Donald James Mackintosh Scotland South Africa

Biography of Donald James Mackintosh

Caricature of Sir William Macewen & Donald James Mackintosh
Caricature of Sir William Macewen & Donald James Mackintosh

Donald James Mackintosh, University of Glasgow graduate and honorary graduate, was Medical Superintendent of the Western Infirmary from 1892 to 1937 and a leading expert in hospital administration & construction.

Mackintosh was born to Donald and Agnes Mackintosh (née Dawson) in Shotts, Lanarkshire, on the 13th of January 1862. His father was headmaster of Dykehead School in the town, which Donald J. Mackintosh attended as a child. From there he went to Madras College, St. Andrews.

In 1878 Mackintosh began his medical studies at the University of Glasgow. A string of second-class prize certificates in subjects such as Materia Medica, Practical Physiology, and Practical Zoology accumulated during his time at university indicate that he was above-average but not an exceptional student. On the 31st of July 1884 he graduated MB CM.

After graduating he worked for two years as a House Surgeon at the Glasgow Eye Infirmary. In 1886 he moved to Belvidere Infectious Diseases Hospital, becoming a Resident Medical Officer and then the Senior Resident Medical Officer.

It was only in 1890 that his true talent â€" hospital administration â€" was set free. In that year he became Medical Superintendent of the newly-established Victoria Infirmary. His successful tenure at the Victoria Infirmary gave him the experience necessary to become Medical Superintendent of the already renowned Western Infirmary in 1894; he was the unanimous choice of the 23 candidates for the role.

1894 brought personal as well as professional fulfilment to Mackintosh’s life, with his marriage to Margaret Fullarton. They had two children together: Donald and Anna.

Mackintosh’s administrative style was meticulous: he excelled at creating easily interpretable statistics that let him pinpoint areas of inefficiency. In a 1905 speech at Charing Cross Hospital in London he explained that he even monitored individual surgeons’ daily usage of surgical dressing! Needless to say, his strong emphasis on ‘constant supervision’ of all aspects of hospital life did not sit well with some of the Western Infirmary’s internationally renowned doctors â€" accustomed as they were to receiving special dispensation. Mackintosh’s long-standing spat with the pioneering surgeon Sir William Macewen appears to have begun in the mid-1890s, and was still ongoing when the future playwright O.H. Mavor (known as James Bridie) caricatured their conflict in 1914 (see images tab).

Mackintosh’s tight control of procedures at the Western Infirmary may have earned him Macewen’s resentment, but it was necessary to manage the Western’s multiple roles. The Western was closely linked to the University, and as such was one of the most significant centres of medical research in Scotland, but it was also a general hospital â€" with all the regular patients, subscribers, and obligations that entailed.

His management style facilitated the Western Infirmary’s major expansion in 1906-11, and he designed many of the state-of-the-art facilities added during his tenure â€" including the Clinical Laboratory unveiled in 1911 and the Radiology Department opened in 1930. Medical imaging was an area of particular interest to Mackintosh. Wilhelm Roentgen shared particular insight into his discovery of X-Rays with University of Glasgow professor Lord Kelvin, out of respect for Kelvin’s many scientific achievements. This information reached Mackintosh, who was one of the first doctors in the British Isles to conduct experiments with the new X-Ray technology. His work, published in 1899 as the Skiagraphic atlas of fractures and dislocations, was commonly used as a medical textbook.

Mackintosh’s reputation steadily grew during his long tenure at the Western Infirmary. At least 75 hospitals and infirmaries in both the United Kingdom and South Africa sought Mackintosh’s advice on hospital administration and construction, and he published numerous pamphlets and journal articles on the subject. In recognition of this, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate (LLD) from the University of Glasgow on the 25th of June 1912; among the other honourees that day was his Western Infirmary colleague Sir Hector Clare Cameron.

Mackintosh’s connection to South Africa was his involvement in the 1899-1902 Boer War. During the War he handled the logistics of the Scottish National Red Cross Hospital at Kroonstadt, receiving a Mention in Despatches and Membership of the Victorian Order for his contributions. In peacetime he continued his involvement in military medical administration, rising from Lieutenant-Colonel in command of the 3rd Scottish General Hospital to Assistant Director of Medical Services of the Lowland Division.

With the outbreak of the First World War Mackintosh took on a greater role in military hospital administration. By November 1914 he was responsible for the supervision of all military, war, and territorial general hospitals in the Glasgow area. He subsequently held several posts in home front military hospital administration throughout the War, and in January 1917 he was rewarded with both a Mention in Despatches and Membership of the Companions of the Order of the Bath.

More significantly, the War brought personal tragedy for Mackintosh: his only son, Lt. Donald Mackintosh, died at the Battle of Arras on the 11th of April 1917. His son was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross and his bravery widely praised. Donald James Mackintosh was deeply affected by his son’s death. Shortly thereafter he was released from his duties in Glasgow for three months, instead advising the War Office on the operation of military hospitals.

In December 1925 memorial windows dedicated to the memory of Mackintosh’s son were unveiled in the Western Infirmary’s chapel â€" donated by the Western’s Nurses League, in recognition of Mackintosh’s contributions to the development of nursing as a profession. His obituary writer in the Glasgow Medical Journal noted that it was ‘a chapel of which he was very proud and in the adornment of which he took almost a paternal interest.’

In addition to running the Western, Mackintosh took a great deal of interest in medical charities and the future of voluntary hospitals. He chaired the St. Andrew’s Ambulance Association for 32 years, only stepping down aged 81, and so was involved in the introduction of the air ambulance service for the west of Scotland.

Mackintosh remained Superintendent of the Western Infirmary until ill health forced his retirement in September 1937, shortly after Ward One was renamed the Donald J. Mackintosh Ward.

Donald J. Mackintosh died on the 12th of June 1947, aged 85.


Printed Materials

Archival Materials

  • Family's Papers at NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Archives: reference HB6/12


Donald James Mackintosh
Born 13 January 1862, Shotts, Scotland.
Died 12 June 1947.
GU Degrees: MB CM, 1884; LLD, 1912;
University Link: Graduate, Honorary Graduate
Honours: CB; MVO; Mentioned in Despatches
Occupation categories: Medical Superintendent
WWI: View WWI Roll of Honour Entry
Additional Information: Family's papers at NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Archives: reference HB6/12; R3/1/1 (vol 1); R1/131/1/7: Signatures of Honorary LLD graduates; MED5/2/3: Medical examination results; SEN10/22-25: University Calendars, containing lists of prizes; R7/3/2: Index to prizes; Obituary in Glasgow Medical Journal, Vol. 28, 1947, pp.228-231; Obituary in British Medical Journal, 21 June 1947, p.904; Obituary in The Lancet, 28 June 1949, p. 930; MacQueen, Loudon, & Kerr, Archibald, The Western Infirmary 1874 - 1974, Glasgow: John Horn, 1974, pp.68-87; Donald J. Mackintosh, 'The Control of Hospital Expenditure with Efficiency', 1909, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Archives HB6/4/119.
Record last updated: 24th Jan 2017

Country Associations

Scotland Scotland

South Africa South Africa, No Region