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Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930): Physician during the typhoid epidemic in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

Authors
Type
Published Article
Journal
Journal of medical biography
Publication Date
Volume
22
Issue
1
Pages
2–8
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1177/0967772013493239
PMID: 24585840
Source
Medline
Keywords
  • Almroth Wright
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Dr Joseph Bell
  • Dr William Budd
  • John L Langman
  • Langman Hospital
  • Portland Hospital
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Winston Churchill

Abstract

When the Anglo-Boer War broke out in October 1899, Arthur Conan Doyle, a retired ophthalmologist, was already famous as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Motivated by patriotism and adventure, Doyle joined the medical staff of a private field hospital endowed by philanthropist John Langman (1846-1928). Langman Hospital opened in Bloemfontein, South Africa, at the height of that city's typhoid fever epidemic which raged from April to June 1900. There were nearly 5000 cases of typhoid and 1000 deaths but official statistics do not truly reflect the magnitude of the suffering. Doyle argued that the British Army had made a major mistake by not making antityphoid inoculation compulsory. Because of the new vaccine's side effects, 95% of the soldiers refused immunization. Despite his strong opinions, Doyle failed to press the issue of compulsory inoculation when he testified before two Royal Commissions investigating the medical and military management of the war in South Africa. One can only imagine how the army might have benefited from the new idea of prophylactic vaccination in preventive medicine if Doyle had not let these opportunities slip away. As a consequence, antityphoid inoculation was still voluntary when Great Britain entered World War I in August 1914.

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