JW Sheets
Journal Issue: 
Volume 41: Issue 4: 2011


Roger McNeill was born in 1853 on Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides, the son of a cattle herder. He graduated with a degree in medicine from Edinburgh University, where he studied with Joseph Lister, among others. After working in London during a smallpox epidemic, he received a gold medal and honours for his M.D. thesis in 1881. McNeill returned to Scotland as the Resident Medical Officer at Gesto Hospital on the Isle of Skye. From there, he launched and published the first statistical research about the health of Highland crofters. His was an illustrious yet understated career in public health: he was the first president of the Caledonian Medical Society (1881–82), he earned a Diploma in Public Health from Cambridge University (1889), he was the first Medical Officer of Health for Argyll (1890–1924), wrote The Prevention of Epidemics and the Construction and Management of Isolation Hospitals (1894), and was the first witness before Parliament’s Dewar Committee in Oban in 1912. McNeill and other members of the Caledonian Medical Society testified about medical services in remote Scotland, encouraging a revolution in healthcare throughout the Highlands and Islands. The committee’s report led to the foundation of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service, a forerunner of the National Health Service established in 1948.