Cantlie, James 1851 - 1926


Sir James Cantlie, physician and medical administrator, was born on 17 January 1851 at Keithmore Farm, Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland, the eldest son of William and Janet Cantlie. His early education took place at a local school in the village of Drummuir and at Milne's Institution at Fochabers, Speyside. He graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1871 with an MA in natural science before training in medicine at the same institution and graduating MB and CM with honourable distinction in 1873. Cantlie was appointed instructor of anatomy at Charing Cross Hospital, London, in the same year. He became an instructor in the St John Ambulance Association and in 1882 he joined the London Scottish Volunteers as a surgeon. In 1883 he played a part in the establishment of the Volunteer Medical Staff Corps, volunteering later that year for service in Egypt, where he developed an interest in tropical diseases.

Cantlie married Mabel Barclay Brown on 30 July 1884. They had four sons, Sir Keith Cantlie, (1886-1977), Admiral Sir Colin Cantlie (1888-1967), Lieutenant General Sir Neil Cantlie (1892-1975), and Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth R E Cantlie (1899-1986).

Cantlie was interested in the physical condition of the urban poor and wrote a paper entitled Degeneracy among Londoners which was read at the Parkes Museum in 1885. In 1887 he moved to Hong Kong where he practised medicine and established a medical college for Chinese students, the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese which later became the University of Hong Kong. One of the college’s first students was Sun Yat-Sen, who became the first president of the Chinese republic in 1911. In 1886 Cantlie was appointed advisor to the India Office when an epidemic of bubonic plague broke out in Bombay.

In 1896 Cantlie returned to London to take the chair of applied anatomy at Charing Cross Hospital. Soon afterwards, he was instrumental in obtaining the release of Sun Yat-Sen after his abduction by Chinese agents and detention at the Chinese legation in London.

Cantlie was a co-founder of the Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which published its first edition in August 1898, and was its editor for the following 23 years. He also played a part in the establishment of the London School of Tropical Medicine which opened in 1899 and where he was the first surgeon and lecturer in tropical surgery. Cantlie’s book Physical Efficiency was published in 1906. He continued his involvement with St John Ambulance and was an adviser to the War Office on the establishment of the medical section of the Territorial Force (later the Territorial Army), formed in 1907.

Sir James Cantlie and his wife Lady Cantlie were commandants in the British Red Cross Society during the First World War. They founded a College of Ambulance and a humanitarian corps to aid those in medical need or poverty. Cantlie was appointed knight of the British Empire in 1918 and received an honorary LLD degree from the University of Aberdeen in 1919.

Lady Cantlie died on 21 December 1921 and Sir James passed away few years after her, on 28 May 1926 at Dorset Square, London, and was buried at Cottered cemetery, Buntingford, Hertfordshire.