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MacDONNELL, ROBERT LEA, doctor, author, and professor; b. 1818 at Dublin, Ireland, son of Robert MacDonnell, a prominent Dublin doctor, and Margaret Lea; d. 31 Jan. 1878 at Montreal, Que.

Robert Lea MacDonnell was orphaned in infancy; he was entrusted, with his three sisters and his brother Richard, who later followed him to Canada, to the care of a paternal uncle, the Reverend George MacDonnell, rector of Trinity College, Dublin. Robert completed his elementary schooling in Scotland before registering, in 1835, at Trinity College, where he studied medicine. He passed the degree examinations in 1841 and was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. The following year he married Margaret Croates, by whom he had three children. Shortly afterwards MacDonnell began to collaborate regularly in the editing of the Journal of Medical Science, published at Dublin, where he taught anatomy in a private school. In addition, he took part in the sessions of the Pathological Society of Dublin. He obtained another degree in 1844, from the King’s and Queen’s College of Physicians of Ireland.

During 1845 Dr MacDonnell took up residence at Montreal, after being nominated to the chair of medicine at McGill University. In the same year he was appointed secretary of the Montreal Medico-Chirurgical Society, and until 1847 collaborated in the editing of the British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science. In 1849 MacDonnell accepted the post of director of the Department of Clinical Medicine at McGill, while still retaining his positions as professor in the faculty and as practitioner attached to the Montreal General Hospital.

MacDonnell spent a few months at the University of Toronto in 1850, then returned to Montreal. He worked as a surgeon at St Patrick’s Hospital, and in 1851 founded the St Lawrence School of Medicine. The following year the school went out of existence, and MacDonnell started the Canada Medical Journal . . . , a periodical which replaced the British American Journal but ceased to appear in February 1853. At this period Dr MacDonnell enjoyed an enviable reputation in the field of gynaecology.

In 1866, following the cholera epidemic that swept through Europe, the Canadian government created a board of health and entrusted the presidency of it to Dr MacDonnell. Robert Lea MacDonnell died on 31 Jan. 1878 of injuries received two days earlier in a road accident, on his way back from the funeral of his confrère Hector Peltier.

Jean-Pierre Chalifoux

British American Journal of Medical and Physical Science (Montreal), 1845–47. Canada Medical and Surgical Journal (Montreal), VI (1878), 382, 422–27. Canada Medical Journal and Monthly Record (Montreal), 1 March 1852 – Feb. 1853. Abbott, History of medicine, 56, 67–69. J. J. Heagerty, Four centuries of medical history in Canada and a sketch of the medical history of Newfoundland (2v., Toronto, 1928), II, 71, 119–20. Some historical and personal notes on the Tynekill branch of the MacDonnell family (Dublin, 1892), 33–34 (copy in the Osler Library, McGill University).

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Cite This Article

Jean-Pierre Chalifoux, “MacDONNELL, ROBERT LEA,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 24, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/macdonnell_robert_lea_10E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/macdonnell_robert_lea_10E.html
Author of Article:   Jean-Pierre Chalifoux
Title of Article:   MacDONNELL, ROBERT LEA
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1972
Year of revision:   1972
Access Date:   September 24, 2023