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1873-Dated Dufferin Governor General Medal in Silver. Awarded to Montreal High School Student H.B. McKay in 1875. Original Box Included. Clowery-101, BHM-2958, Eimer-1625.

1873-Dated Dufferin Governor General Medal in Silver. Awarded to Montreal High School Student H.B. McKay in 1875. Original Box Included. Clowery-101, BHM-2958, Eimer-1625.


63 grams. 51 mm. Obverse: Jugate portraits of Lord and Lady Dufferin facing right. The legends reads: EARL OF DUFFERIN K.P. K.C.B. G.C.M.G. GOV. GEN. OF CANADA * COUNTESS OF DUFFERIN * 1873*. Reverse: Dufferin coat of arms surrounded by the inscription PRESENTED ŸBY ŸHISŸ EXCELLENCY ŸTHE ŸGOVERNOR ŸGENERAL. The Latin motto PER VIAS RECTAS (“By Right Ways”) appears on a scroll below the shield. 

Offered here is an example of the 1873 Lord Dufferin Governor General medal in silver. The Governor General medal for excellence in academic and athletic achievement was founded in late-1873 to early-1874 by the Earl of Dufferin, the Queen’s representative in Canada and the third Governor General, as a means of fostering scholarship and competition across the Dominion. Academic medals were awarded to top graduates at the high school, college, and university levels. Gold medals were reserved for universities, while silver and bronze pieces were presented at the high school and college levels. For more information, take a look at the 1876 Dufferin gold medal we have available.

Two types of Dufferin Governor General medals exist. The Type of 1873 (as here) was the first one struck by the famous Wyon family in England. These were given out from 1873 to 1875 and possibly 1876. Slight modifications were made to the portraits in 1876. The second type was used from 1876 though 1878 – the end of Lord Dufferin’s tenure as Governor General. Between 46 and 73 Type of 1873 Dufferin silver medals were awarded in all.

This example is inscribed on the edge HIGH SCHOOL MONTREAL 1875 H.B. MACKAY. It was awarded to Huntley Brodie MacKay (see picture), who was born in Kingston, Ontario in March 1858 to H.B. MacKay, Esq. of Montreal. The younger MacKay was educated at the High School of Montreal, where he won this silver medal for achievement in mathematics. MacKay would go on to study at the Royal Military College in his birthplace of Kingston, Ontario. The following is an excerpt from “A Sketch of the Lives and Services of the Late Captains H.B. MacKay, W.H. Robinson, and W.G Stairs” (1893) by Captain A.H. van Straubenzee:

The R. M. College was established in June 1876, and at the half yearly entrance examination in February 1878, Mackay passed in first with a good lead. From that time every examination saw him at the top of the list, until he graduated in June 1881, winning the Governor General's gold medal and several prizes, a first class certificate, with honours in 8 subjects. During his College course Mackay worked conscientiously and hard, making the very best of his opportunities, he was a general favorite with both Staff and Cadets, and many an old graduate will gratefully remember the assistance he cheerfully gave them in working out a difficult problem in mathematics or D. G. He was a good swimmer, fond of debating, and a hard working forward in the football team. 

     Some of you may remember how at one of the quarterly examinations in Mathematics out of a maximum of 25 he lost 1 mark, at this grievous loss he expressed surprise and deep regret, so that for a long time there was a standing joke against him. How about that mark! this illustrates  his earnestness of purpose.

MacKay was obviously an exceptionally gifted student, winning not only this Governor General medal in silver during his high school years, but also an example in gold while studying at the R.M.C. After graduating with a commission in the Royal Engineers, MacKay ended up serving as a Special Services Officer during the Bechuanaland Expedition of 1884 and 1885 under Sir Charles Warren. Andrew Godefroy, writing in Canadian Soldiers in West African Conflicts, 1885-1905 (2008) further explains: 

He was appointed Commanding Royal Engineers (CRE) in West Africa in 1887, and later served in Sierra Leone where he assisted Colonel Sir Francis Walker de Winton in the 1887-88 punitive expeditions against the Yonnie tribe. It was an arduous and dangerous campaign against a skillful adversary, and Captain Mackay came close to being killed on a number of occasions as the expedition was repeatedly ambushed on its way to destroy the Yonnie stronghold at Robari. For his consistently outstanding efforts and personal courage Mackay was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. While serving as acting administrator to the Imperial British East Africa Company he contracted fever and died at Mombassa on 10 April 1891. It was an all-too typical end for a man serving in West Africa at that time. 

MacKay and the successive custodians of this important medal have taken great care in its preservation. It remains in Uncirculated condition and in its original box of issue. Each side features a pronounced cameo effect, with thickly frosted relief elements set against flashy mirrors. The obverse fields are richly toned in natural ice-blue and violet patina with gold colour around the borders. Reddish-gold and pale blue hues appear on the other side. There are a few faint hairlines well-hidden beneath the toning. The only mark is a thin linear depression that extends upward from the Countess of Dufferin’s nose. 

This is an exceptionally important piece of early Canadian academic history with deep ties to the city of Montreal and an interesting connection to Canadian expeditions in West Africa during the late 19th century.

Ex: Tim Henderson.

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