Cameron, Charles (1841–1924), politician, newspaper proprietor and medical doctor, was born in Dublin on 18 December 1841, the son of John Cameron, newspaper proprietor, and his wife Ellen (née Galloway). John Cameron founded the Glasgow North British Daily Mail – subsequently Glasgow's first daily paper – in 1847, and his businesses included a Dublin printworks. Both Charles's paternal grandparents came from Inverness and he was strongly conscious of his Highland ancestry; in middle age he was an active member of the Federation of Celtic Societies, which promoted Scots Gaelic culture, and this paved the way for his campaign for Highland land reform in the 1880s.
Charles was educated at Madras College, St Andrews, and at TCD, where he graduated as first senior moderator and gold medallist in experimental and natural sciences in 1862, won first place in the MB and M.Chir. exams in 1863, and took the gold medal of the Dublin Pathological Society. He subsequently studied at medical schools in Paris, Berlin and Vienna, taking his MD and MA degrees at TCD in 1865 and graduating LLB and LLD in 1870. Although he never practised medicine, he deployed his medical qualifications in his subsequent career, defending vaccination and vivisection (opposed by many of his radical colleagues) as medically beneficial. He was active in the British Medical Association (presiding at the public medicine section of its 1884 congress) and the British Association for the Advancement of Science (presiding over the health section of its 1881 social science congress), delivering lectures (later published as pamphlets) on the bacteriological discoveries of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch and their implications for public health. His interest in public health also made him a staunch supporter of the legalisation of cremation, and he was still a leading member of the Cremation Society of Great Britain in 1914. (Because of his name, birthplace, education and interest in public health, Cameron is sometimes confused with the Dublin public health official Sir Charles Alexander Cameron (qv).)
In 1864 Cameron became editor of the North British Daily Mail, inheriting his father's interest in the paper in 1873. Throughout his proprietorship, the Mail circulated extensively in Glasgow and western Scotland, with the weekly edition one of the most widely read papers in the Highlands and Islands. As Mail editor, Cameron became a leading spokesmen for a new generation of Liberal municipal reformers influenced by the vision of a godly nation articulated by the Scottish presbyterian theologian Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847), and the American revivalists Ira Sankey and Dwight Moody. These newer municipal reformists maintained that declining religious observance among the urban poor could not be addressed by providing churches and by church-organised philanthropy alone, because it reflected living conditions in city slums such as Glasgow's. Such conditions had to be addressed by officially assisted social reforms and the passage of moral laws to facilitate character development through religious rebirth, which in turn would provide the basis for lasting social betterment.
Under Cameron's editorship, the Mail became a major mouthpiece for the temperance movement, the organisational muscle of which greatly assisted his subsequent political career. He published exposés of conditions in prisons and asylums for the mentally ill, and of prostitution and the drink trade in Glasgow, and was successfully sued for libel after the paper claimed that leading members of Glasgow's established municipal whig elite were using the city improvement trust as a front for property speculation. He was also an outspoken opponent of the contagious diseases acts, which allowed women in certain garrison towns to be subjected to compulsory medical examination if suspected of being prostitutes and to be detained in hospitals if found to be infected.
Cameron headed the poll for the new three-seat Glasgow constituency at the 1874 general election, which marked a noted political change, with two sitting whig MPs being replaced by the radical Cameron and a Conservative (the sitting radical was re-elected). He resigned the editorship of the Mail on his election, while remaining proprietor, and was re-elected for the same constituency in 1880.
Although described as 'a veteran faddist' (Hutchinson, 185), Cameron was a highly effective backbencher, securing the passage into law under both Conservative and Liberal governments of private members' bills on such subjects as temperance (Publican's Certificates (Scotland) Act, 1876; Habitual Drunkards Act (Scotland), 1879), the abolition of imprisonment for debt in Scotland (Debtors (Scotland) Act, 1881; Civil Imprisonment (Scotland) Act, 1882), and the Marriage Notice (Scotland) Act, 1878. A supporter of women's suffrage, he moved the motion which led to the extension of the local government franchise in Scotland to women, as well as resolutions instituting a sixpenny telegram service. Regularly writing to The Times both on general matters and on individual allegations of mistreatment, he was a sharp critic of government waste, and published an excoriating pamphlet on mismanagement of military supplies during the 1882 Egyptian campaign. Cameron also chaired departmental committees on coastal transport of cattle (1894) and on habitual offenders in Scotland (1894–5). He was a JP for the counties of Lanark and Renfrew and the city of Glasgow, and a DL for Glasgow.
In the early 1880s Cameron was identified with two causes in particular: agitation for the disestablishment of the Church of Scotland, and support for the agitation of Highland crofters (tenant farmers) for concessions on fixity of tenure and rent restriction given to Irish tenants. He was one of the most active advocates of the crofters' cause in the house of commons during these years (equalled only by Donald MacFarlane, the Scottish MP for Carlow (1880–85)), and played a significant role in the appointment of the Napier commission (1883), which eventually led to the extension of a form of dual ownership by landlord and tenant over large areas of the Highlands and Islands. Cameron believed these crofters' acts did not go far enough, complaining that they allowed the continued coexistence of deer forests with overcrowded smallholdings and did nothing for landless Highlanders; his denunciations of post-1886 repression of crofter agitation by the secretary for Scotland, Arthur Balfour (qv), encouraged a continuing sense of affinity between the Highland agitation and the Plan of Campaign in Ireland.
Cameron linked disestablishment and the land question by speaking of Free Church crofters being persecuted by Church of Scotland landlords. He was the leading parliamentary advocate of Scottish disestablishment, and made the issue a major rallying point for radicals seeking to wrest control of the Scottish Liberal party from more conservative whig elements. During the 1886–92 and 1892–5 parliaments he repeatedly sponsored resolutions on disestablishment; the cause's parliamentary highpoint was reached on 9 May 1893, when Cameron's private member's bill passed its second reading by 246 to 180, with Gladstone voting in favour.
At the 1885 general election Glasgow was divided into seven one-member constituencies, all of which elected Liberals, with Cameron returned for the middle-class College division in the north-west of the city. In September 1885 he played a leading role in the formation of the Scottish Liberal Federation, intended to ensure radical control of the party machinery and to promote disestablishment as party policy. Although many Glasgow Liberals opposed Irish home rule and joined the Liberal Unionist party (which was particularly strong in the west of Scotland; three Glasgow seats fell to the new unionist alliance in 1886 and 1892, and five in 1895), Cameron remained a Gladstonian despite some initial ambivalence, while the defection of many Scottish Liberal newspapers (including the Glasgow Herald) to unionism considerably increased the importance of the Mail as mouthpiece of Scottish Gladstonianism. Cameron retained the College seat at the 1892 general election and received a baronetcy in 1893. His defeat at the 1895 general election marked a further turning point in the drift of the Glasgow upper and middle classes towards unionism; it also marked the decisive failure of the agitation for Scottish disestablishment, since the dissident presbyterian churches were already turning towards reunion, first with each other (despite fundamentalist secessions) in 1900, and eventually with the established church (in 1929).
Shortly after losing his seat, Cameron served on a royal commission for the reform of liquor licensing laws (appointed in 1895). He briefly returned to parliament in 1897 at a by-election for the working-class Bridgeton division of Glasgow (after a humiliating interrogation by John Ferguson (qv) (1836–1906), who resented Cameron's combination of support for home rule with condescension towards Irish home rulers, and wished to emphasise that Liberal retention of Bridgeton depended on its large body of Irish voters), but his victory was narrow due to an incongruous alliance between the Orange order and catholic voters hostile to Liberal opposition to state support for denominational education. Cameron retired at the 1900 general election, when all seven Glasgow seats were taken by unionists.
Cameron married firstly (1869) Frances Macauley (d. 1899), with whom he had one daughter. His retirement to the home counties, where he became a motoring enthusiast and remained active in philanthropic organisations, was probably related to his second marriage, in 1900, to Blanche Perman of Stoke Newington in north-east London; they had a son and a daughter. In 1901 the North British Daily Mail was incorporated into the Daily Record (Cameron was still chairman of the Weekly Mail Company in 1904). He died at his residence in Virginia Water, Surrey, on 2 October 1924.