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John Ferguson (1802–1883)

by B. C. Cohen

This article was published:

John Ferguson (1802-1883), physician and surgeon, was born at Dundee. He obtained his M.R.C.S. at Edinburgh in 1822, and practised at Auchtermuchty, Fife, from 1828 to 1835. He married Isabella, the eldest daughter of James Maxwell of Dundee and Jamaica. On his departure for Australia he was presented with a silver plate by the townsfolk in testimony of their high regard.

Ferguson arrived in Western Australia with his wife and two children in the Trusty and landed at Leschenault on 6 December 1842. He intended to take up farming in the new settlement of Australind and selected Wedderburn as his home site, but his medical skill was soon in demand. He attended many of the early settlers, among them, Mrs Georgiana Molloy, in her long and fatal illness. Australind was already failing when in 1843 he was made a magistrate. On the retirement of Dr Joseph Harris in 1847 he became colonial surgeon. Ferguson claimed to have been the first in the colony to use chloroform when in 1849 he amputated an Aboriginal's leg. His order for chloroform was dated 13 April 1848, only six months after its first practical test in England. He also showed clinical acumen by warning the colonial secretary in August 1852 that the whooping cough cases in the Anna Robertson could be very dangerous to the Aboriginals who, having had no previous contact with the disease, were extremely vulnerable. He thus anticipated by many years hypotheses concerning immunity. During his term as colonial surgeon he held various other official posts. In 1852 he was the medical officer for convict road parties working on the Perth-Fremantle Road. In 1861 he was on the Central Vaccination Board. In 1867 he acted as immigration agent and medical officer for the Perth poorhouse. Official duties did not completely stifle his wish to become a landowner, but he had learnt enough at Australind to avoid virgin areas. In 1859 he bought an estate on the Swan which had been the property of Colonel Houghton and Messrs Lowis & Yule. There were a few vines on it and his first year's yield of wine was twenty-five gallons. Later the Houghton vineyards won international repute.

Ferguson lived in St George's Terrace nearly opposite Government House. In August 1879 he retired on a pension of £216. He died on 11 September 1883 and was buried in the East Perth cemetery. His widow lived in Mount Street until her death at the age of 91. Of his six children, Charles married Dora, the daughter of Dr Viveash; Elizabeth married W. Clifton, collector of customs; John became a sea captain and timber merchant, and Isabella married L. Lukin of Deepdale, Toodyay. His descendants erected a lich-gate at St Mary's Church, Middle Swan, in 1959 to commemorate the centenary of his association with the district.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Burton and P. U. Henn (eds), Wollaston's Picton Journal (Perth, 1948)
  • P. U. Henn (ed), Wollaston's Albany Journals (Perth, 1954)
  • West Australian, 15 July 1933
  • M. Clifton diaries, 1840-61 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

B. C. Cohen, 'Ferguson, John (1802–1883)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland


11 September, 1883 (aged ~ 81)
Western Australia, Australia

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