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MILROY, Gavin (1805-1886)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-MILRG
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: MILROY, Gavin (1805-1886)
Date(s): 1870-1881
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 1 volume
Name of creator(s): Milroy | Gavin | 1805-1886 | physician and epidemiologist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Gavin Milroy was born in 1805, in Edinburgh, the son of a silversmith. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, before entering the city's university to study medicine. He qualified licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1824, and graduated MD from the university in 1828. He was a founder member of the Hunterian Society of Edinburgh.

Rather than enter into practice, Milroy enlisted as a medical officer in the Government Packet Service to the West Indies and the Mediterranean. On his return he was attracted to medical journalism, and from 1844-47 was co-editor of the Medico-Chirurgical Review. Milroy's detailed commentary on a French report on `Plague and Quarantine' was published in the Review in October 1846. In the article he advocated the abolition of quarantine, and the dependence on sanitary measures alone for protection from foreign diseases. Milroy was consequently acknowledged as an expert on epidemiology and was employed on several Government commissions of inspection and enquiry. From 1849-50 he acted as a superintendent medical inspector of the General Board of Health. Milroy was a member of the Medical and Chirurgical Society, and played an active role in establishing the Epidemiological Society of London in 1850.

In 1852 he went to Jamaica for the Colonial Office, to investigate a cholera epidemic. He presented to the authorities a report which charted the origin and progress of the epidemic, gave details of the social conditions of the natives, and made recommendations for sanitary measures. In 1853 he was elected fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. For the next two years, 1853-55, he was again medical inspector for the General Board of Health. From 1855-56, during the Crimean War, he served on the Sanitary Commission inspecting the British troops in the field. The reports, written by Milroy and his colleague John Sutherland, from the Board of Health, did influence subsequent reforms, although at the time the Army Medical Department had insufficient authority to institute the necessary changes.

In 1858 Milroy was honorary secretary of a committee appointed by the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science to enquire into the question of quarantine worldwide. As secretary Milroy assimilated and digested the results, and communicated them to the Board of Trade. The committee's findings were incorporated into three parliamentary papers, 1860-61. The papers contained information not only on the laws and practice of quarantine, but also on the appearance and prevalence of the diseases for which quarantine was being imposed throughout the world. Milroy was secretary of the Epidemiological Society, 1862-64, and then its president, 1864-66.

Milroy was a member of the committee of the Royal College of Physicians, appointed at the request of the Colonial Office in 1862, to examine the spread of leprosy. The committee's report of 1867 included an appendix by Milroy giving suggestions, entitled `Notes respecting the Leprosy of Scripture'. Other contributions to medical literature included the article on `Plague' in Sir John Russell Reynold's System of Medicine (1866-79), many articles for The Lancet, and many other anonymous articles in various medical journals. It has been said of Milroy that he was `a modest, unassuming man, of sound judgment, and considerable intellectual powers' (DNB, 1894, p.23). In 1871 Milroy was awarded a civil list pension of 100 a year by the Government.

In later years he lived at Richmond, Surrey. His wife Sophia (nee Chapman) died about three years before her husband. Milroy died at Richmond on 11 January 1886, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. He bequeathed to the College 2,000 to found the Milroy Lectureship on state medicine and public health, and accompanied the bequest with a memorandum of suggestions.

Quarantine and the Plague, being a Summary of the Report on these Subjects recently addressed to the Royal Academy of Medicine in Paris, with Introductory Observations, Extracts from Parliamentary Correspondence, and Notes (London, 1846)
Abstract of Regulations in Force in Foreign Countries respecting Quarantine (Parliamentary Papers no.568, 25 August 1860); Abstracts of Information concerning the Laws of Quarantine (Parliamentary Papers no.568-1, 21 August 1860); Papers relating to Quarantine (Parliamentary Papers no.544, 6 August 1861)


Scope and content/abstract:

Gavin Milroy's papers, 1870-1881, consist of reports and correspondence, between Milroy and the Colonial Office, on the subject of leprosy, particularly the contagiousness of the disease, and more specifically Milroy's inquiry into Louis Daniel Beauperthuy's treatment of leprosy in the West Indies, 1870-1881.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Bequeathed to the College by Milroy in his will, 1885.

Immediate source of acquisition:

The immediate source and date of transfer of the collection is unknown

Allied Materials

Related material:

There is material relating to Milroy held elsewhere in the archives amongst the College's papers, in particular concerning his work on leprosy, 1862-1879, amongst the papers of the College's Leprosy Committee, including minutes, reports, notes and correspondence, from and referring to Milroy, 1863-1876 (MS2248/49-52; MS4119/262, 267a, 276, 303, 310-314, 316-317, 319, 321-324, 331); Correspondence relating to Milroy's inquiry into Beauperthuy's treatment of leprosy, 1870-1873 (MS41119/297-299, 344); Letter to the College from Milroy regarding the College's resolution on medical policy in the West Indies, 1876 (MS4041); Correspondence referring to the extension of Milroy's inquiry in the West Indies to include yaws, 1871-1872 (MS4042/6), and a report on yaws in Dominica sent to Milroy, 1879 (MS4043/1-3); Letters from Milroy regarding making public reports on the health of Britain's colonial territories, 1879-1880 (MS4064/1, 4).

There is also an extract of Milroy's will detailing his bequest to the College, 1885 (MS760/2); Letter about Milroy's coat of arms amongst correspondence about the College's armorial window, 1888 (MS1094/70); The Milroy Lectures form a series amongst the College's papers (MS1021).

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Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, 1826-1925, Vol. IV, compiled by G.H. Brown (London, 1955) [Munk's Roll, 1955, p.71-72]; Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XXXVIII, Sidney Lee (ed.) (London, 1894) [DNB, 1894, pp.22-23]; `Obituary - Gavin Milroy', The Lancet, 1886, vol. I, p.425; `Obituary - Gavin Milroy', British Medical Journal, 1886, vol. I, pp.425-26.
Compiled by Katharine Martin

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Compiled September 2003

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