Dr. Duncan was Liverpool?s first Medical Officer of Health. He was born in Seel Street in Liverpool in 1805. Duncan studied medicine at Edinburgh University, graduating as a Doctor of Medicine in 1829. He started his professional career as a GP working in two practices in Liverpool. He became interested in the health of the poor and started researching the living conditions of his patients. He was shocked by what he found and started a lifelong campaign for improved sanitation and housing for the poor. As a key member of the Health of Towns Association in Liverpool (established April 1845) he helped in the formulation of Liverpool?s first Sanitary Act in 1846.
Duncan was appointed Medical Officer of Health on 1st January 1847. Duncan recognised that there was a clear link between housing conditions and the outbreak of diseases such as cholera, smallpox and typhus. Duncan worked with the Borough Engineer, James Newlands, to tackle the problems of poor housing and sanitary provision in the city.