A silversmith’s son, Gavin Milroy spent his schooldays at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, and studied medicine at the University. He was a founder-member of the Hunterian Society of Edinburgh. After qualifying as L.R.C.S. of Edinburgh in 1824 and before settling in general practice in London, he enlisted for a time as a medical officer in the Government Packet Service to the West Indies and the Mediterranean. On his return, he was attracted to medical journalism and acted, from 1844 to 1847, as co-editor of the Medico-Chirurgical Review. A detailed commentary by Milroy on a French report on plague and quarantine, published in the Review of October 1846, in which he advocated the diminution or abolition of quarantine, led to his further specialisation. As an acknowledged authority on epidemiology, he was henceforth employed on several official commissions and committees. For two periods, 1849-50 and 1853-55, he acted as a superintending medical inspector of the General Board of Health, and in 1852 he was sent by the Colonial Office to Jamaica to investigate a cholera epidemic and afterwards presented a report.
From 1855 to 1856, he served with Sutherland on the Sanitary Commission in the Crimean War. Their reports, although issued too late to deserve credit for the current improvement in conditions, exposed the causes of the earlier troubles and influenced subsequent reforms. Milroy was honorary secretary of a committee appointed by the Social Science Association in 1858 to enquire into the question of quarantine. Its findings were incorporated in three parliamentary papers in 1860-61. He was also a member of the committee of the Royal College of Physicians chosen to examine the spread of leprosy and wrote comments on its report printed in 1867. His name is especially remembered by the College for his bequest of £2,000 to found the Milroy Lectureship on state medicine and public health. The Epidemiological Society owed much to his keen support, and he was its secretary in 1862-64 and its president in 1864-66. The Government awarded Milroy a civil list pension in 1871. His wife was Miss Sophia Chapman; they had no children.
G H Brown
[Lancet, 1886; D.N.B., xxxviii, 22]