Banks, William Mitchell (DNB12)

BANKS, Sir WILLIAM MITCHELL (1842–1904), surgeon, born at Edinburgh on 1 Nov. 1842, was son of Peter S. Banks, writer to the signet. He received his early education at the Edinburgh Academy, whence he passed to the university. After a brilliant career in medicine he graduated M.D. with honours and the gold medal for his thesis on the Wolffian bodies (1864). During his university career he acted as prosector to Professor John Goodsir [q. v.]. Whilst at the Infirmary he acted as dresser and as house surgeon to James Syme [q. v.]. After graduating he was demonstrator of anatomy for a short time to Professor Allen Thomson [q. v.] at the University of Glasgow. Afterwards he went to Paraguay, where he acted as surgeon to the Republican government He settled at Liverpool in 1868 as assistant to Mr. E. R. Bickersteth in succession to Reginald Harrison [q. v. Suppl. II], and joined the staff of the Infirmary school of medicine, first as demonstrator and afterwards as lecturer on anatomy. This post he retained, with the title of professor, when the Infirmary school was merged in University College. He resigned the chair in 1894, when he became emeritus professor of anatomy.

Meanwhile, having served the offices of pathologist and curator of the museum, he succeeded Reginald Harrison as assistant surgeon to the Royal Infirmary at Liverpool in 1875, and was full surgeon from 1877 till November 1902, when, on being appointed consulting surgeon, the committee paid him the unique compliment of assigning him ten beds in his former wards.

Banks was admitted F.R.C.S. England on 9 Dec. 1869 without having taken the examinations for the diploma of member. He served as a member of the council from 1890 to 1896. He was the first representative of the Victoria University on the General Medical Council. In 1885 he was one of the founders of the Liverpool Biological Association and was elected the first president; in 1890 he was president of the Medical Institution. In 1892 he was made J.P. of Liverpool, and in 1899 was knighted and was made hon. LL.D. of Edinburgh.

He died suddenly at Aix-la-Chapelle on 9 Aug. 1904 whilst on his way home from Homburg, and was buried in the Smithdown Road cemetery, Liverpool. He married in 1874 Elizabeth Rathbone, daughter of John Elliott, a merchant of Liverpool; by her he had two sons, one of whom survived him.

Mitchell Banks deserves recognition as a surgeon and as a great organiser. To his advocacy is largely due the modern operation for removal of cancer of the breast. He practised and recommended in the face of strenuous opposition an extensive operation with removal of the axillary glands when most surgeons were contented with the older method of partial removal. He made this subject the topic of his Lettsomian lectures at the Medical Society of London in 1900. As an organiser he formed one of the band who built up the fortunes of the medical school at Liverpool, landing it a provincial school and at a very low ebb Banks and his associates raised it by dint of hard work first to the rank of a medical college and finally to that of a well-equipped medical faculty of a modern university. The plan involved the rebuilding of the infirmary, and Banks was a member of the medical deputation which, with characteristic thoroughness, visited many continental hospitals for the purpose of studying their design and equipment before the foundation stone of the Liverpool building was laid in 1887.

Mitchell Banks had a good knowledge of the history of medicine. His collection of early medical works was sold in seventy-eight lots by Messrs. Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge in June 1906. He was a frequent contributor to the scientific journals. 'The Gentle Doctor,' a scholarly address to the students of the Yorkshire College at Leeds in October 1892, and 'Physic and Letters,' the annual oration delivered before the Medical Society of London in May 1893, are good examples of his style and methods. These two addresses were reprinted at Liverpool in 1893.

His portrait by the Hon. John Collier was presented to him on his retirement from active duties at University College, Liverpool, by his colleagues and students. The William Mitchell Banks lectureship in the Liverpool University was founded and endowed by his fellow-citizens in his memory in 1905.

[Lancet, 1904, ii. 566 (with portrait) ; Brit. Med. Journal, 1906, ii. 409 ; Liverpool Medico-Chirurgical Journal, Jan. 1906, p. 2; information kindly given by R. A. Bickersteth, Esq., F.R.C.S. Eng. ; personal knowledge.]

D’A. P.