Peter Chalmers Mitchell

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Peter Chalmers Mitchell
Peter Chalmers Mitchell 1920.jpg
Born(1864-11-23)23 November 1864
Dunfermline, Scotland
Died2 July 1945(1945-07-02) (aged 80)
Known forFounding Whipsnade Zoo
Scientific career

Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell, CBE, FRS, DSc, LLD (23 November 1864 – 2 July 1945), zoologist, was Secretary of the Zoological Society of London from 1903 to 1935.[1] During this time, he directed the policy of the London Zoo and created the world's first open zoological park, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.[2]

Early life[edit]

Peter Chalmers Mitchell was the son of the Rev. Alexander Mitchell, a Presbyterian minister in Dunfermline, Scotland. Mitchell gained an MA at the University of Aberdeen, and moved to Christ Church, Oxford, where he read for natural science, specialising in zoology. After success in the honours examination of 1888, he was appointed University Demonstrator in Zoology.[3]

In 1896, he was the anonymous author of an article in the Saturday Review entitled "A Biological View of English Foreign Policy"[4] which proposed the inevitability of a final battle between Britain and Germany, in which one would have to be destroyed. Having acknowledged his authorship during World War I, he still declared himself "unrepentant" about it in a letter to The Times in May 1939, describing the article as "prophetic".


Despite a tenure of 32 years, Mitchell was not the longest-serving Secretary of the Zoological Society. His predecessor, Philip Lutley Sclater, had been in office over forty years, from 1860 to 1902. Mitchell was succeeded by Julian Huxley.

Mitchell's brainchild, Whipsnade Park, was opened in 1931 on the Dunstable Downs, in the heart of Bedfordshire. Whipsnade is an open air zoo in the countryside, where animals occupy large enclosures rather than cages. The park is involved in a variety of conservation activities.


In 1911, Mitchell delivered the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on The Childhood of Animals.

In February 1915, Mitchell gave three lectures on the subject of evolution and foreign policy at the Royal Institution that expanded upon his 1896 article. These were combined and published in the form of a book entitled Evolution and the War in May 1915.[5]


On retiring from the zoo, Mitchell moved to Málaga, staying there during the Spanish Civil War. An account of his last days in Málaga as the city fell to rebel forces is included in Arthur Koestler's book Spanish Testament.


Mitchell stood as an independent candidate at the Combined Scottish Universities by-election, 1938, but took last position, with 13.5% of the votes cast.


A species of South American worm lizard, Amphisbaena mitchelli, is named in his honour.[6]


  • 1900. Thomas Henry Huxley: a sketch of his life and work. Putnam's, London & N.Y; 2nd ed Methuen, London 1913.
  • 1904. The nature of Man. (as translator)
  • 1911. Official guide to the gardens of the Zoological Society of London, Zoological Society of London, London.
  • 1912. The childhood of animals. Heinemann; Penguin.
  • 1915. Evolution and the War. J. Murray, London. OCLC 9892901
  • 1930. Materialism and vitalism in biology. Oxford.
  • 1931. A centenary history of the London zoo.
  • 1937. My fill of days. Faber & Faber, London.
  • 1937. Counter-attack in Spain. (with Ramon Sender) Houghton-Mifflin, Boston.
  • 1938. My House in Malaga. Faber & Faber, London.

In addition, like Henry Scherren FZS, Chalmers Mitchell made a number of contributions to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica under the initials "P.C.M.".[7] Chalmers Mitchell was critical of Scherren's history of the ZSL, but was in turn criticised by John Bastin for his work on the same subject.[8]



  1. ^ Hindle, E. (1947). "Peter Chalmers Mitchell. 1864–1945". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 5 (15): 367–372. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1947.0005.
  2. ^ Chalmers Mitchell, P. 1931. A centenary history of the London zoo.
  3. ^ Chalmers Mitchell, P. 1937. My fill of days. Faber & Faber, London.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Chalmers Mitchell, P. 1915. Evolution and the War. John Murray, London.
  6. ^ Beolens B, Watkins M, Grayson M. 2011. The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Mitchell, P.C.", p. 180).
  7. ^ PCM's contributions to 1911 E.B., 11th Edition.
  8. ^ John Bastin. The first prospectus of the Zoological Society of London: new light on the Society's origins. Archives of Natural History. Volume 5, Issue 5. Pages 369–388. Edinburgh University Press, 1 October 1970. Deepdyve

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Philip Lutley Sclater
Secretary of the Zoological Society of London
Succeeded by
Julian Huxley