CLARK (Clarke), DUNCAN, physician, surgeon, and apothecary; b. c. 1759 in Scotland; m. 7 Feb. 1789 Justina Sophia Bayer in Halifax, N. S., and they had at least five sons; d. there 10 Sept. 1808.
Considerable confusion surrounds the circumstances of Duncan Clark’s early life. He enlisted in the 82nd Foot, probably in Scotland, and likely served with it in the American revolution; when the regiment was disbanded at Halifax in October 1783 Clark received half pay as an ensign. He may have had some medical training prior to his enlistment, but his subsequent expertise was likely gained during his regimental career. He may possibly have served as a surgeon’s mate, for at this time surgeons’ mates often purchased ensigncies in order to augment their pay and improve their status.
The month his regiment was disbanded Clark began his Halifax practice as a temporary replacement for the absent surgeon to the naval dockyard. He received a salary of 4d. per month per man in the yard, which amounted to approximately £25 per year. By September 1785 the incumbent still had not returned, and Clark therefore petitioned the dockyard commissioner, Henry Duncan, for the appointment, also requesting an adequate salary. Duncan’s comment that he was “a very able surgeon . . . whose [emoluments] are no way adequate to his service” gained Clark the position, which he apparently retained for life. In 1804 he received the additional appointment of physician general and inspector of the Nova Scotia militia hospital. During the residence of Prince Edward Augustus, Clark served as physician in ordinary to the royal household, along with his friends William James Almon and John Halliburton. He also maintained a large and popular medical practice in Halifax, and like several other doctors augmented his income by operating a pharmaceutical dispensary.
A congenial, dignified, and well-educated man, Clark is perhaps best remembered for his contributions to the Halifax social scene. He was a member of the North British Society by 1784, and after filling various committee positions and club offices he served as president in 1789, and again in 1797. Clark was also an active freemason, being master of St John’s Lodge No.211 as early as 1786. He subsequently attained the position of grand master in the provincial grand lodge in 1800. Succeeded the following year by Sir John Wentworth, he remained as deputy grand master until 1807. Clark was also a member of a select informal intellectual circle which met regularly at the Great Pontack Inn for the discussion of literary and scientific subjects, followed by an evening’s conviviality. Prince Edward Augustus often attended these gatherings.
Clark was reputedly a wealthy man, and in the 1790s is supposed to have invested successfully in several privateering ventures. Neither of these contentions has been substantiated. His few attempts at landholding, notably in the Hammonds Plains area near Wentworth’s rural retreat, were financially unsuccessful; at his death most of the acreage remained unimproved. His total estate amounted to only £705, of which £497 was owing to creditors. One might suppose that any profits had been expended in maintaining a high standard of living, but the inventory of his personal effects suggests only a mediocre middle-class household. Certainly it was by his character and medical expertise alone that Duncan Clark made his mark on the colonial scene.
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), C62 (estate papers of Duncan Clark) (mfm. at PANS). Halifax County Registry of Deeds (Halifax), Index to deeds, 1–2; Deeds, 23–28 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, “Masonic grand masters of the jurisdiction of Nova Scotia, 1738–1965,” comp. E. T. Bliss (typescript, 1965); MG 13, 2.
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