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David Miller Muir, M.A., D.M.R.E. pioneer radiologist

Page added 15 August 2009

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One of Exeter's forgotten men, David Miller Muir would have remained in the shadows, but for the memories of one of the contributors to Exeter Memories, Olive Johnson. Olive drew my attention to Miller Muir because of his friendship with her father – an unlikely friendship, as Miller Muir was a pioneering radiologist at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, and Olive's father, Fred Nibbs was a car mechanic at Standfield and White.

David Miller Muir, born in 1888, was the eldest son of David Temple Muir of Ealing. He attended University College School, showing an interest in physics, before going on to Trinity College, Cambridge to study Chemistry, Physics and Physiology. While at Cambridge he worked in the Cavendish Laboratory, just a dozen or so years after Roentgen had conducted his pioneering work on x-rays. Miller-Muir worked under Sir J J Thompson during his time at Cambridge, before moving on to St Bartholomew's Hospital to complete his qualification in Medicine.

Just before Miller Muir qualified, the First War broke out, and men were called to defend their country. Miller Muir, a Quaker was enlisted as a Surgeon-Commander in the Royal Navy, serving on the dreadnaught, HMS Bellerophon. He was interested in the welfare of his men and introduced many improvements, to make life easier for those serving in the Grand Fleet in the North Sea. In January 1918, Miller Muir belatedly qualified in medicine at St Bartholomew's.

Working at Exeter

After demobilisation, he returned to St Bartholomew's to study X-ray and Electrical Diagnosis and Treatment and Radium Therapy. In June 1921, Miller Muir qualified gaining the Cambridge Diploma in Radiology and Electrology, before moving to Exeter, in 1922, to work in partnership with Dr J Delprat Harris, as an X-ray, Radium, Electrical and Physiotherapy Specialist. Delprat Harris was a general surgeon at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital who had become a pioneer radiologist in the south-west. Miller Muir immediately began work on the treatment of cancers with radium and X-rays, a fast emerging speciality. He became a trustee of the Exeter Cancer Fund which raised £11,000 between 1921 and 1924. The charity had been founded under the Mayoralty of Mr P F Rowsell to raise funds for the new X-ray, Radium and Electrical Treatment Department which opened in 1925.

Miller Muir had rooms in Southernhay West where he would treat his private patients with various X-ray therapies, as well as attending to patients in his department at the hospital. During his spare time, Miller Muir indulged himself in three main interests – flying as a member of the South Devon Aero Club, the wireless, in which he had enjoyed experimenting in its early years and motoring. He was invited to be the first president of the Exeter and District Wireless Club in 1931, but declined, due to pressure of work. His interest in motoring brought him into contact with Standfield and White, and their chief mechanic, Fred Nibbs. They were both curious men, who liked to dabble in mechanical and electrical engineering, and a friendship soon developed, Fred's daughter, Olive, as a young girl can remember visiting Miller Muir in Southernhay West, with her father. The radiologist had a small workshop of his own, and he and Fred would spend hours turning pieces of metal on lathes, to make parts for some new piece of hardware to aid in the use of his X-ray equipment. He and Fred would hitch a small trailer carrying an X-ray machine to his car, and travel out of the city to the villages around about where Miller Muir would run a clinic for those who could not afford to attend the hospital. This was a time when diseases such as tuberculosis were common among the poor, and an X-ray would instantly reveal a new case. He was also known for his quest for the latest piece of X-ray equipment if it was an improvement on an earlier model, even if it meant that he scrapped machinery that was only a few months old.

David Miller Muir died at the age of 46 on the 18th October 1933, after suffering from heart failure. Fred Nibbs was invited to go through Miller Muir's study and workshop and take whatever he wanted, including his lathe and other equipment. On the 21st October 1933 there was a memorial service in St Davids Church for this pioneering and very humane man. It is fitting that his story has found a place on Exeter Memories.

Sources: News paper obituaries, and Olive Johnson.

Radiology room at the RD&E The Radiograph room at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.

David Miller Muir:
Medical officer in charge of X-ray, Radium and Electrical Department - Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.
Consulting Radiologist at the Devon Mental Hospital, Exminster and the City Mental Hospital, Exeter.
Fellow Royal Society of Medicine.
Member of the British Medical Association.
Member of the British Institute of Radiologists.

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