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MacLaurin, Sir Henry Normand


Son of James MacLaurin, M.A., a schoolmaster, was born at Kilconquhar, Fife, Scotland, on 19 December 1835. When 15 he won a bursary at the university of St Andrews and, after a brilliant course, took the degree of M.A. at 19 years of age. Going on to the university of Edinburgh, he qualified M.D. in 1857. In the following year he entered the royal navy as an assistant-surgeon, and remained in the service for 13 years. He came to Australia in 1871 and settled at Parramatta, but in the following year moved to Macquarie-street, Sydney. He had neither friends nor influence, but established a good practice, from which he did not retire until he was 70 years of age. He was appointed a fellow of the senate of the university of Sydney in 1883, in 1885 was elected president of the board of health, and in 1889 was nominated as a member of the legislative council of New South Wales. In April 1893 he became vice-president of the executive council in the Dibbs (q.v.) ministry, and in the financial crisis with which it was almost immediately faced suggested to the premier that all bank notes should be made legal tender. This suggestion was adopted and helped very much to allay the panic. The ministry was defeated in August 1894, but MacLaurin had established a reputation as a man of strong common sense and great financial capacity. He subsequently became a director of such important companies as the Bank of New South Wales, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, the Commercial Union Insurance Company, and the Mutual Life and Citizens Company. He retained his position on the board of health and was also chairman of the immigration board of New South Wales. During the final years of the federation campaign, MacLaurin was a strong critic of the bill, was president of a citizens' committee at Sydney which took much exception to its financial provisions, and was one of the commission of three appointed by the New South Wales government to report on the financial clauses.

MacLaurin's greatest work was in connexion with the university. He was vice-chancellor in 1887-9, was elected again in 1895, and in 1896 became chancellor. Here he was in his element. His knowledge of finance made him an invaluable member of the finance committee, as a scholar he could meet the staff on equal terms and understand the nature of their problems, as a man of the world he could be the worthy representative of the university in any company. When he first became chancellor there were fewer than 500 students, but the number was almost quadrupled during his 18 years of office. He was knighted in 1902 and died at Sydney on 24 August 1914. He married in the beginning of 1872, Eliza, daughter of Charles Nathan, F.R.C.S., who died in 1908. He was survived by five sons.

MacLaurin was a man of fine character and much kindliness and charm. As a physician he was one of the early men to realize the importance of the psychological condition of the patient. He was a thoroughly capable business man, and at the university his tact and sympathy, wisdom and courage, made him a great administrator and leader. Of his sons, the eldest, Charles MacLaurin (1872-1925), educated at Sydney grammar school and the university of Edinburgh, became a well-known Sydney surgeon. He published in 1923, Post Mortem: Essays Historical and Medical, and in 1925 Mere Mortals: Medico-historical Essays. These books were republished in 1930 in one volume under the title De Mortuis: Essays Historical and Medical. They consist of interesting speculations about famous people and the effects of their health, or want of health, on their lives, and on history. Charles MacLaurin died at Sydney on 19 April 1925. His younger brother, Colonel Henry Normand MacLaurin (1878-1915), a most promising soldier, was killed at Gallipoli on 27 April 1915.


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