Surgeon, psychologist and entomologist

Millais Culpin as a young man
Millais Culpin as a young man.
Image source: State Library of Queensland.

You may remember this unusual name from the TV dramas which were shown on the BBC a few years ago - Casualty 1906, Casualty 1907 and Casualty 1909. In those programmes the character of Millais Culpin (played by Will Houston) was a young surgeon from Australia who worked at the London Hospital. This was broadly true, but there was so much more to him than that. His connection with Epsom & Ewell is that during the First World War he treated shell-shocked soldiers at the Ewell (County of London) War Hospital (St Ebba's, formerly the epileptic colony). You can read more about shell shock in the Appendix to this article.

Family and early life

Millais' father, Millice, was an interesting subject in his own right. Born on 1 December 1846 in Buntingford, Hertfordshire, he was the son of a currier (leather dresser and seller) and initially he joined the family business, albeit that he had been educated at Alleynes Grammar School, Stevenage. However, this was not what he wanted to do and so he went to study medicine at Edinburgh University.

Millice Culpin
Millice Culpin
Image source: State Library of Queensland.

In 1869 Millice married sawyer's daughter Hannah Louisa Munsey (born c.1848 Ware, Hertfordshire) and they had six children, as shown below.

Name Born Married Died
Florence Annie 1871 Ware Peter Campbell 1972 Queensland
Millais 6.1.1874 Ware Ethel Maude Bennett 14.9.1952 St Albans, Herts
Rose 1877 Islington John Howard Simmonds 1960 Auchenflower, Brisbane
Clarence Howard 1879 Stoke Newington - 16.4.1918 Somme, France. Killed in action.*
Dr Ernest 1881 Stoke Newington Hilda Emma Collman 1963 Queensland
Daisy Ellen 1883 Stoke Newington - 1966 Queensland

Millice and Hannah Culpin with their children
Millice and Hannah Culpin with their children.
Back row: Rose, Clarence, Florence, Millais.
Front row: Ernest, Millice, Hannah, Daisy.
Image source: State Library of Queensland.

In 1891 the family emigrated to Australia and settled in what was then the bush town of Taringa, Queensland. Millice was a GP but in 1903 he was elected to the House of Representatives and became the Labor Member for Brisbane. Following his defeat at the 1906 election he returned to full-time general practice. He died in 1941, his wife having predeceased him in 1934.

Millais was educated in Stoke Newington and at the Grocers' Company School, Hackney Downs (a prestigious establishment at the time, but it gradually declined, until in 1995, when it was an inner city comprehensive school, the government closed it down). He was already deeply interested in entomology and continued to be so all his life.

He matriculated at the University of London in 1891 and that was the year when his parents decided to emigrate. All six children accompanied them. Initially Millais took a temporary job as an assistant teacher and then tried his hand, unsuccessfully, at gold mining. In 1892 he took on a job as the one teacher in a school at Laura, Queensland which, even today has a population of only around 120. He was well thought of as a teacher and also pursued his interest in insects, sending samples back to England. He worked at Laura for nearly four years, but was not allowed to remain and moved to Ross Island, Townsville: this was a promotion, as Ross Island had a larger population, but he was still only an assistant teacher.

Early medical career

In 1897 Millais returned to England to study at the London Hospital (now the Royal London) in Whitechapel, becoming a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians in 1902. He then went back to Queensland and spent a year assisting his father in Brisbane, but he soon re-enrolled at the London and graduated as Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in 1905, becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1907. He then went to Shanghai as a surgeon, treating casualties during the revolution of 1911-12: this was a momentous event which resulted in the end of imperial rule in China and the establishment of a republic under Sun Yat-sen. Although the revolution lasted only a little more than four months, it would have given Millais a foretaste of dealing with war casualties. He remained in Shanghai for a time afterwards.

The TV dramas took considerable liberties with the truth and had Millais still at the London Hospital in 1909, pursuing a serious romance with Nurse Ethel Bennett. I do not know whether they ever met at the London but they were certainly not there together in that year. The truth is that in 1911 Millais, whilst a senior surgeon at the Shanghai-Nanking Railway Hospital in Shanghai, contacted Miss Eva Luckes, esteemed matron at the London, asking for her "best nurse" to be sent out and the person sent was Ethel Maude Bennett, who then became the matron of the Shanghai hospital.

Ethel was born in 1874 in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, the daughter of journalist Edward Dimery Bennett and his wife Ellen; she and Millais were married in Holy Trinity Cathedral, Shanghai on 19 April 1913, following which they went on a trip to Australia, where Millais showed Ethel the township of Laura and took various locum jobs around the country. Their only child, Frances Millais Culpin, was born in Young, New South Wales on 28 March 1914.

First World War

After Frances' birth the family returned to England and Millais was commissioned into the Royal Army Medical Corps as a surgeon. Initially he worked in Portsmouth and was then sent to France, where he encountered many cases of shell shock. He was one of the first doctors to suggest that this was an emotional disturbance, rather than something caused by a physical trauma, and in 1917 he became a neurological specialist to the Army. Millais was not at Ewell for long but the important point is that he was in the forefront of the psychologists who were enlightened about the causes and treatment of shell shock and brought his ideas and experience to bear on the patients there; he was supported in his work by the psychologist Charles Samuel Myers.


Millais left the Army in 1919 and gave up surgery for good, obtained his MD and dedicated himself to psychology, taking up an appointment as lecturer in psychoneuroses at the London Hospital; (a post he held until 1939) and coupling this with private practice as a psychotherapist. He specialised in industrial health (for example, miners' nystagmus [known as 'dancing eyes'] and telegraphists' cramp). In 1931 he was appointed Professor of Medical Industrial Psychology at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, became President of the British Psychological Association in 1944 and was involved in the China medical aid committee. During the Second World War he maintained his interest in the mental traumas of war. He wrote many books and papers on psychology subjects.

Death and family

Millais died at home in St Albans of a pulmonary embolism on 14 September 1952; he was cremated and his ashes were scattered at Wicken Fen Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire. Ethel died in June 1966, then living in Winchester; she is commemorated on her parents' grave in the Down Cemetery, Trowbridge.

The Bennett grave
The Bennett grave.
Image courtesy of Gravestone Photographic Resource.

Millais and Ethel's daughter, Frances, married Stephen MacKeith, who became an eminent psychiatrist, in 1938; Frances died on 14 December 2011 and the author of her newspaper obituary was her own daughter, Alice Tomic.

The family tradition in psychiatry continued with Dr James Alexander Culpin MacKeith, who was educated at Epsom College, and his obituary was written by Dr H R Rollin.

Researched and written by Linda Jackson © 2014