Duncan was born in Scotland, the son of John Duncan and his wife Helen. He was educated at University of Aberdeen (MA. in honours 1855) and entered the Royal Artillery in 1855. He went to Canada where he was awarded Honorary D.C.L. from King's College, Canada in 1861. In 1864, he became a captain and in 1874 a major, receiving an Honorary LL.D. from University of Aberdeen in the same year. He was an instructor at the School of Gunnery from 1877 to 1882 becoming lieutenant-colonel in 1881 and receiving an Honorary D.C.L. from University of Durham in 1882.
Whilst at Woolwich, Duncan, together with Surgeon-Major Peter Shepherd, a fellow graduate of Aberdeen University, established the concept of teaching first aid skills to civilians. Duncan was a deeply religious man with high humanitarian values who strongly supported the principle of battlefield ambulance transport  From 1883 to 1885, he was employed with the Egyptian army (3rd Class Osmanleh) and became colonel in 1885. He was author of several works relating to military history.
At the 1885 general election, Duncan was elected as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Holborn. He was re-elected in the 1886 general election but died in post in 1888. Most of his 59 interventions recorded in Hansard concerned military matters.
Duncan married Mary K Cogswell from Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of the original Woolwich Free Ferry vessels was named after him.
- History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery 1872, John Murray (London)
- The English in Spain or the Story of the War of Succession Between 1834 and 1840
- A Description of the Island of St. Helena: Containing Observations on Its Singular Structure
- Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "H" (part 3)}[better source needed] }}
- Craig, F. W. S. (1989) . British parliamentary election results 1885–1918 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 15. ISBN 0-900178-27-2.
- British Census 1881 RG11 0748/8 p8
- Lloyd, Ernest Marsh (1901). "Duncan, Francis". In Sidney Lee. Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Colonel Vlas Efstathis, A history of first aid and its role in armed forces Nov 1999 ADF Health Journal P42-44
- Mair, Robert Henry (1886). Debrett's Illustrated House of Commons and the Judicial Bench 1886. London: Dean & Son. p. 44. http://www.archive.org/stream/debrettshouseo1886londuoft#page/n97/mode/1up.
- "No. 25541". 18 December 1885. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/25541/page/
- "No. 25609". 20 July 1886. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/25609/page/
- Woolwich Free Ferry System
- Open Library
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Francis Duncan
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|New constituency||Member of Parliament for Holborn
1885 – 1888
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