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Liverpool School Of Tropical Medicine

Liverpool School Of Tropical Medicine
Pembroke Place

During the late 19th century Liverpool became one of the most important ports in Great Britain. A lack of sanitation and shipping controls led to regular outbreaks of diseases in the city and often entire crews of ships would be suffering from unknown infections. Sir Alfred Lewis Jones, a prominent Liverpool ship owner, together with fellow business men and health pioneers, founded the Liverpool School of Tropical Diseases (later to be renamed into Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine) in 1898 with an annual donation of £350 for 3 years. It was not until 1898 that the British Government realized for the first time that it was sending untrained doctors to work in the colonies. Doctors who went to tropical colonies had to learn the hard way by long experience. This reduced their immediate efficiency and generally lowered the standard of their work. The idea of the Liverpool School apparently began at the annual dinner of students of the Royal Southern Hospital. Alfred Lewis Jones, head of the Elder Dempster Shipping Line announced that he had offered £350 per annum for three years for the promotion of the study of tropical disease. This 'liberal offer', as it was called at the time, was warmly accepted by the President of the hospital. In a letter to Jones he suggested that the Royal Southern Hospital should act as the clinical focus of the studies in view of its proximity to the docks. He welcomed the collection of cases in the hospital into one centre rather than "leaving them scattered about in the general wards as they are at present". The professional members committee were asked to meet and plan the new school. This they did and in due course the committee communicated its intention to the Colonial Office.

Staff and sudents of the Liverpool School Of Tropical medicine in1912.
Chamberlain had already established a school in London and the Colonial Office stipulated that all doctors appointed to the Colonial Service must attend the school in Albert Dock, London, for at least two months before acceptance in Colonial Service.
In a letter, the Colonial Office regretted that no financial aid was possible, but preference would be given in future to candidates who had attended training programmes in Liverpool. This letter, however, did acknowledge the creation of a School of 'Tropical Diseases' at University College, Liverpool, which 'was excellently equipped for teaching of tropical medicine'. Apparently the Liverpool School was nevertheless still unsuitable for doctors joining the Colonial Service since the letter continued: 'I propose that Officers already in the Colonial Service should be allowed to receive their instruction in Liverpool instead of at the School in London, but newly appointed Officers will always be sent to the latter School'. Liverpool did not accept this compromise and continued its pressure for full recognition. At last, on 12 July 1900 the Colonial Office finally capitulated and the school was placed on the same terms as London with regard to newly appointed Officers. Similar recognition was given by the Foreign Office, which was responsible for the Protectorates. Thus, although the Liverpool School came into active being six months before the school in London, it took another year to persuade the Colonial Office to recognise it officially.

It was not long before the school began to flourish in Liverpool helped largely by private donations, one of the schools benefactors was Mary Kingsly the author of "Travels in West Africa" and a an expert in African culture. In 1902 a separate department of Tropical Veterinary medicine was set up by Rubert Boyce and a laboratory installed at Crofton Lodge in Runcorn to allow for the study of large animals. All of this work was essential for the Liverpool school to understand tropical diseases and the school completed 32 expeditions to Africa and Central and South America. When Alfred Lewis Jones died he left a large bequest to the school he had helped set up in 1898. As a result of the donations it received the school was able to set up its own laboratory separate from the university in Pembroke Place. The laboratory was completed in 1914 but due to the advent of the war occupation was deferred, however the building continued to be used as a Tropical Diseases Hospital and offered courses to officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Professor R M Gordon joined the school in 1919 and by 1920 teaching had resumed.

The school has made many contributions to tropical medicine especially in identifying the vector for malaria, for which Sir Ronald Ross, who lectured at the School from 1899 to 1916, won the first British Nobel Prize in 1902. Today it holds a research portfolio of £192 million including a recent $50 million pledge by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to combat diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, malaria, dengue and pneumonia. Since it opened its first overseas laboratory, in Sierra Leone, in 1921, the School has expanded its collaborations to more than 60 countries. In 2011 the Diploma in Tropical Nursing was re-established at the School.

Article by Robert F Edwards
Sources: Liverpool Records Office
B. G Maegraith Institute for the History of Medicine, London, 1972

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