Lives of the fellows

Robert William (Sir) Philip

b.29 December 1857 d.25 January 1939
Kt(1913) MA Edin(1878) MB CM Edin(1882) MD Edin(1887) Hon LLD Glasg(1920) Hon LLD Wales(1928) Hon MD Egypt( ) FRCPE(1887) FRSE(1889) *FRCP(1933) Hon FRCSE(1927)

A delegate to an N.A.P.T. conference who had never seen or heard its president, Robert Philip, might have got an entirely wrong impression of this master of medicine, who had the brain and ability of a statesman. The deep vibrant voice, the olympian didactic and polished delivery, could have hidden from him the man, dignified, hospitable and generous to a degree, whose wide culture and powers of administration overshadowed his clinical knowledge.

Robert Philip was the son of the Rev. George Philip, D.D., and Margaret Josephine (née Robertson) Philip. He studied at the High School and the University of Edinburgh before going to Leipzig, Vienna and Berlin, and was assistant professor of practical physic before his election to the honorary staff of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 1890 set him on his life’s work. This was to put into practice his vision of a co-ordinated system of the treatment of tuberculosis at all stages following on Koch’s discovery of the tubercle bacillus in 1882.

It was he who instituted the tuberculosis dispensary scheme which concentrated on the natural history of the disease, and from the study of the social and economic background of the patient and the intensive examination of infected households aimed at the limitation and prevention of infection. His Southfield Sanatorium and Colony became the recognised research centre for students and post-graduates from all over the Continent and the United States, although his ideas were not copied and applied outside Edinburgh until 1890 by Calmette, and until 1920 by the Paddington Local Authority.

When he was at last recognised by his knighthood in 1913 honours followed fast on each other, including being made Knight of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. He was tireless in his work for public health, and his students and admirers were amazed at the physical powers demonstrated in his service on committees and societies, which was added to his strenuous work as the first professor of tuberculosis in Edinburgh from 1917. Robert Philip was a great man; his name well deserves its honoured place in the annals of tuberculosis.

He was married twice, first in 1888 to Elizabeth, daughter of John Fenton Motherwell, co. Sligo, and then in 1938 to Edith McGaw, who had done great work in the dispensary system in London. There were no children of these marriages.

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..."

[Brit. J. Tuberc., 1939, 33, 115-16;, 1939, 1, 251-4 (p); Edinb. med. J., 1937, 44, 285-97 (p), bibl.; 1939, 46, 180-82 (p); Lancet, 1939, 1, 299-300 (p); Scotsman, 27 July 1957; Times, 27 Jan. 1939; Tubercle (Edinb.), 1939, 20,239-40; D.N.B., 1931-1940, 693-4; J. H. H. Williams. Sir Robert W. Philip, 1857-1939: memories of his friends and pupils. London, [1957] (p); information about portraits in D.N.B.]

(Volume V, page 332)

<< Back to List