ALLAN, WILLIAM MUNDEN, physician and surgeon; b. 26 May 1843 in Brigus, Nfld, son of William Allan and Susanna Ann Munden; d. unmarried 21 July 1910 in Harbour Grace, Nfld.
William Munden Allan’s father, a surgeon, came to Newfoundland from Greenock, Scotland, around 1837. At Brigus he married the daughter of William Munden, a prosperous planter and sealing skipper. The family moved to St John’s in 1850 and to Harbour Grace by 1862. Here Allan Sr succeeded his brother-in-law William Dow as district surgeon for Conception Bay and jail surgeon. His wife’s brother-in-law John Munn* was the town’s leading economic force.
Young William was educated at Scott’s Academy in St John’s and the Harbour Grace grammar school. After training in medicine at the University of Edinburgh he returned to Newfoundland and worked as medical officer to the Anglo-American Telegraph Company at Heart’s Content in 1868–69. He subsequently earned his living as a doctor in Harbour Grace but served for two summers, 1875 and 1876, as the first medical officer on the Labrador service, established by the government to provide care for residents and transient Newfoundland fishermen on the Labrador coast. There he was reported to have treated over a thousand cases of typhus. In 1870 he was in charge of the hospital for infectious diseases established on the Carbonear road.
Allan succeeded his father as surgeon for the district of Harbour Grace and jail surgeon on the latter’s death in 1881. In this government-salaried position he was required to treat “paupers”: those certified by magistrates or relieving officers as unable to pay their own medical expenses and those on casual or permanent government relief. As health officer for the port, his responsibilities included quarantine and the care of persons with contagious diseases, for which he was paid by special warrant. This income was supplemented by his private practice, which, like all outport doctors, he conducted by the “book” method. Patients retained the doctor by paying him a set fee in advance (usually five dollars per family in cash or kind), which covered treatment, medicines, and advice for the year; midwifery was extra.
It was in the care of infectious diseases that Allan won his reputation. In 1889 the brigantine William arrived at Harbour Grace, and only after the clothing of the crew had been distributed among the poor for washing was smallpox of an especially virulent type discovered aboard. Over 60 cases resulted, the majority among the poor of Upper Island Cove, a nearby settlement of some 1,500 unvaccinated individuals. Forty homes were quarantined, and the Anglican minister numbered among the dead. Allan did heroic work in halting the epidemic, burning down many homes in the process. News of the event was picked up by the wire service and carried internationally.
Allan was instrumental in the establishment of the Conception Bay Medical Society in 1883 and served as its president for many years. In 1893 the first Newfoundland Medical Act was passed; its purpose was to regulate the practice of medicine in the colony and to establish a register. Allan was one of only 61 doctors recorded as practising in Newfoundland between January 1894 and January 1896, including 10 who were without formal medical training but eligible under a “grandfather” clause. This figure represented a doctor-to-population ratio of roughly 1:3,500. For a number of years Allan was one of seven members of the Newfoundland Medical Board, the profession’s official regulatory body.
Popularly known as Doctor Will, Allan continued as district and jail surgeon until his death in 1910. He took a leading part in the town’s social life but remained a bachelor. A member of the Harbour Grace Turf Club, he invariably had a fast horse. He was said to be a favourite with the local practical nurses and lay midwives, “who delighted to tell of his velvety hands.”
PANL, GN 2/22/A, 1841–77; GN 30, vols.34–36A, 43; MG 271, box 3, file 16; MG 619, book 1. PRO, CO 199/51–96 (Nfld, Blue books, 1855–1901), esp. 199/76–77 (1880–81). Daily News (St John’s), 20 July 1925. Evening Telegram (St John’s), 22–23 July 1910, 13 May 1958. W. A. Munn, “Harbour Grace history,” cc.12, 14, 20, 23, in Nfld Quarterly, 36 (1936–37), no.3: 17–21; 37 (1937–38), no.1: 21–25; 38 (1938–39), no.3: 5–9; 39 (1939–40), no.2: 5–10. Nfld, Acts, 1893, c.12. Nfld men (Mott). Patricia O’Brien, “A history of medicine in Newfoundland” (typescript, St John’s, 1990), excerpts from cc.3–4.
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