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Millais Culpin (1874–1952)

by Mary d'Eimar de Jabrun

This article was published:

Millais Culpin (1874-1952), schoolteacher, medical practitioner and psychologist, was born on 6 January 1874 at Ware, Hertfordshire, England, second of six children of Millice Culpin (1847-1941), leather-seller, later a medical practitioner, and his wife Hannah Louisa, née Munsey. Millais spent his early years at Stoke Newington, where he attended school; later he attended the Grocers' Company (Hackney Downs) School. Joining a group of amateur naturalists, he also developed a lifelong passion for entomology. In 1891 he matriculated at the University of London, but that year the family left in the Ruapehu for Melbourne. In search of a healthier climate, his father settled in Brisbane as a general practitioner and in 1903-06 was Labor member for Brisbane in the House of Representatives. The Nonconformist Culpins conveyed to their children the virtues of rational thought, self-reliance and hard work.

In 1891 Millais was briefly an assistant teacher at a private boarding school at Nundah. Following three unprofitable months on the Gympie goldfields, in August 1892 he accepted a post in a one-teacher, provisional school at Laura in the State's far north. His salary was £120, of which the local community contributed £20. At this time he described himself as a Methodist. Inspectors reported that he worked hard with indifferent students, was a good disciplinarian and showed 'very considerable skill as a teacher'. Sober and frugal, he spent weekends and holidays exploring the countryside and gathering insects, some of which he mounted for the school museum. He also sent samples to English colleagues, noting that 'ants, lepisma, white ants, roaches and the wet season combined are enough to ruin anything here'. His illuminating letters (published in 1987) offered rare insights into life in the tropics, where Culpin enjoyed bush carpentry, fishing, riding and shooting.

His request to remain at Laura being unsuccessful, in July 1896 Culpin was promoted to assistant teacher at Ross Island, Townsville. On 20 June next year he resigned and went back to London to study medicine at the London Hospital (member, Royal College of Surgeons, and licentiate, Royal College of Physicians, 1902). After a year in his father's Brisbane practice, he resumed study at the University of London (M.B., B.S., 1905; M.D., 1919). He continued to work at the London Hospital, specializing in surgery, and became a F.R.C.S. in 1907. That year he went to Shanghai, where in 1913 he married Ethel Maude Bennett, matron of the British hospital, at which he was senior surgeon. Their honeymoon included a visit to Australia and a trip to Laura. Millais also worked as a locum tenens around the country. A daughter was born at Young, New South Wales, in 1914, before the family sailed for England.

During World War 1 Culpin served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. As a military surgeon at Portsmouth and in France his experiences with shell-shocked soldiers led to an interest in war neuroses and its varied psychological manifestations. He published his research findings for his doctoral thesis as Psychoneuroses of War and Peace (Cambridge, 1920). In the 1920s he devoted his time to medical psychology, researched industrial health and lectured part time at the University of London. An eclectic thinker, with interests in psychoanalysis, temperament and abnormality, he was captive of no school, a loner, although well respected. In 1931 Culpin was appointed professor in industrial and medical psychology at the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine. Among his publications was a 1935 article for the Practitioner, 'Neurasthenia in the Tropics', which argued that white people could inhabit the tropics without ill effects.

Retiring in 1939, Culpin was president of the British Psychological Society in 1944. His pastimes included playing bridge and he was adept at the more learned crosswords. He died on 14 September 1952 at St Albans, Hertfordshire, survived by his wife and daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Mackeith (ed), Letters from Laura (Townsville, Qld, 1987)
  • Department of Public Instruction (Queensland), Annual Report, in Parliamentary Papers (Queensland), 1892-97
  • British Medical Journal, 27 Sept 1952, p 727
  • Lancet, 27 Sept 1952, p 643
  • M. de Jabrun, Environmental Factors Affecting Teaching and Learning in North Queensland 1875-1905 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1999)
  • Register of teachers, male (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Mary d'Eimar de Jabrun, 'Culpin, Millais (1874–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 January, 1874
Ware, Hertfordshire, England


14 September, 1952 (aged 78)
St Albans, Hertfordshire, England

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