Arthur Mitchell (physician)

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Sir Arthur Mitchell, KCB 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. Mitchell published About Dreaming, Laughing and Blushing in 1905.

Sir Arthur Mitchell
The Mitchell grave, Rosebank Cemetery, Edinburgh


Mitchell was born in Elgin, Moray, and gained a degree in medicine at the University of Aberdeen.


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.[1] In 1870 he was appointed to the commission, and also served on the Commission on Criminal Lunacy in England, and later chaired a commission which investigated lunacy care in Ireland.[1]

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.[1] His work established a methodology for epidemiological studies in this field.[2]


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 and member of 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, and About Dreaming, Laughing, and Blushing (1905).[1]

In 1886 Mitchell was made a Companion of the Bath by Queen Victoria, and was raised to the rank of Knight Commander of the Bath the following year.

He lived with his family at 34 Drummond Place in Edinburgh's New Town.[3]

He retired in 1895 and died on 12 October 1909. He was buried at Rosebank Cemetery, Edinburgh.[1] The grave lies on the north-facing retaining wall in the centre of the cemetery.


He married Margaret Hay Houston, daughter of James Houston of Tullochgriban in Strathspey. Their only child was Sydney Mitchell (1856–1930),[4]a successful Edinburgh architect who designed Craig House in 1887.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Obituary: Sir Arthur Mitchell". The British Medical Journal. 2 (2547): 21261–2. October 23, 1909. PMC 2321032Freely accessible. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1888-89
  4. ^ "Arthur George Sydney Mitchell". Dictionary of Scottish Architects.