Professor Sir Ashley Watson Mackintosh

8 April 1868 - 14 October 1937

Ashley Watson Mackintosh was the son of the parish minister in Deskford, Moray. From his earliest years, he showed remarkable intellectual and scholarly ability, and was a notably studious child and young man, with particular proficiency in the Classics and Mathematics which formed the subjects of his MA with double first class honours from Aberdeen University in 1888; he was the recipient of a gold medal from the Town Council for the most distinguished graduate of his year. He went on to study briefly in Cambridge on a Fullerton Mathematical Scholarship, but soon returned to Aberdeen to study Medicine, qualifying in 1893 with highest honours and the John Murray Gold Medal. The George Thompson Travelling Fellowship permitted further studies in Leipzig and Vienna before his return to the Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, London, where he pursued his interest in neurology for a couple of years, gaining an MD.

He returned to Aberdeen in 1896 and in 1909, was appointed a senior physician and lecturer in clinical medicine, accepting the Regius Chair of Medicine in 1912. As an officer of the Volunteer Medical Staff Corps, he commanded the 1st Scottish General Hospital which was located in the Central School, Aberdeen.

Mackintosh’s great passion was teaching and he clearly had an enormous gift for inspiring students and trainees, and passing on his superlative clinical, analytical and therapeutic skills, as would be attested by doctors who went forth from Aberdeen to deliver his pearls across the world. Much loved and revered by his students, his humanity and generosity extended to them as well as his patients to create the legend. Simply, in his day, he was regarded as one of the finest, if not the greatest, medical teacher in the land. It was said, “He raised the standard of Aberdeen Medical School to its highest peak”.

While he published relatively little, his commitment to the health of the people of the Northeast of Scotland is found in the “Aberdeen Joint Hospital Scheme”. Along with Professor Matthew Hay, the professor of Medical Logic and Jurisprudence (now Forensic Medicine) in Aberdeen (1883 – 1926), Medical Officer of Health for Aberdeen (1883 – 1926) and Professor of Materia Medica (from 1886), Mackintosh, then the President of Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society embraced Hay’s concept of moving the hospitals from the unhealthy environs of the city centre to a fresh air site on the city boundaries. Together, Mackintosh, Hay and the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Sir Andrew Lewis, swayed public and Council opinion, raised the money and selected the Foresterhill site for the construction of  “a medical school and a people's hospital, co-located for the mutual benefit of both in the service of the people of the Northeast of Scotland”, finally opened in 1936. The concept was, for its time, revolutionary, not least for medical education, the wards and clinics where practical experience in all specialities (including maternity and paediatrics) was but a stone’s throw from where theory was taught in the classrooms and laboratories. Over the subsequent 75 years, Foresterhill has been continually developed to encompass ever more clinical specialities and teaching facilities. At the time of its opening, this voluntary hospital (i.e. no payment was required for treatment) was clearly an institution which would presage the inauguration of the NHS, not only providing free treatment at the point of need, but also on a single site. Within a century, the General Medical Council, debating how best to deliver medical undergraduate education, would consider the disadvantages of having University Medical Schools separate from hospital based clinical services.

Dr Henry Peterkin spoke of Ashley Mackintosh’s “eagerness, his earnestness, his thoroughness, his high ideal of duty, his wonderful charity” and his “essential goodness”, concluding that he was “one of the most powerful influences for good which we have ever had in the medical world in Aberdeen”

Accomplishments and awards

  • Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (1931)
  • Appointed Honorary Physician to His Majesty’s Household in Scotland (1928)
  • John Murray Gold Medal in Medicine, University of Aberdeen (1893)
  • George Thompson Travelling Fellowship (studying Medicine in Leipzig and Vienna) (1894)
  • Officer Volunteer Medical Staff Corps in command 1st Scottish General Hospital (Central School, Aberdeen) during World War I
  • Regius Professor of Medicine, University of Aberdeen (1912 – 1928)
  • President, Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society (1919 – 20)
  • For over 20 years, a Governor of Milne’s Institute Fochabers (the secondary school he attended)
  • FRCP(Ed) (1916)
  • LL D  University of Aberdeen (1930)


Who Was Who 1929 – 1940, Page 872

In: Aberdeen Medico-Chirurgical Society, A Bicentennial History 1789-1989. Edited by G P Milne. Aberdeen University Press, 1989

Obituary in Aberdeen University Review, 25 (1937-1938), 4-6

Image: © the artist's estate. Photo credit: University of Aberdeen

Biography prepared from the nomination made by Prof J H K Grieve to the University of Aberdeen 525 Alumni project.