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Surgeon William Duncan 1556 - 1608

by John A. Duncan of Sketraw, FSA Scot.


William Duncan b.1556 - d.1608 was the second son of Physician Finlay Duncan d.1588, Burgess of Dundee 1550 and Margaret Kinloch. William followed in his father's footsteps in medicine and likewise became an eminent Surgeon in Dundee and held the office of the Dean of Guild on a number of occasions.

John Duncan his eldest brother was a Goldsmith and was seemingly disowned by his father, Finlay. for moving to England. On a deed of 1586 Protocol Book of Robert Wedderburn, notary public, it declares that;

"His son John was not to succeed to his tenement of land in the Argyllis-gait of Dundee, unless he returned out of England, and married amongst his own kinsfolk. This deed was witnessed by William Duncan, the next heir."

We must remember that it was turbulent times in Scotland in the mid to  late  1500's.  Mary  Queen  of  Scots  was  being  held


The Arms of William Duncan the Howff Dundee


The Arms of William Duncan the Howff Dundee

prisoner by Elizabeth I and in 1587 she was beheaded. So the English were not exactly flavour of the moment and anti English feeling was running high.

William married Katherine Wedderburn b.1575 daughter of Alexander Wedderburn, and Janet Mylne and  sister of Sir Alexander Wedderburn of Kingennie.  in 1594. Their marriage was short however, lasting only 12 years (William died at the age of 52). There is some uncertainty regarding the death of Katherine Wedderburn, some accounts say she died not long after William but, records show that Katherine was to later marry William Ferguson in 1609. The inscription on Williams tomb reads;

William Duncan's Tomb, The Howff Cemetery, Dundee 1887  

William Duncan's Tomb, The Howff Cemetery, Dundee 1887

“W. D: K. V: Hic dormit honorabilis vir, Gulielmus Duncane, medicus, civis de Dunde, qui obiit die Maii mensis, anno 1608, oextatis suoe 52.”
[Here sleeps an honourable man, WILLIAM DUNCAN, Physician and Citizen of Dundee, who died of May in the year 1608, and of his age 52.]
“Heir lies aleswae ane godlie honorabil voman, Katerin Yedderburne, spous to Villiame Dvncane, who departit this lyif ye day of 160 .
Discite ab exemplo mortales discite nostro.
[See and learn from our example, o mortals, that ye are mortal.]
Mors sola fatetur quantula sunt hominuin corpuscula.
[Death alone shows how contemptible are the bodies of men.]"

William and Katherine had three sons and two daughters John, James, William, Margaret and Helen. William was Provost of Dundee 1609 -1614 and was to become the progenitor of many eminent Duncans from Dundee. Alexander Duncan, Provost of Dundee 1681 - 1685; John Duncan, Provost 1702 -1704; Surgeon William Duncan of Seaside; Magistrate Alexander Duncan of Seaside & Lundie, Provost 1717 -1719; Sir William Duncan, Bart of Marylebone (dsp 01.10.1774, physician to King George III); Captain Henry Duncan Royal Navy, and Alexander Duncan of Seaside & Lundie, Provost 1744 - 1747, father of Admiral Adam Duncan, Viscount Camerdown to name but a few.

There are not many artefacts remaining from the time of William Duncan and Katherine Wedderburn however, an account was made in 1888 by A.H. Millar FSA Scot, of a 'Curious Pewter casket from Dundee';


"The symbols which localise and identify this curious casket are incised on this moulded band. They consist of the name 'duncane' on one side of the central aperture, with the initials 'C. W. I).,' and the arms of Duncan, a chevron between two roses (cinquefoils), with a horn suspended in base, and also the monogram 'S. J. S.' in cursive characters. On the other side of the aperture, and reading the reverse way, are the name 'Wedderburne,' the initials 'C.W.,' with the arms of Wedderburn of Kingennie,—a chevron charged with a fleur-de-lys, between three roses, and the date 1600. It seems probable that a rod has passed through the circular apertures -between the slits, finished with a bolt head at one side, and fitted with a lock of some kind at the other, so as to prevent the abstraction of coins by the widest aperture.

The incised names and coats of arms very clearly show that this casket or cash-box belonged to 'Chirurgeon (Surgeon) William Duncan,' an eminent physician in Dundee, and to his wife, Catherine Wedderburn, sister of Sir Alexander Wedderburn, first Baron of Kingennie. The monogram 'S. J. S.' may be the initials of Sir James Scrymgeour of Dudhope, who was Provost of Dundee from 1593 till 1609. William Duncan was the second son of Finlay Duncan, surgeon, who was admitted a burgess of Dundee in 1550.

It has been suggested that the casket was intended as a cash-box for holding fines connected with the Guildry, but the arms and initials of Catherine Wedderburn, beside those of her husband, seem to indicate that it was for domestic use. The history of this relic during the last 280 years cannot be traced. It is now in the possession of Mr G. B. Simpson, F.S.A. Scot., Broughty Ferry, near Dundee. (The casket has since been acquired by Mrs Morison-Duncan of Naughton, Fife.)"

We will be following up with more articles on this particular branch of the Duncan's and perhaps, we may gain more information on the casket that was once held by the Morison-Duncan's of Naughton.
Further Articles to do with this branch of the Duncans are;
Admiral Adam Duncan, Viscount Camperdown 1731 - 1804
Captain Henry Duncan RN 1735 - 1814

© Copyright John A. Duncan of Sketraw, FSA Scot. . All rights reserved.


Proceedings of the Society of Antiquities Scotland 1888 paper by A.H. Millar, FSA Scot; Stirnet Online Genealogical Database: Images, © Lamb Collection; Dundee Central Library, and is reproduced courtesy of Dundee Central Libraries by kind permission of Dundee City Archives; Scotland's People, Register House Edinburgh Online Database; The Ordinary of Arms, Lyon Court, Edinburgh.


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