chapter  5
30 Pages

Fighting for public health: Dr Duncan and his adversaries, 1847–1863

ByPaul Laxton

The career of William Henry Duncan offers important connections between the history of health and the history of the city. Duncan has been idolised by the public health professionals, his reputation carefully guarded as the founding father of Liverpool's heroic struggle against the agents of ill health. Bom in Liverpool into a well-connected family of merchants in 1805, Duncan was educated by another uncle, a Scottish Presbyterian minister in Dumfriesshire, and trained as a physician in Edinburgh, receiving his MD in 1829. On 5 January 1847 a full meeting of the Council agreed that Duncan be appointed medical officer. The timing of Duncan's appointment and the typhus epidemic of 1847 made Liverpool a particularly interesting testbed for relations between the nascant municipal health authorities and the older bodies that had come to administer health services, though it is a special rather than a representative case.