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SELBY, GEORGE, physician, surgeon, office holder, militia officer, and seigneur; baptized 14 Feb. 1760 in Stanton, England, son of George Selby and Ann Robson; m. 24 Aug. 1785 Marie-Josèphe Dunbar in Montreal; d. there 15 May 1835.

Armed with his diploma as a medical doctor from the University of Edinburgh, George Selby emigrated to the province of Quebec around 1782 and settled in Montreal. Despite his youth, in August of that year he obtained the post of chief surgeon at the Hôpital Général, which Louis-Nicolas Landriaux* had held for 16 years. On 5 September, following a request from the grand jury of Montreal, he, along with his colleagues Charles Blake*, Jean-Baptiste Jobert, and Robert Sym, signed a report on the Baie-Saint-Paul malady [see Philippe-Louis-François Badelard*]. The authors of the report proclaimed in tones of alarm the rapid spread of the disease and its disastrous consequences. They thought that they were dealing with syphilis, and recommended that a committee of the most eminent doctors and of people familiar with the internal organization of the colony study the means most suitable to bring the disease under control. Their suggestion was not, however, taken up.

In 1785 Selby was again associated with the struggle against the illness. In April, in accordance with new measures taken by Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton*, Dr James Bowman* of Quebec was officially delegated to visit all the parishes in the province and distribute remedies and advice through the clergy. Bowman immediately entered into correspondence with some of his English-speaking colleagues, including Selby. Selby communicated his observations to him on 21 April. He recognized that the disease was a venereal one and maintained that calomel, a mercury-based preparation, had proven the most effective remedy. That month, at Hamilton’s request, Bowman charged Selby with seeing that no voyageur leaving for the pays d’ en haut was a carrier. On 8 September he asked him to treat those affected in Montreal. A list dated 23 April 1786 reveals that Selby reportedly had treated and cured 94 people. He asked the government for £213 for the cures and for examining the voyageurs. Despite his numerous representations, he seems never to have received the money.

The several offices that Selby held simultaneously indicate the excellent reputation he enjoyed. He became in turn one of the first medical examiners for the District of Montreal (1788) [see Charles Blake], commissioner for the care of the insane and foundlings (1801), doctor of the Hôtel-Dieu in Montreal (1807), and surgeon to Montreal’s 1st Militia Battalion (1812). He was also doctor of the Montreal prison from at least 1829.

Selby threw himself wholeheartedly into all these responsibilities. In 1818, for example, he opposed a £2,000 grant that the government was offering the nuns of the Hôpital Général to build more cells for the insane and carry out other repairs [see Thérèse-Geneviève Coutlée; William Holmes]. According to Selby, locking up this kind of patient in tiny and often insalubrious cells “serves only to rid the Public of a nuisance, but is noways beneficial to the victims of that horrid disease.” He noted that the primary aim of the Hôpital Général was to provide care for the aged and infirm and for foundlings, not to serve as a lunatic asylum. Asylums, he stated, “ought not to be prisons, nor hospitals for bodily disease”; rather, what was needed was “a house of a peculiar structure, with three or four acres of adjacent ground . . . for the attainment of regular and efficient treatment.”

Selby led a comfortable life in Montreal and was in easy circumstances. In 1785, when he married Marie-Josèphe Dunbar, a daughter of Major William Dunbar, granddaughter of Joseph Fleury* Deschambault, and niece of William Grant*, he was already able to guarantee her a jointure of 48,000 livres. In 1789 he paid £400 for a stone house on Rue Saint-Paul which he made his permanent residence, and in 1791 he hired a manservant. In 1806 he was owed £925 by the joint estate of Marie-Charles-Joseph Le Moyne* de Longueuil, Baronne de Longueuil, and her husband David Alexander Grant, who had just died. In addition to his house in Montreal, at his death in 1835 Selby owned some land on the road to Lachine three miles from Montreal, and he had also been co-owner of the seigneury of La Salle since 1829. By the terms of his will the usufruct of his estate was left to Marguerite, the daughter of François Baby* and widow of his only son, William Dunbar Selby, who had also been a doctor but had died in 1829.

George Selby was a respected citizen and one of the most eminent doctors in Montreal. Among his acquaintances and clients were such prominent people as Benjamin Frobisher*, who was his intimate friend, Bishop Pierre Denaut*, and Simon McTavish*, the leading businessman in the province during the second half of the 18th century. In 1804 McTavish had bequeathed £700 to him and his son. “In the 50 years he had practised in this country,” La Minerve commented at the time of his death, “he had acquired and retained an outstanding reputation in his profession, and his personal qualities were appreciated by all who knew him.”

Renald Lessard

ANQ-M, CE1-12, 5 août 1787; CE1-51, 24 août 1785, 18 mai 1835; CM1, 27 mai 1835; CN1-29, 5 oct. 1791; CN1-74, 8 mars 1804; CN1-128, 15 avril 1789; CN1-194, 4–5 janv. 1802; CN1-290, 23 août 1785. AUM, P 58, Q1/76. Northumberland Record Office (Newcastle upon Tyne, Eng.), Reg. of baptisms for the parish of Longhorsley, 14 Feb. 1760. PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 47: 326–28; 66: 368–71; RG 1, E1, 14: 263; L3L: 85943–46; RG 4, A1: 10994–95; A3, 2, pt.i, no.D.202; 3, no.72; B43, 1: 483–86; 2: 761–75. Docs. relating to constitutional hist., 1759–91 (Shortt and Doughty; 1918), 2: 742–52. L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, 1816–35; Legislative Council, Journals, 1824, app.D, no.4. La Minerve, 18 mai 1835. Montreal Gazette, 8 Aug. 1803; 30 Oct. 1809; 25 May 1812; 5, 16 May 1835. Quebec Gazette, 4 Aug. 1803, 2 Sept. 1813. Giroux et al., Inv. des marchés de construction des ANQ-M, 2, no.1483. Quebec almanac, 1791, 1812–13. Abbott, Hist. of medicine, 77. Renald Lessard, “Le mal de la baie Saint-Paul, la société et les autorités coloniales, 1775–1791” (thèse de ma, univ. Laval, Québec, 1983). J.-J. Lefebvre et Édouard Desjardins, “Le docteur George Selby, médecin de l’Hôtel-Dieu de 1807 à 1829, et sa famille,” LUnion médicale du Canada (Montréal), 100 (1971): 1592–94.

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Renald Lessard, “SELBY, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 2, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/selby_george_6E.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/selby_george_6E.html
Author of Article:   Renald Lessard
Title of Article:   SELBY, GEORGE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   March 2, 2024