Lives of the fellows

Andrew Meiklejohn

b.30 April 1899 d.27 October 1970
MB ChB Glasg(1923) MD(1930) DPH Manch(1930) FRFPS Glasg(1950) MRCP(1950) FRCP(1963) MRCP Glasg(1963) FRCPG(1964) FRSE(1957) Hon DIH Soc Apoth(1959)

Andrew Meiklejohn was the son of a carpenter and joiner at Ochiltree in Ayrshire. His grandfather was a coal miner. Leaving school at Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow aged 18, he joined the army from which he was invalided after being wounded in the battle of the Somme in 1918.

Graduating in medicine from Glasgow in 1923, following hospital appointments and two years in general practice he entered the tuberculosis service, initially in Sheffield and subsequently in Manchester.

From 1930 onwards, when he joined the Silicosis Medical Board at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he devoted his working life to the health and diseases of workmen. When he moved a year later to Stoke-on-Trent he began his study of The Twin Scourges of the Pottery Trade — lead poisoning and silicosis. In 1946, fifteen years later, he returned to his native heath where, until his retirement in 1964, he freely passed on the wisdom of his experience in the Department of Industrial Health in the University of Glasgow.

During his time at Stoke-on-Trent he studied every aspect of the craft of the potter and meticulously recorded his findings. He was a great admirer of the Staffordshire physician of an earlier era, John T. Arlidge, whose writings on the health of potters and others culminated in his Milroy Lectures in 1899, ‘Occupations and Trades in relation to Public Health’. Meiklejohn followed in his footsteps, delivering the Milroy Lectures in 1963 on The Successful Prevention of Lead Poisoning and Silicosis in the North Staffordshire Potteries.

To the end of his life his heart belonged to the pottery workers. He was a forceful personality who never hesitated to speak his mind to manufacturers and workers alike, and whose great understanding of the mentality of both, together with his sense of humour, greatly helped him in producing results. In 1966, when the North Staffordshire Medical Institute founded its J.T. Arlidge section of Occupational Health he became honorary President and donated to the institute a major part of his extensive library, writings and papers.

Meiklejohn’s scholarship was profound and his probing of historical data was endless. His teaching was enriched by anecdotal references to the early crafts and trades of Britain. He applied a keen clinical perception to the factory shop floor and taught occupational medicine by the old style apprentice method. For many years he was an examiner for the DIH of the Society of Apothecaries.

He was constantly urging his colleagues to see the broader issues of occupational health and the need for the discipline to be integrated in the main stream of medical practice. As President of the Association of Industrial Medical Officers (later the Society of Occupational Medicine) from 1951-1953 he travelled widely, speaking in furtherance of his convictions, and his Mackenzie Lecture to the BMA Industrial Health - Meeting the challenge, crystallised these thoughts.

He was a member of many national and international committees, notably in WHO & ILO. He was a member of the Pulmonary Diseases Committee of the Medical Research Council. For twelve years he served on a Hospital Management Board. He was honorary adviser to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM). He was a WHO visiting fellow to Scandinavia in 1954, and WHO visiting Professor to the High Institute of Public Health in Alexandria in 1960.

Despite declining health, which plagued his later years, he went after retirement to Geneva for a period as external consultant to the International Labour Office. There he was responsible for the preparation of the outlines of a new Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety published in 1972 after his death. Scientific societies in several countries honoured him with membership. In 1966 he was elected an honorary member of the Permanent Commission and International Association on Occupational Health. He was a prolific writer. His published work included much original material on pneumoconioses and other dust diseases, on lead poisoning and on medical history. He contributed to many standard text books and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He served on several editorial boards of scientific journals. His proudest prose composition was his introductory essay to the reprint edition of Charles Turner Thackrah’s The Effects of Arts, Trades and Professions on Health and Longevity.

In his writings he favoured an archaic style, but he wrote with clarity of expression. His favourite reading was the Bible. He was a devout man and drew much inspiration from his faith.

A fond quotation, and he had many, came from the objects of the Manchester Board of Health as pronounced by them in 1796:-
To obviate the generation of diseases;
To prevent the spread of contagion;
To shorten the duration of existing diseases and to
mitigate their evils by affording the necessary aids
and contacts to those who labour under them.

In 1930 he married Gertrude Smith, a fellow medical colleague. They had one daughter who trained as a nurse and became assistant matron of Queen Charlotte’s Hospital.

JC Graham

[Brit.med.J., 1970, 4, 371; Lancet, 1970, 2, 1041; Times, 4 Nov 1970; Glasgow Herald, 28 & 30 Oct 1970; Trans, Soc, Occup, Med., 1971, XXI, 36]

(Volume VI, page 332)

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