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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mills, Arthur Edward (1865–1940)

by C. R. B. Blackburn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Arthur Edward Mills (1865-1940), physician and professor of medicine, was born on 13 February 1865 at Mudgee, New South Wales, youngest of three sons of native-born parents Thomas Edward Mills, publican, and his wife Mary, née Tuckerman and late L'Estrange. Educated at Mudgee, Dubbo and Gulgong, he was influenced by the Gulgong schoolmaster Robert John Hinder, who married his sister Sarah and became headmaster of Sydney Boys' High School. Mills became a pupil-teacher but, having difficulty in controlling older boys, boarded in Sydney with Hinder and matriculated at the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1889).

A resident at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1889, he demonstrated in anatomy at the university in 1890 and entered general practice in 1892 at Picton. On 10 August at Palmer's Island, Clarence River, he married Ida Cecilia Archibald, and moved to Strathfield, Sydney, in 1894. Mills was appointed assistant physician at Prince Alfred in 1898, physician in 1910 and consultant in 1930; he set up as a consultant physician in Macquarie Street in 1910.

From 1901 Mills had lectured at the university in the diseases of children. He visited the Infants' Home, Ashfield, as honorary medical officer for thirty-five years and introduced a modified Truby King feeding schedule which greatly reduced infant mortality from gastro-enteritis. In 1906 he visited medical schools in Berlin and was impressed with the importance given to teaching the physiological and biochemical principles underlying clinical medicine. He was one of the earliest to teach in this modern way in Sydney.

In his early years Mills was a controversial figure. He presented papers at meetings of the State branch of the British Medical Association and was a forthright critic of whoever or whatever appeared illogical or inaccurate. His appointment as lecturer in the principles and practice of medicine in 1910 was unpopular with the profession because other senior physicians were passed over. While his lectures were not profound they were not understood at first and the students complained to the dean. Later 'Artie' became a popular lecturer and bedside teacher, noted for his lively manner and the blackboard and chalk he took with him on the wards. In 1915 he joined the Australian Imperial Force as major, served overseas at No.1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield, and at administrative headquarters, London, and was recalled to the university next year.

First professor from 1920 to 1930 of the principles and practice of medicine, Mills was dean in 1920-25. Less autocratic and domineering, Mills was more popular as dean than Professor Sir Thomas Anderson Stuart, his intimate friend for thirty years, and exercised considerable power in the faculty less blatantly. He was a fellow of the senate in 1920-25 and 1929-39 and deputy chancellor in 1936-38. He was known as a fighter for what he believed in and for his candour and bluntness, in response to pomposity, insincerity and self-satisfaction, thereby earning some enmity. He was a foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (1938).

In 1926 Mills had accepted Sir John Garvan's offer of the post of chief medical officer for the Mutual Life & Citizens Assurance Co. Ltd. His wife died in 1929, and he married Garvan's sister Helena Mary at St Mary's Cathedral on 11 June 1932. He died suddenly in Martin Place of coronary occlusion on 10 April 1940 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife and two sons and one of two daughters of his first marriage survived him.

His portrait by William Rowell and a cartoon by Norman Lindsay are held by the University of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Butler (ed), Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War 1914-19, vol 3 (Canb, 1943)
  • J. A. Young et al (eds), Centenary Book of the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine (Syd, 1984)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 22 June 1940
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Apr 1940
  • Royal Australasian College of Physicians Archives (Sydney)
  • University of Sydney Archives
  • biographical card index and notes (Australian Academy of Science Library)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

C. R. B. Blackburn, 'Mills, Arthur Edward (1865–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 29 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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