Arthur Mitchell (physician)

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Sir Arthur Mitchell, KCB FRSE LLD MD (19 January 1826 – 12 October 1909) was a Scottish doctor involved in the study and care of patients with mental illness. He served on several public commissions, and wrote widely on history and anthropology.

Sir Arthur Mitchell
The Mitchell grave, Rosebank Cemetery, Edinburgh


Mitchell was born in Elgin, Moray, the son of George Mitchell, a civil engineer, and his wife, Elizabeth Cant. He was educated at Elgin Academy.[1]

He studied at the University of Aberdeen, graduating MA in 1845 and MD in 1850. He did further postgraduate studies in Paris, Berlin and Vienna.

From at least 1856 Mitchell was based at Larbert Hospital, Scotland's largest hospital specialising in mental health.

In 1857 Mitchell was appointed Deputy Commissioner of Lunacy with the newly established General Board of Lunacy for Scotland, acting as deputy to William A.F. Browne. His appointment coincided with a report produced by the Scottish Royal Lunacy Commission that prompted a greater understanding of the care of the insane.[2] In 1870 he was appointed Commissioner and he remained in post until 1895. He also served on the Commission on Criminal Lunacy in England, and later chaired a commission which investigated lunacy care in Ireland.[2]

In 1864 he was living at 6 Laverockbank Villas in the Trinity district of Edinburgh.[3]

His work included a special study of individuals in private care, which were outlined in his work The Insane in Private Dwellings. His contributions to the Edinburgh Medical Journal, reprinted in a condensed form in Memoirs of the Anthropological Society of London, contained material collected from extensive surveys.[2] His work established a methodology for epidemiological studies in this field.[4]

In 1866 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh his proposer being John Hutton Balfour. He served as the Society's Vice President 1889 to 1894 and 1896 to 1902. In 1908 he was President of the Royal Meteorological Society.[5]


He held positions with the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the Scottish Meteorological Society, the Early Scottish Text Society, and council member of the Scottish History Society. He was a professor of ancient history to the Royal Scottish Academy. His Rhind Lectures to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland were published as The Past in the Present: What is Civilisation ? His conclusion was that the difference in the essential characteristics of modern and early peoples are imperceptible, that civilisation was due to accumulated knowledge rather than an inherent superiority of its individual members. Other works included A List of Travels in Scotland 1296—1900.[2]

He received an honorary LLD from the University of Aberdeen in 1875. In 1886 Mitchell was made a Companion of the Bath (CB) by Queen Victoria, and was raised to the rank of Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) the following year. He became an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in 1891.

He lived with his family at 34 Drummond Place in Edinburgh's New Town.[6]

Unconnected to his medical life he was Chairman of the Scottish Life Assurance Company on St Andrews Square in Edinburgh. His managerial colleagues included David Paulin as Manager and James Sorley as Treasurer (who together had founded the company).[7]

He retired in 1895 and died on 12 October 1909. He was buried at Rosebank Cemetery, Edinburgh.[2] The grave lies on the north-facing retaining wall in the centre of the cemetery.


In 1855 he married Margaret Hay Houston (d.1904), daughter of James Houston of Tullochgriban in Strathspey.

Their only child was Sydney Mitchell (1856–1930),[8]a successful Edinburgh architect who was commissioned by Arthur to design Craig House as an asylum in 1887.

He was uncle to George Arthur Mitchell FRSE.


  • A List of Travels in Scotland 1296 - 1900
  • The Past in the Present (1880)
  • About Dreaming, Laughing and Blushing (1905)
  • McFarlane's Topographical Collection (ed.) 3 vols. (1906 - 8)


  1. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Obituary: Sir Arthur Mitchell". The British Medical Journal. 2 (2547): 21261–2. 23 October 1909. PMC 2321032.
  3. ^ Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1864
  4. ^ Smith, G. D. (2010). "The antecedents of epidemiological methodology in Arthur Mitchell's surveillance and care of the insane". International Journal of Epidemiology. 39 (1): 25–30. doi:10.1093/ije/dyq013. ISSN 0300-5771.
  5. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
  6. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1888-89
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Arthur George Sydney Mitchell". Dictionary of Scottish Architects.