Dr. James Henry Duncan was born in Warkworth, Northumberland, England on the 8th of June, 1850. He was the 5th of 9 children born to Reverend James Duncan and the former Annie Jobson. His father was a United Presbyterian Minister and his siblings were; William Duncan, John Thomas Duncan, Mary Ellen Duncan, Anna Isabella Duncan, Rachel Anna Duncan, Jane Elizabeth Duncan, Georgianna Baynes Duncan and Edward James Baron Duncan. After the birth of Rachel, the Duncan family immigrated to Canada in 1854. They settled on a farm on the Bronson Line in Huron County, Ontario and his father continued to minister in Huron County. (Dr. Duncan’s last 3 siblings Jane, Georgianna and Edward were born in Huron County.) His parents home-schooled their children and Dr. Duncan worked on the family farm until he was 28 years old. At that time his mother became sick and before she died he promised her that he would study medicine.
Dr. Duncan wrote the entrance exams shortly after his mother’s death, but with little formal education he failed the exams. Dr. Duncan persevered and re-wrote the exams within a year and passed his lower school and matriculation testing. He studied medicine at The University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine from 1877 to 1881. He graduated M.B. at the top of his class in 1881. During his final year of training, he studied under the prominent physician, Dr. Janeway in New York. According to the 1882 Ontario Medical Register, Dr. Duncan joined the College of Physicians and Surgeons on the 30th of April, 1881.
After graduation he settled in Thamesville and took over the medical practice of Dr. George Archer Tye. (Dr. Tye had moved to Chatham around 1880). Dr. Duncan appeared in the 1885 Ontario Business Directory as practicing in Thamesville. That is the same year that Dr. John Everitt Pickard joined Dr. Duncan in his practice. Dr. Duncan made trips to clinics in Vienna and Strasbourg in 1885, 1886 and 1887.
Dr. Duncan married Margaret Helen “Maggie” Ferguson at the home of her parents in Thamesville, on the 6th of June 1888. Mrs Duncan was born on the 9th of February, 1865. She was the eldest of 3 daughters born to James Ferguson and the former Jane Renwick. Her parents were farmers and her sisters were; Sarah Isabelle Ferguson and Elizabeth Ferguson.
Dr. Duncan moved his medical practice to Chatham in 1888 and he became a partner with Dr. George Archer Tye, the same physician whose practice he assumed in Thamesville. (Dr. Tye died in 1891). Dr. Duncan devoted himself to family medicine and anesthesia. According to the 1896 Chatham City Directory, Dr. Duncan’s practice was located at the corner of King and Third Street. For 40 years, Dr. Duncan was the physician to the Ursuline Academy of Chatham. He also submitted papers to medical journals, including the Ontario Medical Association, on malaria and pneumonia, both topical subjects of the day.
Dr. and Mrs. Duncan had three children. Their son, Ferguson James Duncan was born on the 19th of February, 1890. He died on the 21st of July 1907 in Chatham after a “short illness”. Edward Ross Duncan was born on the 1st of February, 1892 and he died in Chatham on the 3rd of November, 1911. Both boys had been excellent students. Their daughter Jean Renwick Duncan was born on the 16th of September, 1895.
Dr. Duncan prepared a paper on the prevention of tuberculosis in schools and forwarded it to the Minister of Education for consideration.
Dr. Duncan was an elder and a member of the board of trustee’s of St. Andrew’s Church in Chatham. He was elected as one of the original members of the Chatham Board of Education. His name appears in the 1909 Farrell’s City of Chatham Business Directory under the Board of Education members.
Dr. Duncan was listed in the 1913 Bell Telephone Directory. His office and his residence were listed as 274 King Street West. His home phone number was 131a and his office phone number was 131b. In 1926, his daughter Jean graduated from The University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. She joined her father in his medical practice in Chatham.
Dr. Duncan died from complications of influenza, at his residence located at 274 King Street West in Chatham on September 22, 1928. Mrs. Duncan died on the 30th of July 1935. At the time of her death, she resided at 8 Third Street in Chatham. Dr. and Mrs. Duncan and their 2 sons Ross and Fergus, were buried at Maple Leaf Cemetery in Chatham.
*Dr. Duncan’s older brother Dr. John Thomas Duncan, graduated from the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine in 1887. He practiced medicine in Toronto.
**Dr. Duncan’s daughter Dr. Jean Renwick Duncan graduated M.B. from The University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine in 1925 and B.Sc. (Med) and L.M.C.C. in 1926. She also appears on the Chatham-Kent Physician Tribute website.
***Dr. George Archer Tye and Dr. John Everitt Pickard also appear on the Chatham-Kent Physician Tribute website.
Tombstone Photo Credit: Anne F.