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Biographical entry Michell, Robert Williams (1863 - 1916)

MRCS June 13th 1895; FRCS June 13th 1895; BA Cantab 1884; MA 1889; MB BCh 1895; MD 1899.

25 August 1863
20 July 1916
General surgeon


Born at Truro on Aug 25th, 1863, the eldest son of Richard Ferris Michell, merchant, of Glanmor, Truro, a member of an old Cornish family. After an education at Honiton School and a short residence at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, he entered Caius College on Oct 1st, 1880. He graduated in Arts, and then turned his attention to medicine, acted as Demonstrator of Anatomy for some years, and captained the College Eight on the river in 1881. He finished at St Bartholomew's Hospital, where he was House Physician, and Clinical Assistant in the Throat Department. He was also House Physician at the General Lying-in Hospital, York Road. He then settled in practice at 3 Trinity Street, and 'coached' on the river.

He devoted his attention to students and their health in relation to athletics - disturbances of the heart and adolescent albuminoidal - and was one of the first to make use of the electrocardiograph as a regular routine in clinical observations and practice. With some skill as a mechanician he worked out cardiac cases with precision and ingenuity. He took tracings at all hours and under many conditions. For instance, he would get blood-pressure records from men who had slept all night. The cuff having been adjusted overnight, Michell would enter at 7 am and take a tracing, hardly waking his subject. His observations impressed him with the complexity and obscurity of cardiac problems. He observed cases of adolescent albuminuria which were neither indicative of disease nor prodromal, nor prejudicial to training for, or to actual rowing in, a race.

At the outbreak of the Boer War he volunteered for a Commission in the RAMC and served throughout, being awarded the Queen's Medal with three Clasps. As an instance of his independent character it is said that on one occasion Michell signalled that if certain supplies were not granted immediately, he, being a volunteer, would leave for England at once, and report the circumstances to the War Office. The threat was effectual.

On Oct 25th, 1914, at the age of 54, he applied for and got a temporary commission as Lieutenant RAMC, and after a year's service was promoted Captain. For some time he was on board the Hospital Ship Asturias, which on one occasion was nearly torpedoed by a German submarine. In May, 1915, he was attached to the Royal Garrison Artillery at the Front. On July 3rd, 1916, whilst bringing in wounded men from No Man's Land, he received severe wounds. On being struck he is reported to have said, "Never mind me, it is well worth it; we have brought in seven of the men." He died of his wounds on July 20th, 1916, and is included in the College Roll of Honour, his name being also recommended for the Victoria Cross. He left a widow and a son eight years old.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1916, ii, 252, with portrait. Brit Med Jour, 1916, ii, 155].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England