William Mure Muir received his medical education at the University of Edinburgh (MD Edin 1840), and St George's Hospital London under the tuition of Sir Charles Bell, Sir George Ballingall, Professors Syme, Jameson, and Wilson, Drs Christison, Knox, Seymour, and other eminent physicians and surgeons of the day.
He served in the Crimean Campaign of 1854–1855 in the Light Division with the 33rd Regiment. He was at the Battles of Alma, Inkerman, the sortie of 26 October, the assaults on the Redan of 18 June and 8 September and the siege and fall of Sebastopol. He received the Crimea Medal with three clasps, the Turkish Medal and the Knighthood of the French Legion of Honour 5th Class.
Assistant Surgeon William Mure Muir was at the suppression of the Indian Mutiny of 1857–58. In 1860, he was the Principal Medical Officer of the Expeditionary Force to China under Sir Hope Grant. He was present at the capture of the Taku Forts and the surrender of Pekin. He was mentioned in despatches (4 November 1860) as having most ably conducted the medical arrangements of the campaign. For his services in China, he was promoted to Inspector General, made a Companion of the Order of the Bath and received the China Medal with two clasps for Taku and Pekin.
In 1874 Surgeon William Mure Muir became Director General the Army Medical Department. During his eight years tenure as DG he oversaw the disruption of the old arrangement of the department into Staff and Regimental medical officers and the unification of the medical body into a single Army Medical Department, which had commenced during DG Sir Galbraith Logan's tenure of office.
The Royal Warrant of 1 March 1873 had abolished the regimental system of administration, and shortly afterwards regimental officers were withdrawn from regiments altogether and converted into staff officers. Sir William Muir devoted himself to the consolidation of the new unification system, and to the task of bringing it into harmony with the other military departments. In this undertaking, he met with great opposition, and like his predecessor, Sir Galbraith Logan, under whose rule the disruption of the old combination of staff and regimental medical officers had occurred, Muir had to encounter a vast amount of obloquy.
The removal of medical officers from regiments, coupled with other grievances, rendered the army medical service very unpopular in the medical schools and caused a serious dearth of candidates for commissions. One of Muir's opponents over the
Unification System was Surgeon–General James Mouat VC, who in 1875, printed a pamphlet on the
Proposals for the re-introduction of the regimental system in a modified form.
The Royal Warrant of 28 April 1876 was Sir William Muir's attempts to rectify the grievances and problems facing the Army Medical Department. All medical officers entering the department from the date of the warrant were to enlist for a short service of ten years, after the expiration of which period, six were to be selected annually for promotion into the higher ranks, the services of the remainder being dispensed with. Those returned to civil life were to be granted a gratuity of £1,000 in lieu of pension.
The Royal Warrant also abolished the examination for promotion from surgeon to surgeon–major. These arrangements failed to rectify the disquiet among the army medical officers or restore the popularity of the Army Medical Services. Thus, in the winter of 1876, when there were 38 vacancies for competition, only 12 candidates appeared, of whom five had been previously rejected, and the examination had to be abandoned.
In November 1879, a committee of the War Office with Sir W. Muir as one of its three members, was appointed to re-examine the grievances. Its report, led to the Royal Warrant of November 1879, which abolished the short ten year commission, increased the rates of pay and retiring allowances and offered other material advantages so as to improve the popularity of the department and attract candidates for commission.
Among his publications were:
- Medical history of the war in North China 1860. AMD Report vol II (1860).
- On the transit of troops from Nova Scotia to Canada in 1862. AMD Report vol IV (1862).
- On the rational treatment of pneumonia. AMD Report vol V (1863).
- Sherman's March, an illustrative sketch. (1864).
- Remarks on Regimental arrangements in India (1869).
- On the diarrhoea which affected the British army in the Crimea 1854–55. Lancet 1856 vol II.
Sir William Mure Muir died on 2 June 1885 at Oak Lodge, Blackheath after a lingering illness. He had served in the army for 40 years, 24 of which were passed in foreign service, in the Mediterranean, Turkey and the Crimea, the Mauritius, India, China and North America.