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Biographical entry Murphy, Sir Shirley Forster (1848 - 1923)

KBE (Mil) 1919; MRCS April 20th 1870; FRCS (elected as a Member of twenty years' standing) April 1st 1909; LSA 1870.

21 May 1848
27 April 1923
Physician and Public health officer


Born on May 21st, 1848, in London. He was educated at University College and studied at Guy's Hospital. After holding a hospital appointment in Manchester and being threatened with tuberculosis, he acted for two years as Surgeon on board the Peninsular and Oriental Company's ships. On his return he was appointed Assistant Medical Officer at the Metropolitan Asylums Board Hospital at Homerton, London. The hospital was then full of small-pox and typhoid, and these infectious cases and his experience there gained him in 1875 the post of Resident Medical Officer at the London Fever Hospital, when Broadbent and Cayley were Visiting Physicians, following Murchison and Sir William Jenner. He next succeeded Sir Thomas Stevenson as Medical Officer of Health for St Pancras at a time when typhoid fever raged in insanitary surroundings. Murphy found the Parish Vestries opponents of sanitary reform on the score of expense. Hence in 1884 Murphy resigned his appointment at St Pancras and, with one or two minor appointments, set up as a Public Health Consultant. He acted as Secretary of the Epidemiological Society, and as Secretary of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, and in this position originated discussions on milk infection, small-pox transmission, evidence for vaccination, periodicity of disease, epidemic diarrhoea of children, and the preparation of vaccine at the animal vaccine establishment in Lamb's Conduit Street. On the formation of the London County Council, Murphy was elected the first Medical Officer in 1887. The post required of its occupant the general surveillance of the public health work of other bodies, of the new Borough Councils, the work of co-ordination, consultation, standardization, or action, as complainant, referee, or as Court of Appeal. He instituted an efficient inspection of common lodgings, seamen's quarters, offensive businesses and trades, cowsheds, and insanitary areas. His reports covered a very wide ground.

As evidence of the success of his administration during his twenty-two years' tenure of office, the death-rate in London from all causes declined from 20.1 to 14.6, the infant mortality from 152 to 113 per 1,000 births, and the deaths from the principal epidemic diseases from 5.57 to 2.98. Murphy's work was recognized by the Society of the Medical Officers of Health, which twice elected him President, the second time in 1905.

In 1908 the Royal College of Physicians conferred on him the Bissett Hawkins Medal, and in 1921 the Epidemiological Society, of which he had been President in 1894-1895, awarded him the Jenner Medal.

He retired from office in 1911, but on the outbreak of the War in 1914, as Lieutenant-Colonel RAMC (T), he was attached as specialist Sanitary Officer to the London Command, serving under successive Directors of Medical Services. He organized billeting, transport and arrival of troops, hygiene of quarters, and made provision for night shelters, and also dealt with problems relating to cerebrospinal fever and other epidemics. Soon after the War he began to suffer from attacks of neuralgia, but continued at work until a few days before his death, at 9 Bentinck Terrace, Regent's Park, London, NW, on April 27th, 1923.

He married in 1880 Miss Ellen Theodore King, daughter of Henry S King, JP, and sister of Sir Henry Seymour King, KCIE. Lady Murphy, who had been his constant collaborator, survived him, with two daughters. His portrait accompanies the bibliography in the Lancet (1923, i, 927). In the British Medical Journal (1923, i, 790) Sir W W Hamer gave a full biography with valuable information as to his Reports. The Index Catalogue of the Surgeon General's Library, Series II, includes a long bibliography.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England