MacCormac, William (DNB12)

MACCORMAC, Sir WILLIAM, first baronet (1836–1901), surgeon, the elder son of Henry MacCormac [q. v.], a physician of Belfast, and Mary Newsham his wife, was born at Belfast on 17 Jan. 1836. The younger son, John, became a director of the Northern Linen Company at Belfast. William, after education at the Belfast Royal Academical Institution, studied at Dublin and Paris. In October 1851 he entered Queen's College, Belfast, as a student of engineering and gained engineering scholarships there in his first and second years. He then turned aside to the arts course, graduating B.A. in the old Queen's University in 1855 and proceeding M.A. in 1858. He won the senior scholarship in natural philosophy in 1856, and next year was admitted M.D., subsequently receiving the hon. degrees of M.Ch. in 1879 and of D.Sc. in 1882, with the gold medal of the university. The hon. degrees of M.D. and M.Ch. were also bestowed upon him in later life by the University of Dublin in June 1900.

After graduation MacCormac studied surgery in Berlin, where he made lasting friendships with von Langenbeck, Billroth, and von Esmarch. Becoming M.R.C.S. England in 1857, he was elected in 1864 F.R.C.S. Ireland. MacCormac practised as a surgeon in Belfast from 1864 to 1870, becoming successively surgeon, lecturer on clinical surgery, and consulting surgeon to the Royal Hospital. He then moved to 13 Harley Street, London, where he resided until death.

At the outbreak of the Franco-German war in 1870 MacCormac volunteered for service. Appointed to hospital duties at Metz, he was treated on his arrival as a spy and returned to Paris. Here he joined the Anglo-American association for the care of the wounded, and with others arrived at Sedan on the night of 30 Aug. 1870. Bivouacked in the waiting-room of the deserted railway station, MacCormac, unable to sleep, wandered up and down the platform, and at 2 a.m. witnessed the arrival of Napoleon III and two attendants in a sohtary cattle truck attached to an engine, and following the party at a distance was sole spectator of the Emperor's hardly-gained entrance to the town which he soon left again as a prisoner. The battle of Sedan began at 4 a.m. on 1 Sept., and during the first day more than a thousand soldiers were brought for treatment to the Caserne d'Asfeld, a deserted infantry barracks on the ramparts, which MacCormac and his companions had hastily converted into a hospital of 384 beds.

Returning to London at the end of the Franco-German war, he was admitted in 1871 at the Royal College of Surgeons of England to the rare distinction of an ad eundem fellowship. In the same year he became, after a severe struggle, assistant surgeon at St. Thomas's Hospital, which had just moved to the Albert Embankment. He was made full surgeon in 1873 upon the resignation of Frederick le Gros Clark (1811-1892), and he was for twenty years lecturer on siirgery in the medical school. He was elected consulting surgeon to the hospital and emeritus lecturer on clinical surgery in the medical school on retiring from active work in 1893.

Meanwhile MacCormac saw more war service. In 1876, as chief surgeon to 'the National Aid Society for the Sick and Wounded' during the Turco-Servian campaign, he was present at the battle of Alexinatz. As honorary general secretary, he contributed largely to the success of the seventh International Medical Congress in London in 1881, the 'Transactions' of which he edited; he was knighted on 7 Dec. for these services. He was president of the Medical Society of London in 1880 and of the metropolitan counties branch of the British Medical Association in 1890. MacCormac was also surgeon to the French, the Italian, Queen Charlotte's, and the British lying-in hospitals. He was an examiner in surgery at the University of London and tor her majesty's navay, army, and Indian medical services. In 1897 he was created a baronet and was appointed surgeon in ordinary to the Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII; on 27 Sept. 1898 he was made K.C.V.O. in recognition of professional services rendered to the Prince when he injured his knee.

At the Royal College of Surgeons of England, MacCormac was elected a member of the council in 1883, and in 1887 of the court of examiners. He delivered the Bradshaw lecture in 1893, taking as the subject 'Sir Astley Cooper and his Surgical Work,' and he was Hunterian orator in 1899. He was elected president in 1896, and enjoyed the unique honour of re-election on four subsequent occasions, during the last of which he presided over the centenary meeting held on 26 July 1900. His war service was still further extended, and his great practical knowledge was utilised in the South African campaign of 1899-1900, when he was appointed 'government consulting surgeon to the field force.' In this capacity he visited all the hospitals in Natal and Cape Colony, and went to the front on four occasions. In 1901 he became K.C.B. for his work in South Africa, and an honorary serjeant-surgeon to King Edward.

He died at Bath on 4 Dec. 1901, and was buried at Kensal Green. He married in 1861 Katharine Maria, daughter of John Charters of Belfast, but left no issue.

MacCormac was six feet two inches high, and well built in proportion. His industry, mastery of detail, rapidity of work, and Irish bonhomie made him a first-rate organiser. At home in the medical circles of Europe, he broke down the insularity which still militates against the progress of English surgery, and he learned and taught what was done at home and abroad.

Of four portraits in oils, one, by Mr. H. Harris Brown, was presented to Queen's College, Belfast, on 9 March 1897; two by Prince Troubetskoi belong to Lady MacCormac, and the fourth is in the medical committee room at St. Thomas's Hospital. A marble bust by A. Drury, A.R.A., is in the central hall at St. Thomas's Hospital. A cartoon portrait by 'Spy' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in 1906.

MacCormac published:

  1. 'Notes and Recollections of an Ambulance Surgeon, being an Account of Work done under the Red Cross during the Campaign of 1870,' 1871; translated into German by Professor Louis Stromeyer, Hanover, 1871, and into Italian by Dr. Eugenio Bellina, Firenze, 1872.
  2. 'Surgical Operations,' part 1, 1885, 2nd edit. 1891; part 2, 1889.
  3. 'On Abdominal Section for the Treatment of Intraperitoneal Injury,' 1887; translated into German, Leipzig, 1888.
  4. 'An Address of Welcome on the Occasion of the Centenary Festival of the Royal College of Surgeons of England,' 1900; with biographical accounts, often with portraits, of the sixty-one masters or presidents.

[Belfast News Letter, 6 Dec. 1901; Northern Whig, 6 Dec. 1901; St. Thomas's Hosp. Reports, vol. XXX. 1901, p. 322; private information; personal knowledge.]

D’A. P.