Cluny Macpherson (1879-1966), physician and soldier, was born 18 March 1879 in St. John’s, Newfoundland, one of two sons (one brother, Harold) born to Campbell Macpherson and Emma Duder. He completed his early schooling at Methodist College in St. John’s and then continued his education at McGill University in Montréal. There, Macpherson earned his degree in Medicine (1897-1901), and at the same time volunteered with the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, of which the Newfoundland Branch came to be known as the Grenfell Mission. Upon graduation from McGill, Dr. Macpherson began his medical career at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
In the following year Dr. Macpherson returned to Newfoundland to join Dr. Wilfred Grenfell’s Labrador Mission, and was placed in charge of the hospital in Battle Harbour, Labrador. He also served as magistrate for the area. Dr. Macpherson remained there until 1904, when he returned to St. John’s to begin private practice. Dr. Macpherson also received government commissions during this time, such as in 1909 when he went to the southwest coast to fight a smallpox epidemic. Dr. Macpherson also continued his involvement with the International Grenfell Association (IGA), eventually serving as a director of both the IGA and the Grenfell Association, Newfoundland. He also played a key role in the development, structuring and operation of the Seamen’s Institute (later called the King George V Institute), another Grenfell project.
Dr. Macpherson was involved with the St. John Ambulance Association, which led to the creation of the St. John Ambulance Brigade with three divisions in St. John’s. When World War I broke out, members of the Ambulance Brigade enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment. Macpherson organized these people into an Ambulance Unit, which continued throughout the war. Macpherson himself enlisted on 21 September 1914, at the rank of captain (the same year that he became a director of the family business, The Royal Stores). He was appointed Principal Medical Officer, 1st Newfoundland Regiment, went overseas in March 1915 and later appointed Major on 7 August 1915. He served in France, Belgium, Egypt, Salonica and was eventually transferred to Gallipoli where he acted as an advisor on poisonous gas, which the Allies feared Germany was about to use there. He used a German helmet taken from a captured prisoner to fashion a canvas hood with transparent eyepieces that was treated with chlorine-absorbing chemicals. In doing so, he invented the gas mask, predecessor to those now used by millions of military troops around the world.
Following injury in Egypt, Macpherson returned to Newfoundland, October 1916, and served as Director of Medical Services for the Militia. He was appointed a member of the first War Office Committee on poisonous gases, and also director of medical services for Newfoundland during World War I. He was demobilized on 9 September 1919 at the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
Dr. Macpherson played a continual role in the medical profession in capacities such as President of the St. John’s Clinical Society and the Newfoundland Medical Association. He was vice-president of the Newfoundland St. John Ambulance Association in 1937, and later became assistant commissioner of the St. John Ambulance Brigade overseas. He was Chairman of the Commissioners-In-Lunacy, which instituted periodic inspections and an appeal mechanism for patients at the Lunatic Asylum (now the Waterford Hospital). Dr. Macpherson was also the Registrar of the Newfoundland Medical Board. After Confederation with Canada (1949), he became a member of the Medical Council of Canada (1949 onwards) and from 1954 to 1955 he was the second Newfoundlander to serve as President, the first being the founder of the council itself, Sir Thomas Roddick, who was born in Harbour Grace in 1846. Dr. Macpherson was also Honorary President of the St. John Ambulance Association during World War II.
Cluny Macpherson received many honours and awards in his lifetime. He was made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (1918); Honorary President of the Newfoundland Council of the St. John Ambulance (1953); Honorary Vice-President of the Newfoundland Council of Canadian Red Cross (1953); member of the Medical Council of Canada (President 1954-1955); elected a Fellow of the British Royal College of Surgeons (1955); invested as a Knight of Justice of the Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem (1955) (reclassification of Knight of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, 1913); elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (14 January 1957); and was awarded an honorary degree by Memorial University (1962). He was also Honorary President of the Clan Macpherson Association of Canada and Honorary Vice-President of the parent association.
In 1902, Dr. Macpherson married Eleanora Barbara Thompson (O.B.E., Dame of Order of St. John of Jerusalem, died 1964), daughter of William Macleod Thompson, Northumberland County, Ontario. They had two children, Emma Allison (1903-1971) and Campbell Leonard (1907-1973, Lieutenant-Governor, Newfoundland and Labrador, 1957-1963). Dr. Macpherson remained in St. John’s until his death on 16 November 1966.
This Biographical Sketch is taken from the Finding Aid to the Dr. Cluny Macpherson fonds, COLL-002, Faculty of Medicine Founders’ Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland