Lives of the fellows

Andrew (Sir) Balfour

b.21 March 1873 d.30 January 1931
CB(1918) KCMG(1930) MB CM Edin(1894) DPH Cantab(1897) MD Edin(1898) BSc Edin(1900) LLD Edin(1926) DSc Roch(1926) LLD Johns Hopkins(1926) MRCPE(1901) FRCPE(1906) *FRCP(1927)

Years of overwork led to the death of Andrew Balfour at the early age of 57. Even the physique which had made him a fine boxer and a strenuous Rugby player for his university and for Scotland could not withstand the labours with which he taxed it, although for years he seemed indestructible in his willingness to undertake a succession of research travels and services on commissions and committees, a few of which alone would have secured a lasting place in the annals of medicine for the average enthusiast.

He was the son of Dr Thomas Alexander Goldie Balfour, a well-known practitioner and pharmacologist, and his wife, Margaret, daughter of Peter Christall, of Elgin, and was educated at George Watson’s College and the University of Edinburgh. Post-graduate work on typhoid at Cambridge and in Pretoria during the South African War was an introduction to his life’s work on tropical diseases as a result of his contact in 1901 with Patrick Manson.

One post followed another in rapid succession: director of the Henry Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratories in Khartoum; chief hygienist for the Sudan when he practically cleared Khartoum of mosquitoes and discovered ‘Balfour’s ticks’ during his work on blood protozoa; membership with Lord Cromer, Kitchener and Sir Reginald Wingate on the Sleeping Sickness Commission and the foundation of the famous floating laboratory on the Nile and the White Nile are samples of his service in Africa.

In the West Indies he made the valuable suggestion that the monkeys in Trinidad were the animal reservoir of yellow fever. His membership in 1914 of the Colonial Office Commission on health in the colonies was followed by the presidency of the Commission in Mesopotamia and the post of scientific adviser to a similar commission in East Africa. As director in 1918 of the Wellcome Research Laboratories he founded its world-famous Museum of Tropical Diseases, so that he well deserved the position of first director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1924.

Honours followed quickly, but Balfour considered the greatest his appointment to the governing committee of the Rugby Union. It seems impossible that this genial giant had time to show kindness and consideration for every colleague and junior who found him a great teacher with a fine delivery, continuously flavoured with a humour that went through the whole gamut from the subtle to the boisterous.

Balfour was an inspiring lecturer and writer. He had been appointed FitzPatrick lecturer at the College in 1930, but was away on sick leave and unable to deliver them. He was the author of many papers and books and amongst the latter were Public health and preventive medicine, with C. J. Lewis (1902), and the War Office’s Memoranda on medical diseases in the tropical and subtropical war areas, [3rd ed.] (1919), formerly Memoranda on some medical diseases in the Mediterranean war area (1916). Early in his career Balfour achieved some fame as a novelist. His The Golden kingdom (1903) was his last and most successful novel and was founded upon his scientific knowledge of sleeping sickness.

In 1902 he married Grace, daughter of George Nutter, of Sidcup, by whom he had two sons.

Richard R Trail

* This means that the fellow was elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical oe General Science or Literature..."

[Brit.med.J., 1931,1,245-6 (p); Lancet, 1931,1, 325-7 (p); Times, 2 Feb. 1931; Trans, roy. Soc. trop. Med. Hyg., 1931, 24, 655-9; D.N.B., 1931-40, 33-4.]

(Volume V, page 19)

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