William MacGregor

Sir William MacGregor, GCMG, CB, AM, PC, FRSGS (20 October 1846 – 3 July 1919)[1] was a Lieutenant-Governor of British New Guinea, Governor of Newfoundland and Governor of Queensland.

Sir William MacGregor

11th Governor of Queensland
In office
2 December 1909  16 July 1914
MonarchEdward VII
George V
Preceded byThe Lord Chelmsford
Succeeded bySir Hamilton Goold-Adams
60th Governor of Newfoundland
In office
MonarchEdward VII
Preceded byCharles Cavendish Boyle
Succeeded bySir Ralph Champneys Williams
Governor of Lagos Colony
In office
Edward VII
Preceded byHenry Edward McCallum
Succeeded byWalter Egerton
Lieutenant-Governor of British New Guinea
In office
Preceded byHimself
as Administrator of British New Guinea
Succeeded byGeorge Le Hunte
Administrator of British New Guinea
In office
Preceded byJohn Douglas
Succeeded byHimself
as Lieutenant-Governor of British New Guinea
Personal details
Born20 October 1846
Towie, Aberdeenshire,
United Kingdom
Died3 July 1919(1919-07-03) (aged 72)
Berwickshire, United Kingdom
Spouse(s)Mary Jane Cocks (1883–1919; his death)
Alma materUniversity of Aberdeen

Early life

MacGregor was born in Hillockhead, parish of Towie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the eldest son of John MacGregor, a crofter, and his wife Agnes, daughter of William Smith of Pitprone.[1] MacGregor was educated at the school at Tillyduke[2] and worked as a farm labourer.[1] Encouraged by his schoolmaster and the local doctor who recognised MacGregor's ability, he entered Aberdeen Grammar School in April 1866 and enrolled at the University of Aberdeen in October 1867. He graduated MB and C.M. of Aberdeen University in 1872, and obtained his M.D. in 1874. MacGregor also studied at Anderson's Medical College (L.F.P.S.) and the University of Edinburgh (L.R.C.P.). MacGregor then became a medical assistant at the Royal Lunatic Asylum, Aberdeen.[1]

Medical career

In February 1873 MacGregor became assistant medical officer at the Seychelles, and in 1874 he was appointed resident at the hospital and superintendent of the lunatic asylum at Mauritius. This brought him under the notice of Sir Arthur Gordon who was then governor of the island, and on Gordon being transferred to Fiji in 1875, he obtained MacGregor's services as chief medical officer of Fiji. There he 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 and subsequently a variety of other offices was added, including the colonial secretaryship. On more than one occasion he acted as governor, and was also acting high commissioner and consul-general for the western Pacific. In 1884 the ship Syria, with coolies for Fiji, ran ashore about 15 miles from Suva. MacGregor organised a relief expedition and personally saved several lives; his report made no mention of his own deeds, but they could not remain hidden, and he was given the Albert Medal, and the Clarke gold medal of the Royal Humane Society of Australasia for saving life at sea. In January 1886 he represented Fiji at the meeting of the federal council of Australasia held at Hobart.

Administrator and governor

MacGregor's experience with native races led to his being appointed administrator of British New Guinea in 1888. Here he had to deal with a warlike people separated in many tribes, and his great problem was to get them to live together in reasonable amity. It was necessary at times to make punitive expeditions, but bloodshed was avoided as much as possible, and by tact and perseverance MacGregor eventually brought about a state of law and order. He did a large amount of exploration not only along the coast but into the interior. Andrew Gibb Maitland was seconded as geologist in 1891. In 1892 the position was sufficiently settled to enable him to publish a Handbook of Information for intending Settlers in British New Guinea. He was awarded the 1896 Founder's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society for his services to geography.[3]

MacGregor was appointed lieutenant-governor in 1895, and retired from this position in 1898. From 1899 to 1904 he was governor of Lagos Colony, Nigeria, where he instituted a campaign against the prevalent malaria, draining the swamps and destroying as far as possible the mosquitoes which were responsible for the spread of the disease. Much other important work in developing the country was done by making roads and building a railway. His efforts to improve the health of his community led to his being given the Mary Kingsley Medal in 1910 by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He had been transferred in 1904 to Newfoundland of which he was governor for five years. Here again his medical knowledge was most useful in the combating of tuberculosis which was then very prevalent in Newfoundland. He also did valuable work in dealing with the fisheries question, persuading the contending parties to refer the dispute to the Hague international tribunal which brought about an amicable settlement. On 2 December 1909 MacGregor was appointed Governor of Queensland.

MacGregor assisted in the inauguration of the University of Queensland, he agreed to the handing over of his residence Old Government House to be its first home, and one of his first acts as governor was to attend the dedication ceremony on 10 December 1909. He also became the first chancellor and took great pride in the early development of the university. MacGregor was also president of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland.[1] He chaired the inaugural meeting of the Historical Society of Queensland in August 1913 and became its patron.[4][5][6]

Retirement and death

In 1914 MacGregor retired and went to live on an estate in Berwickshire, Scotland. During World War I he was able to do a certain amount of war work, and also lectured on his experience of German rule in the Pacific. After an operation for intestinal adhesions and gall-stones MacGregor died on 3 July 1919 and was buried beside his parents in the churchyard of Towie,[1] the village where he was born. He married in 1883 Mary Jane, daughter of Capt. R. Cocks, who survived him with one son and three daughters. He was created a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1881, advanced to Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1889, made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1897, upgraded to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1907, and was made a privy councillor in 1914. He had the honorary degrees of D.Sc. Cambridge and LL.D. Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Queensland.

Two Australian suburbs are named after him: MacGregor, Brisbane,[7] and Macgregor, Canberra.


  1. R. B. Joyce, 'MacGregor, Sir William (1846–1919) Archived 12 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, Melbourne University Press, 1974, pp 158–160. Retrieved 29 September 2009
  2. Serle, Percival (1949). "MacGregor, William". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 29 September 2009.
  3. "List of Past Gold Medal Winners" (PDF). Royal Geographical Society. Archived (PDF) from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  4. Peter Biskup, "The Politics of Preserving the Past: The Early Years of the Historical Society of Queensland", (1988) Royal Historical Society of Queensland Journal, Vol. 13, No. 8, p 289.
  5. "Historical Society of Queensland". The Brisbane Courier. Brisbane, Queensland: National Library of Australia. 22 April 1913. p. 6. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
  6. "HISTORICAL SOCIETY". The Brisbane Courier. Qld.: National Library of Australia. 22 August 1913. p. 4. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
  7. "Queensland place names search". Queensland Government (Department of Natural Resources and Mines). Archived from the original on 9 February 2018. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
Government offices
Preceded by
John Douglas
as Special Commissioner of British New Guinea
Administrator of British New Guinea
Post abolished
New creation Lieutenant-Governor of British New Guinea
Succeeded by
George Le Hunte
Preceded by
Henry Edward McCallum
Governor of Lagos
Succeeded by
Walter Egerton
Preceded by
Sir Cavendish Boyle
Governor of Newfoundland
Succeeded by
Sir Ralph Champneys Williams
Preceded by
The Lord Chelmsford
Governor of Queensland
Succeeded by
Sir Hamilton John Goold-Adams
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