Why no statue? (9)

Almroth Edward Wright was born on August 10th 1861 in Middleton Tyas, which is a small village near Richmond in the extremely picturesque countryside of North Yorkshire in England.

And here’s the village church, which dates back to the twelfth century:

Almroth’s family was of mixed Anglo-Irish and Swedish origin. His father was a rector in the Church of England but his mother was Ebba Johanna Dorothea Almroth, the daughter of Nils Wilhelm Almroth, who was a professor of chemistry in the Carolinska Medico-Surgical Institute and the Royal Artillery School in Stockholm. In later years he became the director of the Swedish Royal Mint.

Almroth does not seem to be particularly famous nowadays, but he changed the world. Even on the Wikipedia page for his village, though, he is not paid any real attention. The village’s “notable people” therefore, are listed as, in first place, the fraudster Sir Edmund Backhouse and his brother, the naval officer, Roger Backhouse. Then comes in third place, Lady Alicia Blackwood, and then Arthur Francis Pease. Then comes Almroth Wright and his brother, and finally Keith Hawkins, the poker player.

Almroth was a lot cleverer than any of those, though.

Almroth was, in actual fact, the man responsible for developing a system of inoculation against typhoid fever, a disease which, at the time, was killing literally millions of people across the world. In the late 1890s, he also pointed out to whoever cared to listen, that one day bacteria would develop a resistance to antibiotics and then we would really be in trouble. His other main idea was that preventive medicine was what doctors should really be aiming at developing. And lastly, in any spare time he had, he also managed to develop vaccines against enteric tuberculosis and pneumonia, the latter a disease which killed more people in England than any other at that time. Not for nothing was it called

“The Captain of the Men of Death”

In the 1890 census in the United States, 76,490 had died of it, a death rate per 100,000 of the population of 186.94.

Almroth graduated in 1882 from Trinity College, Dublin with first class honours in modern literature and modern languages. In 1883 he graduated in medicine, before studying and lecturing at Cambridge, London, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Marburg, and Straßburg as it then was. Back in England in 1891, he worked in the laboratories of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons and was then appointed Professor of Pathology at the Army Medical School in Netley, on the south coast of Hampshire in England.

Here is the hospital in black and white:And here it is in colour:

At Netley, he developed a method of immunising people against that mighty killer, typhoid fever. And then, in 1898, he went to India as a member of the Plague Commission and tested his vaccine on the 3,000 Indian soldiers who had all volunteered to try it out for him.

And it worked!

Not a single one of the vaccinated soldiers succumbed to the dreaded disease. And then, the vaccine was equally successful in the Boer War of 1899-1902, although a major mistake was made by continuing to make vaccination optional rather than compulsory.

There were 328,244 men in the British Army in the Boer War but sadly, only 14,626 men volunteered to be injected. None of that select group, though, were among the 57,684 cases of typhoid in South Africa or the 9,022 who died from the disease. Exactly as had been the case in India, the ones who had the vaccine all survived because of it.

Until Almroth came upon the scene, though, typhoid fever had always held the entire world in its grasp. It was a simple disease with lots of places to catch it. As Wikipedia says:

“Typhoid is spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the fæces of an infected person”.

That scenario was easily arranged before a vaccine was developed.

In 430 BC in Greece, typhoid killed Pericles and a third of all Athenians. It killed off at least half of the inhabitants of the English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. Between 1607 and 1624 more than 6,000 of them perished and they may well have passed it to the rest, thereby eliminating the entire colony……

Typhoid went on to kill 80,000 soldiers in the American Civil War. And I have seen more than one source which said that in every war fought by British forces until the Boer War, more men were lost to typhoid than to the enemy.

Next time, we’ll look at the impact that Almroth’s vaccine had on the number of casualties in the British Empire forces in World War One. It’s giving nothing away to say that he prevented deaths from disease in unprecedented numbers.



Filed under Africa, History, Nottingham, Science, The High School, Wildlife and Nature

17 responses to “Why no statue? (9)

  1. Thank you. I think there are always people who do not get the recognition they deserve. And it is difficult to understand why this happens.

    • My guess is that Almroth Wright did not get recognition partly because of racism. He was part Irish which meant that the top doctors and scientists, all 100% pure Anglo-Saxon Protestants, would have automatically despised him. He was also partly Swedish which made him partly a foreigner. The people who ran the British Empire did not like foreigners. For the most part, they despised them.
      An even bigger problem is that Almroth came along, with first class degrees from Trinity College, Dublin, in modern literature and modern languages. A year later, he got a degree in medicine. He was a brilliant man and proceeded to conquer both typhoid and pneumonia.
      Such triumphs showed up the people who ran Science and Medicine at the time. Why hadn’t they done what Almroth did? Was it because they weren’t actually very good and weren’t very clever either?

  2. Another of you excellent posts of unsung heroes – and an advocacy for vaccination

    • Thank you, Derrick. I just cannot understand the mentality of the people who refuse vaccinations. It’s rather like sending the fire brigade away when your house is on fire, because you prefer to look after your property yourself, in your own way, without outside help.
      Nottingham, of course, has one of the lowest rates of vaccination in the country. I think it may be connected with our position year in year out in the education league tables.

      • Paul James

        Fascinating post John, thank you. I can’t fathom the anti-vaxxers either, although it’s an emotive subject for many. I wondered whether the strength of feeling against vaccination was just a Covid thing, but your post hints that perhaps ’twas ever thus. I used to travel a lot in Africa and in many countries there, yellow fever vaccination is compulsory and few seem to have a problem with that.

  3. GP

    It is strange how history can deal a better hand to a conman than to a man who saved the world literally thousands of death. Your title is correct – Why no statue?

    • Well, I’ve given my own reasons for the lack of a statue in my reply to Lakshmi (above).
      In the era when Almroth could have been given a statue, I suspect that most statues were put up to rich men, who were often prominent politicians in the local area. All politicians have a deep-seated desire to put up statues to other politicians, because, with a little bit of luck, one day it will be their turn to get one.

  4. Definitely one to have a statue made for him. A great post John!

    • Thank you. The second part of the story, due to appear soon, will tell you just how many lives he saved in the British and Empire forces in WW1. Indeed, had it not been for Almroth Wright. the number of deaths in France may well have reached revolution causing levels.
      Even with casualty levels which were not inflated by either typhoid or pneumonia deaths, people were far from happy with the number being killed or maimed, especially in the towns which provided Pals Battalions.
      Fifty years after the end of the war, my Grandad still felt strongly enough about Haig to tell his little grandson, “Never buy a poppy. They are just sold to ease the conscience of General Haig, the man who wasted men’s lives and didn’t care when they died by the thousand. Never buy one.”

  5. Chris Waller

    Once again I have to confess, with some embarrassment, that I had never heard of Almroth Edward Wright until I read this post. What a great injustice that he does not figure in the pantheon of great intellects and great benefactors of the human race. As you suggest, his lineage was probably viewed by the establishment as an irremediable fault.

    • To be honest, I had never heard of him either, Chris, until I came across him while looking up something else. I am pretty sure that, as you say, his lineage was the problem. On one occasion he apparently was incorrect in his theorising and there was enormous rejoicing to see that he had committed an error, with all his enemies referring to him as “Almroth Wrong”, up to and including MPs in parliament.

  6. Very interesting! It’s strange how some people get more than others though, isn’t it? I love the Richmond area, I used to visit when my school friend moved up there.

  7. John, another truly brilliant post with information that again educated me. Your title is perfect and in reading the comments, I can understand why a world such as ours based on the unfair standards that the preferred lived by, would not put up a statue of this man. He is of like-mind with myself for I am very strong in:

    “His other main idea was that preventive medicine was what doctors should really be aiming at developing.”

    I’ve yet to meet a doctor who stands on preventative care. Sadly to say medicine does not teach nutrition or how best to boost the immune system, just for two examples. I’ve taken it upon myself to educate me in that, I give this body everything it requires in order to maintain health to the best of my ability.

    Applauding again for another unsung hero’s life told to me by you. Thank you!

  8. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much, Amy. Perhaps schools should teach nutrition so that children can get off on the right foot from an early age.
    And don’t write Almroth off too quickly. There’s one more post yet and 472 more words to sing his praises!

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