Dr George Douglas

 

George Mellis Douglas (1809-2 June 1864) was doctor.

He was born in Carlisle, Scotland, where he was baptized on 11 July 1809, son of George Douglas, a Methodist minister, and Mary Mellis. (Elsewhere he is described as 'a native of Aberdeen'.)

In 1822 George Mellis Douglas went to Utica, N.Y., at the urging of his elder brother, Dr. James Douglas, who was practising medicine there. He attended to the latter’s affairs while learning medicine. James had to flee from Utica, however, because he feared prosecution for dissecting cadavers, an illegal act at the time, and he settled at Quebec on 13 March 1826; George Mellis joined him there a few days later. Since there were no medical boards in Quebec or Montreal, young Douglas was examined by a committee appointed by the governor and received authorization to practise medicine on 13 Nov. 1827. He apparently carried on his profession with his brother until 1831.

At that period cholera was claiming many victims. It had come from India, spread through England and especially Ireland, and was brought to Quebec every year by the many immigrants. In 1832, as a precautionary measure, Lord Aylmer [Whitworth-Aylmer*], then governor general, set up a provincial board of health and two quarantine stations controlled by the army, one 33 miles down river from Quebec at Grosse Île, and the other at Gaspé, where ships from Europe had to stop for inspection. George Mellis Douglas, who had been a justice of the peace for the Gaspé district since 1831, was appointed medical superintendent of the Gaspé quarantine station on 20 June 1832. While holding this post, he assisted Dr Charles Poole, the medical superintendent of Grosse Île. On 9 May 1836 he succeeded him, at the salary of 25s. a day. This was a heavy year for Douglas since in the Quebec region cholera accounted for 3,452 victims during the summer.

On 31 July 1839 Douglas married Charlotte Saxton Campbell, daughter of Archibald Campbell, a royal notary at Quebec; seven children were born to them.

In 1841 he bought a piece of marshy land at the east end of Grosse Île and had it drained and brought under cultivation. As the people of the island found it hard to obtain food, Douglas sold the produce of his farm, particularly milk; nevertheless, he was reproached for this trading. In 1847, to meet the typhus epidemic then raging, he improved conditions at the island hospital by adding some 50 beds to the existing 200. However, the epidemic exceeded all forecasts; by 20 May, 30 vessels from Ireland had carried 12,519 immigrants, of whom more than 1,200 had perished at sea or died on their arrival. The hospital took in up to 2,500 patients at a time, but was no longer adequate. Some of the volunteers who had come to Douglas’ aid, including four of the 26 doctors, died; the others were stricken with the fever. Douglas himself did not escape. Yet thanks to the treatment used by him and his colleagues the murderous epidemic was stemmed towards the end of October, although more than 5,000 bodies lay in the cemetery of Grosse Île. In Canada there were 17,300 victims.

In July 1849 a new cholera epidemic struck the town of Quebec, causing more than 1,200 deaths. On Grosse Île, however, Douglas had only some 50 patients to treat. In 1853, a year after the last serious epidemic in the province, Dr Anthony von Iffland was appointed assistant medical superintendent on Grosse Île. Four years later the quarantine station was placed under the Bureau of Agriculture and Statistics. Douglas found staying on the island less attractive, apparently because of conflicts of interest with Iffland and financial problems. Moreover, he was spending more of his time in England, where in 1858 he married Suzan Cleghorn of Nevis, Scotland, by whom he had a son; his first wife had died six years earlier.

In March 1861 the station on Grosse Île was closed, and on 19 April Douglas was appointed “deputy medical inspector” of ships anchoring in the roadstead of the Rivière Saint-Charles and alongside Cap Diamant. When Gross Île was re-established as a quarantine station on 22 April 1863, Douglas resumed his post of medical superintendent. Sick and depressed (his second wife had died on 21 Nov. 1860), he learned in March 1864 that steps were being taken to appoint Iffland in his place. On 1 June he went to the Île aux Ruaux (northeast of Île d’Orléans), which he had acquired in 1848 and where he had built a sumptuous house that was still heavily mortgaged. That evening he stabbed himself, and died the next day. The coroner returned a verdict of suicide while temporarily deranged.

George Mellis Douglas was a highly respected doctor, who published a number of articles in medical journals about his professional activities on Grosse Île and the illnesses he had cared for there. For example, in 1847 he expounded his theory of the non-contagiousness of cholera, which contradicted that of Dr William Marsden. The discovery of the cholera vibrio in 1885, however, was to prove Marsden right. Douglas was a faithful member of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec and was its secretary in 1842–43. Throughout his career, he distinguished himself by his devotion to duty as well as by his honesty and uprightness.

He died 2 June 1864 on the Île aux Ruaux, Lower Canada


He married Charlotte Saxton Campbell, 1820-1852, who was clever and musical. She had an exquisite soprano, early developed and sang a solo in the
cathedral at the age of 15. She married at 18 or 19.

They had 4 sons and 1 daughter.

  • Campbell Mellis Douglas, an Army Surgeon, Colonel, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for rescuing 17 soldiers from rebellious prisoners on the Andaman Islands and getting them safely to a ship under heavy fire. He married the young widow of Surgeon Valentine Munbee McMaster, 78th Highlanders, also a V.C., won at Lucknow in the Sepoy Mutiny who died leaving a year old son Bryce McMaster. (1934 Bryce was living at 15 Park Crescent, Oxford.) Campbell M Douglas' own sons were:-
    •  George Mellis Douglas, born circa 1870, an explorer by canoe of the remote Canadian Northwest and a well-known author. (His adventures are told in "Lands Forlorn" published by the Knickerbocker Press, Putnams N.Y. 1914.) In 1937 he was living at Lakeside, Ontario and a snapshot taken 5 years earlier shows him, lean and bronzed, with white hair, standing beside his canoe "Alcyone" and strongly resembling my father and his brother Kenneth.
    •  Lionel Douglas, who in 1934 was the Captain of the "Empress of Japan", the ship in which Chester and I and our 3 boys came from Japan to British Columbia in 1925. I do not recall of he was our Captain then.
  • Admiral Sir Archibald Lucius Douglas, K.C.B., K.C.Vo., who had four children:-
    •  Archibald Douglas, Commander R.N. Killed in action 1915.
    • John Charles Edward Douglas, Major 10th Yorkshire Regiment. Killed in action 1915.
    • David William Shafto Douglas, b.1883, married 1914 the daughter of Charles Stevenson of Edinburgh. He was Lieut Commander of the "Black Prince" and was killed in action in 1915.
    •  A daughter.
  • Justin Douglas, a well-known doctor of Bournemouth.
  • Charles Stuart Douglas, killed in an accident on the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1882.
  • Agnes Douglas, went to school in England and married Reginald Cadman of the Yorkshire Cadmans. Her only son:-
    • William Cadman, a Commander in the Royal Navy, was killed in action in 1917.

 

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This page was last updated on 29 June 2015

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