Professor Robert Cruickshank

26 September 1899 - 16 August 1974

Academic Bacteriologist, becoming the first Director of the Central Public Health Laboratory in Colindale, London.

Robert Cruickshank came from the small town of Strichen in Buchan, Aberdeenshire. He was educated at the local school and the University of Aberdeen, graduating MB ChB (hons) in 1922 with a distinguished academic record. As the best graduate of his year, he was awarded the Alexander Anderson Travelling Fellowship which gave him the opportunity to work in the Pathology Department in Glasgow and the Bacteriology Department in Aberdeen. In Glasgow he came under the influence of Sir Robert Muir and Carl Browning. His time in Aberdeen with John Cruickshank (no relation) had a great influence in determining his future career in bacteriology. He worked as resident medical officer in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow and the Belvidere Hospital for Infectious Diseasesa, then McRobert lecturer in cancer research in Aberdeen. In 1928, Cruickshank was appointed lecturer in bacteriology in the University of Glasgow and Bacteriologist to the Royal Infirmary, where he made important observations on streptococcal infection in burned patients.

In 1936, Cruickshank was appointed Director of the LCC Group Laboratory at the North Western Fever Hospital in London. During the next 10 years, despite a serious illness and the problems of the war, he built up a laboratory with a reputation for a very high standard of clinical bacteriology. He developed his interest in epidemiologiy and took an interest in the developing field of aerobiology, carrying out important studies on airborne transfer of streptococci in wards for children with measles.

In 1945, Cruickshank became the first Director of the Central Public Health Laboratory at Colindale. Over the next 4 years, his vision and leadership laid the foundations for that Laboratory to become a major centre of medical microbiology.

In 1949, he was appointed Professor of Bacteriology at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in the University of London. It was a time of transition, from Sir Almroth Wright’s Inoculation Department (later the Wright-Fleming Institute) to a modern university department of microbiology. In 1955, he succeeded Sir Alexander Fleming as principal of the Wright-Fleming Institute. His reputation led to increasing calls for overseas visits. He acquired the love of travel and became known and admired all over the world. While at St. Mary’s, he was responsible for extensive studies of respiratory tract infection in children.

In 1958, Cruickshank moved to the Robert Irving Chair of Bacteriology in the University of Edinburgh, again developing an active department and keenly involved in the revision of the Edinburgh medical curriculum.

Retiring in 1966, he became the first Chair of Social and Preventive Medicine in the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. In the next two years he built up an important department, strengthening the links between the UWI and the Ministry of Health in Jamaica. When succeeded in the Chair by Professor K. Standard, he was appointment Honorary Consultant to the Departments of Microbiology and of Social and Preventive Medicine. He continued as the UK representative on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Pakistan-SEATO Cholera Research Laboratory in Dacca.

Robert Cruickshank’s achievements as a teacher, adviser, and leader in the field of clinical microbiology and epidemiology were widely recognized. He was awarded FRCP (1946), FRSE (1958), FRCPE (1962), CBE (1966)  and LLD (1968 University of Aberdeen). He was Milroy Lecturer in 1933, Chadwick Lecturer of the Royal Sanitary Institute in 1943, and Frederick Still Lecturer of the British Paediatric Association in 1945.


Lancet, 1974, 2, 602;
Br. med. J., 1974, 3, 582;
Royal Society of Edinburgh: Year Book 1975, 14-16
Royal College of Physicians

Image in British Medical Journal 1974,3,582

Biography prepared from the nomination made by Dr M I White to the University of Aberdeen 525 Alumni project.