives. In 1877 he was made Receiver General (treasurer) and carried out detailed financial work for the colony. He was Colonial Secretary from 1884 and Acting Governor for periods in 1885, 1887 and 1888.

He was given the Albert Medal and the Clarke Gold Medal of the Royal Humane Society for saving lives at sea, for a relief expedition he organised and led, following a shipwreck.

He was very interested in the problems of labour and the underpriveleged and after being appointed Administrator of British New Guinea in 1887, he resisted all attempts to exploit Papuan labour. He, nevertheless, had to deal with a warlike tribal people and by tact, perseverance, and avoiding bloodshed as far as possible, eventually brought about a state of law and order.

He did a large amount of exploration both along the coast and into the interior and wrote a book on the subject. After leave in 1894, he returned as Lieutenant-Governor and carried out considerable development work.

In 1898 He was appointed Governor of Lagos, where he instituted a campaign against the prevalence of malaria, draining the swamps and destroying the mosquitoes responsible for the spread of the disease. In doing this, he was assisting Sir Ronald Ross in the confirmation of his theories about the transmission of malaria by mosquitoes, He carried out further development in Lagos by building roads and a railway. He held this post until 1904 when he was appointed Governor of Newfoundland - a position he held until 1909, where he did valuable work in handling the clash between the local government and the British Government over American fishing rights off the Newfoundland coast.

In 1909, MacGregor was appointed Governor of Queensland and although accepting the limits of responsible government, was critical in his dispatches to the Colonial Office of the treatment of Aboriginals and the limited support give to scientific research. He became the first Chancellor of the University of Queensland and took great pride in its early development. He was appointed KCMG in 1889, GCMG in 1907 and Privy Councillor in 1914. He retired and left Queensland in July that year and settled in Roxburghshire and in World War One, advised the Colonial Office on Pacific problems.

He died on July 3 1919, and was buried beside his parents in Towie churchyard. His achievements were considerable and his humanitarian concerns for the people he ruled, as well as scientific approach to problems, are still to be admired. He was described in his early days as a “great block of unhewn granite”.