Lives of the fellows

Charles McNeil

b.21 September 1881 d.27 April 1964
MA Edin(1901) MB ChB Edin(1905) MD Edin(1908) Hon LLD Edin(1953) MRCPE(1910) FRCPE(1913) *FRCP(1943)

Charles McNeil, the holder of the first chair of child health in Britain, died at Nunraw Barnes, East Lothian, at the age of eighty-two. He was born in Stranraer, Wigtownshire, where his father, William McNeil, M.D., was in general practice. His mother, Wilhelmina Eleanora, was the daughter of Andrew Urquhart, a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. A brilliant schoolboy at John Watson’s Institution and George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, he read arts and medicine at the University and had already laid the foundation of his life-long interest in the welfare of infants and children by house posts at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, and the East London Hospital for Children, Shadwell, when he came under the influence of John Thomson, a paediatrician of international reputation, at the Edinburgh Royal Hospital for Children. To this hospital he was appointed assistant physician in 1912, after working for a time as assistant in the pathology department and as clinical tutor at the Medical School. Following service in France with the R.A.M.C, as the officer commanding the Scottish Hospital at Rouen from 1915 to 1919, he returned to the Royal Hospital until 1920, when he became physician to one of the medical units and assistant physician at the Royal Infirmary.

In 1925 he was appointed University lecturer in the diseases of children, and in 1929 honorary paediatrician to the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital, where his outstanding clinical acumen showed he was the ideal choice for the first Edward Clark professorship of child life and health in 1931. In the interval McNeil had changed his approach to the care of children; appalled at their high rate of mortality, and deeply moved by the anxieties and social conditions of their mothers, he saw the need for concentration on their care more than on their diseases, although he continued to write on their lung ailments and their mental deficiencies. His gentle approach, his quiet humility and his keen sense of humour brought him the affection of his patients, while his accurate observation and meticulous recording impressed his students. His teaching was logical and Undramatic, but lightened by his wide classical reading and his social philosophy. He had a great love for rural Scotland where his hobbies were trout fishing and bird-life.

In 1941 he was the president of the British Paediatric Association, from 1940 to 1943 president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and from 1950 to 1954 president of the Scottish Paediatric Association. He was mainly responsible for the endowment of the Stuart Hall lectureship in paediatric pathology.

In 1919 he married Alice Hill, daughter of Thomas Workman, a company director. They had no family.

Richard R Trail

* He was elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature..."

[, 1964, 1, 1189-90, 1259 (p), 1446; Lancet, 1964, 1, 1050-51 (p); Times, 28 Apr. 1964.]

(Volume V, page 261)

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