Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Paul Howard MacGillivray (1834–1895)

by D. A. Brown

This article was published:

Paul Howard MacGillivray (1834-1895), scientist and medical practitioner, was born at Edinburgh, son of William MacGillivray and his wife Marion, née Askill. His eldest brother John became a notable naturalist. Paul was educated at Marischal College in the University of Aberdeen (M.A., 1851), where his father had been appointed professor of natural history in 1841. While still a student Paul, with some help from his father, published A Catalogue of the Flowering Plants and Ferns growing in the neighbourhood of Aberdeen (1853). When his father died in September 1852 MacGillivray relinquished his study of science and turned to medicine in London (M.R.C.S., 1855). Later that year he migrated to Melbourne.

MacGillivray began to practise at Williamstown and joined the local volunteer naval brigade as a medical officer. In 1862-73 he was resident surgeon of the hospital in Bendigo and then took up private practice there. Although his great love was still natural science, MacGillivray revealed an aptitude for surgery. His many papers on surgical matters included three works in 1865-72 on the management and treatment of hydatid cysts. In 1874 he was elected president of the Medical Society of Victoria.

MacGillivray was also well known as one of the foremost naturalists in Australia. In 1857 he was elected a member of the Philosophical Institute (later Royal Society) of Victoria and from 1859 began to publish in the society's Transactions a series of important illustrated papers on the Australian and related representatives of the Phylum Polyzoa (Bryozoa), commonly known as 'sea-mosses'. The fine descriptions and figures from his own hand in Professor McCoy's Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria (Melbourne, 1878-90) are models of precision and clarity and remain, together with MacGillivray's 'The Tertiary Polyzoa of Victoria' (Transactions of the Royal Society of Victoria, 4, 1895), standard bases for any research on Cainozoic Polyzoa. For the Royal Society of South Australia he also wrote on the fossil polyzoans of that colony.

On 2 December 1880 MacGillivray was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society of London. On 20 June 1881 he gave the inaugural address to the Bendigo School of Mines Science Society on the objects worth accomplishment. He was an energetic member of the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria and other institutions. Although modest and 'habitually silent and reserved with strangers', he was respected for his probity and sincerity in advocating educational and scientific progress.

For publication by the Royal Society of Victoria he had nearly finished a large monograph on the 'Polyzoa of Victoria' when he died on 9 July 1895 at his home in Bendigo. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth, née Shields, five daughters and a son who had served in the South African Mounted Police before settling in Western Australia. MacGillivray's collections and valuable library were bought by the government for the National Museum of Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • R. T. M. Pescott, Collections of a Century (Melb, 1954)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1872, 3 (57) 147
  • Australian Medical Journal, 20 July 1895
  • H. B. Graham, ‘The fruits of Lister's labours’, Medical Journal of Australia, 20 June 1953
  • Argus (Melbourne), 10 July 1895.

Citation details

D. A. Brown, 'MacGillivray, Paul Howard (1834–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


9 July, 1895 (aged ~ 61)
Bendigo, Victoria, Australia

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