Tag Archives: Royal College of Physicians

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.

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“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (7)

It’s a long time since Post No 6 in this series about the futility of the Boer War, but I would like to finish off with what is perhaps the saddest and most poignant tale of them all. The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer (Dutch) states, the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, over the British Empire’s influence in South Africa.

The catalyst for the war was the discovery of diamonds and gold in the Boer states:

Richard Truman Fitzhugh was born on June 8th 1873. He was educated first at Shrewsbury Grammar School and then at Nottingham High School. There are at least four boys visible in this picture of the School, taken from a spot near what was then the old Caretaker’s House:

Richard arrived at the High School on May 4th 1891, with the sole intention of passing the examination needed to enter university and to become a doctor.  His success was duly recorded in the School List :

“London Matriculation Examination, First Division, June 1891”

Having accomplished exactly what he had come for, Richard left at the end of the school  year, in July 1891.

Richard was particularly talented and popular, but sadly he became a totally innocent victim of a greedy overseas war, started by men eager for gold and diamonds:

“It is with deep regret that we record the death of Dr Richard Truman FitzHugh, the only son of Mr Richard Fitzhugh, JP, of Clumber Crescent, The Park, Nottingham. His death occurred on June 15th, 1900 as the result of enteric fever (typhoid), at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein, South Africa.”

Richard was only 27 years old.

The first intimation of his illness had reached Nottingham at the end of May. In his letter, Richard mentioned that he was suffering from shivering fits.

Then a telegram arrived in Nottingham saying that Richard was seriously ill.

On Friday, June 15th, another telegram arrived, with the first indication of anything life-threatening:

“Regret to inform you that your son, Richard, is dangerously ill with enteric fever”.

Two days of anxious suspense followed, then a third telegram arrived:

“Deeply regret to inform you of the death of your son, Richard, from enteric fever, an irreparable loss to this hospital, he having endeared himself to all.”

Richard had gone straight from Nottingham High School to Guy’s Hospital for his medical training. He passed important examinations in 1892 and in 1895. He became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and then a Bachelor of Medicine in 1898. Here is a ward in the hospital with what may be an oxygen tent in the rear right corner:

Richard worked as Assistant House-Surgeon and House Physician as well as Obstetric Resident, Clinical and Gynaecological Assistant, and Dresser in the eye wards. Here’s one of the operating theatres:

His obituary came from his colleagues:

”He was a man of culture and ability, held in high regard by his associates at Guy’s, not only because of his medical skill, but because of the part he played in its social life. He was a fine sportsman and soon took a prominent place in athletics. He was a leading cricketer and helped to win the cup in 1892. He was best of all at Association Football. Indeed, Richard was one of the best players of recent years, and won the cup in 1894, besides captaining the team from 1894-1896.

He was Assistant Secretary of the Student’s Club, President of the Residents, and foremost among the singers at Christmas.

Richard was a man with a keen sense of humour and the most popular performer at the smoking concerts which cheered us up so well. One of his songs was so admired that, however many others he sang, he could never leave the piano until he had sung that favourite one.

Behind his good humour and cheeriness, though, there was a solid character, and an honest straight forwardness that made us all trust and admire him. An old friend wrote:

“There was nobody I worked with at Guy’s for whose character I had greater respect, or whose society gave me greater pleasure.

He was a sterling gentleman and there is some consolation that he died amongst his friends, and that everything was done for him.”

The news of “the termination of such a promising career by a malignant disease which is causing more deaths than the enemy, has evoked enormous sympathy for his family.”

Mr Fripp was the Senior Surgeon at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein:

He wrote:

“Everybody felt they had lost a friend. He was popular with his colleagues and the nursing sisters, the NCOs and the orderlies, and also with the patients. It seemed he would attain a very high place in his profession, but he also had many characteristics which endeared him to everyone.

Poor “Fitz” will never be forgotten. There “was an enormous congregation at his funeral. All ranks of the hospital were represented. They formed a long procession to the cemetery. The coffin was carried by orderlies, and some of his fellow Guy’s men acted as pall-bearers.

I doubt if the cost of war was ever brought home to us as fully as when we heard of poor FitzHugh’ s death. None of us even knew he was ill.”

Dr Fitzhugh’s death is commemorated on the Nottingham Boer War Memorial in the Forest Recreation Ground. It used to stand in Queen Street in the city centre but was moved in 1927. No war memorials last for ever. Sadly, after a certain period of time, they have to be relocated elsewhere to make room for the new war memorial.

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