William MacDonald M.D. F.R.S.E. F.L.S. F.G.S. (21 March 1797 – 1 January 1875) was a British orthodox physician who converted to homeopathy to become a member of the Association for the Protection of Homeopathic Students and Practitioners, a member of the British Homeopathic Society, and a member of the Homeopathic Fellows of the Edinburgh College of Physicians.

It is possible that William MacDonald may have been a patient of Samuel Hahnemann in Paris, and his wife was a patient of Dionysius Wielobycki in 1846,when she suffered a placenta previa.

William MacDonald was a colleague of William Gregory, William Henderson, William MacLeod, Charles Ransford, and many others.

William Macdonald was born in Carinish, North Uist, Inverness, Scotland, on 21 March, 1797, to Donald MacDonald (1756 – 1800) and Mary Campbell (1765 – 1855).

Macdonald inherited a sizeable estate in Argyllshire, but financial difficulties led to him selling the estate and commencing medical studies. In 1830 he graduated M.D. from the University of Edinburgh and two years later, in 1832, became a Fellow of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow.

In 1849 Macdonald was appointed to the Chair of Civil and Natural History in the United Colleges of St. Salvador and St. Leonards at the University of St Andrews.

The Association for the Protection of Homeopathic Students and Practitioners was founded in 1851, at 82 Gloucester Place, Portman Square London, to defend Alfred Crosby Pope, who was refused his medical diploma at Edinburgh on the basis that he had converted to homeopathy. MacDonald was an original member of the committee of this group.

Though he was criticised in The Homeopathic Record in 1855 for his views on blood letting, in 1852, William MacDonald had written to The Medical Times and Gazette to defend homeopathy, and in September 1852 attended the Third Homeopathic Congress in Edinburgh, when he argued for a Committee of Congress or a professional body to protect homeopaths from attack. Interestingly, William MacDonald, a member of the Homeopathic Fellows of the Edinburgh College of Physicians, was boycotted and proclaimed anathema by his allopathic colleagues in 1851 for being a homeopath, and expelled from the Edinburgh Medico Chirurgical Society by James Young Simpson, alongside homeopaths William Henderson, William MacLoud, and Charles Ransford. However, when the  storm in Edinburgh had subsided, William MacDonald, a professed homeopath, was granted full honours as a Resident Fellow in 1856.


William MacDonald was known as a “transcendental anatomist,” and he was also interested in electrobiology, Mesmerism, and in a letter dated 15 December 1852 sent to William Mac Donald ThePrestonGuardian.LetterReClairvoyance the Preston Guardian by  G. B. Eagle, containing a testimonial from Prof Macdonald attesting to the clairvoyant powers of Eagle’s daughter Georgina. There is a reference in this to homeopathic pills which were in the possession of Macdonald.


Biography of William MacDonald, by Brian Gardiner in The Linnean vol. 19, no. 1 (January 2003), pages 20-1.

“… A true highlander William Macdonald was born in the Western Isles on 21st March 1797. He graduated as a doctor of medicine in 1818 at Edinburgh and obtained his FRCP there in 1836 and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians . One of his first jobs on qualifying was as lecturer in Natural History and Comparative Anatomy at Lane’s Medical School, adjoining St George’s Hospital, London.

On the death of his father, however, he inherited the valuable property of Ballyshear, one of the finest estates in Kintyre, Argyllshire and immediately gave up all thoughts of practicing his profession. Instead he began using his fortune to improve the road system in that part of Scotland. The resulting free, public roads were at that time unequalled in any other part of Scotland. Eventually his fortune was dissipated and he was forced to sell up.

His philanthropy though had not gone unnoticed by the Marquis of Alisa who insisted on presenting him to the professorship of Civil and Natural History and Comparative Anatomy at St Andrew’s University, a chair he occupied for the next twenty-four years. This professorship proved to be a sinecure since it formed no part of the required curriculum and only those students who desired it, took his class in natural history. To these students he is said to have behaved like a true peripatetic philosopher.

On one famous occasion, learning that one his students had opted to study medicine, he remarked to his father: “… tell your son to learn vetinary surgery as well as human, for there is many a cuif (blockhead)who would grudge him half-a-crown to mend his wife, but would readily give him a guinea to mend his horse”.

This part time teaching position allowed him both time for his own researches and, more importantly, to visit London to attend scientific meetings. Having joined the Linnean Society back in 1826 (his chief supporter being Forbes) he was on intimate terms with Charles Lyell, who personally invited him to attend the reading of the Darwin/Wallace papers on July 1st 1858. We have no knowledge of the influence this may have had on him, but what we do know from his publications on vertebral homologies was that he considered Owen’s views erroneous. Although he was prepared to accept archetypes he believed that it was possible to go much further than Owen and to trace the homologies in the legs of insects and Crustacea. NB: Darwin had a copy of his “Critical Examination of the First Principles of Geology” with him on board the Beagle.

In April 1820 MacDonald married Jane Blair (1797 – 1871). They had eleven children.

William MacDonald submitted various papers to Botanical Societies and to the Royal Physical Society.

William MacDonald’s Obituary is in the Transactions and Proceedings of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh in 1875.

Select Publications:

Of interest:

In 1851, A. H. MacDonald [no evident relation] was a member of the Committee of the Metropolitan Homeopathic Hospital for the Diseases of Children and Vaccine Establishment, alongside Wiliam Edward Ayerst, William Vallancey Drury, Thomas Roupell Everest, Charles W. Luther, and David Wilson.