Charles Duguid (1884 – 1986), doctor and aboriginal rights campaigner who was born in Saltcoats.

On the 6th of April 1884, Charles Duguid – doctor and Aboriginal rights campaigner who lived to be 102 years old – was born in Eglinton Street, Saltcoats. 

He was the first born of 7 children to Charles Duguid, a teacher, who was the first headmaster at Ardrossan Academy and Jane Snodgrass Kinnier. Jane’s brother was Captain Douglas Reid Kinnier who was famous for his daring escape from the German cruiser Dresden in WW1 (see our previous post) and her father Robert Snodgrass Kinnier was the town’s doctor.  

In his book “Doctor Goes Walkabout” Charles writes about his early life in Saltcoats and describes himself as a boy with “…..flaming red hair and accompanying freckles” and how he had his share of fun. He describes men from Spain drifting through the town selling oranges and bearing ropes of brown onions, of foreign fortune tellers carrying a caged lovebird and fortune cards and Italians with monkeys and even bears! 

He attended Saltcoats Academy and at the end of his schooldays he had to decide between accepting a job in a bank or going off to university. He decided on university and attended the High School in Elmbank Street, Glasgow (one of the oldest schools in Scotland) and then Glasgow University. He studied arts and medicine and gained an M.A (Master of Arts) in 1905 and an MB and Ch.B., (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) in 1909. He practised medicine in the Glasgow slums for a while before travelling to Australia in 1911.  

He worked as a ship’s medical officer and whilst on board he met Irene Young, an Australian returning home from England. They were soon engaged and evenutally married in 1912 in Melbourne. They had one son, also called Charles and moved in Adelaide in 1914. Unfortunately his wife died in 1927 and Charles re-married in 1930. That same year he was elected a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and when a missionary patient told him of the abuse suffered by Aborigines in the Northen Territory he decided to check it out for himself.  

He noted their poor living conditions and discrimination in education. With his wife Phyllis they founded the Aboriginal Advancement League and helped found Ernabella Mission in South Australia. He was to spend the rest of his life campaigning for Aborignie rights including successfully repealing a clause  in the Police Offenses Act which enabled police to arrest Aborigines for consorting with non-Aborigines. 

Dr Duguid wrote about his experiences in 3 books; “No Dying Race” (1963), “Doctor and the Aborigines” (1972) and “Doctor Goes Walkabout” (1972) the latter of which is available for perusal in the Townhouse in Irvine. It paints a very colourful picture of Saltcoats in the late 19th century! 

Charles was awarded an O.B.E (Order of the British Empire) in 1970 for his work with Aborigines and received the Anisfield-Wolf Award in Race Relations for his book “Doctor and the Aborigines.” 

In 1971 Charles received a letter from the Ernabella people requesting that when he died, his body be buried at the mission …”so that the Aboriginals will always remember that he was one of us and that he faithfully helped us.”  

Charles lived to be 102 years old, dying on 5th December 1986 in Adelaide and of course,  buried at Ernabella.