Macan, Sir Arthur Vernon (1843–1908), gynaecologist and obstetrician, was born 30 January 1843 at 9 Mountjoy Square, Dublin, eldest son of John Macan, QC, judge of the bankruptcy court, and Maria Macan (née Perrin), from Liverpool and of huguenot extraction. His brothers were Jameson John Macan, who was also a physician, and Reginald Walter Macan, classicist, expert on Herodotus and master of University College, Oxford. He attended St Columba's College, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, and in November 1859 entered TCD. In 1864 he graduated BA and, deciding on a medical career, attended the college's school of physic, graduating MB and M.Ch. (1868).
After graduation he travelled to the Continent and toured France, Italy, Greece, Austria and Germany, where he undertook further medical studies, becoming fluent in German and an expert in Listerian antiseptic methods. During the Franco–German war he volunteered to work with the Prussian army's medical services and served in their general hospital in the palace of Versailles. This was the first war in which Lister's antiseptic principles were widely used in military surgery, and Macan gained a wealth of practical experience. Returning to Dublin in 1872, he was appointed assistant physician at the Rotunda maternity hospital, and in 1875 gynaecologist at the City of Dublin Hospital, Baggot St. He graduated MAO from TCD (1877), was elected a fellow of the RCPI, and was lecturer in midwifery at the Carmichael Medical School (1878–85). Using Listerian methods in his own work, he was able to inform a new generation of medical students of developments on the Continent. But while such methods had been used in European hospitals since the 1870s, Macan experienced considerable opposition from members of the Dublin medical establishment who dubbed him and a few other colleagues the ‘German band’.
His appointment as master of the Rotunda in 1882 provided an opportunity to put his theories into practice on a large scale. He immediately introduced Listerian methods and banned students who were taking dissection classes from entering the hospital. Directing staff to be attentive to their antiseptic routines, he discouraged doctors from carrying out unnecessary internal examinations. Instances of puerperal sepsis dropped dramatically, as did the mortality rate for the Rotunda. In the last eighteen months of his mastership there were no deaths from puerperal sepsis in the hospital. He also improved the general organisation of the Rotunda and had the nurses' accommodation halls renovated. In 1889 he carried out the first successful caesarean section operation in Ireland, later describing the procedure in an article in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science. His appointment as king's professor of midwifery at TCD (1889) was a dual one and brought with it the position of obstetric physician and gynaecologist at Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital. In 1902 he was elected president of the RCPI (1902–4), and was knighted in 1903.
During the course of his career Macan published over seventy articles in various medical journals. The majority of these appeared in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science and included a series of half-yearly reports on ‘midwifery and diseases of women’. Other articles for the DJMS included ‘A case of complicated labour’ (May 1876), ‘Fourteen cases of ovariotomy’ (February 1885) and ‘A case of successful caesarean section’ (November 1890). He published further articles in Proceedings of the Dublin Obstetrical Society. Prominent in many medical societies, he was president of the obstetrics committee of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland (1886–7, 1899–1901). In 1887 he was elected a president of the obstetrics section of the British Medical Association, and in 1890 president of the British Gynaecological Society. Maintaining contacts established in his youth, he enjoyed a wide European reputation and served as the president of medical conferences in Berlin (1890), Geneva (1896), and Amsterdam (1899).
An early enthusiast of motorcycling, he became a familiar figure around Dublin as he travelled from lectures in TCD to Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital on his machine. He was also a keen sportsman in his youth and was later president of the hospital's football club. A popular lecturer, he was known for his dry wit. He married (January 1877) Mary Agnes, daughter of John Bradshaw Wanklyn of Cheam, Surrey; they had three sons and four daughters. His wife died in 1886 of puerperal sepsis, the disease that he had virtually eradicated from the Rotunda. He died of heart failure on 26 September 1908 at his Home, 53 Merrion Square, Dublin, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery. Sarah Purser (qv) had previously painted his portrait, which is in the possession of the family.