Lives of the fellows

Frederic Percival Mackie

b.19 February 1875 d.15 July 1944
CSI(1932) OBE(1918) MRCS LRCP(1897) FRCS(1902) MB BCh Bristol(1911) MRCP(1911) MD(1915) MSc(1916) FRCP(1919) DPH(1925)

Mackie was one of the most distinguished medical scientists to serve in India during the days of Empire, and when he retired from the Indian Medical Service in 1932 he found that his services were as much in demand at home. His work on plague, relapsing fever, sleeping sickness, kala-azar, enteric dysentery, cholera, schistosomiasis, hydrophobia and sprue, was original and of first rate quality, but perhaps his administrative gifts and his overall contribution to tropical hygiene were of even greater value. He was a good speaker in debate; a dedicated professional who was also a witty and amusing man who enjoyed life.

Born at Bristol, the sixth son and ninth child of the Revd John Mackie, rector of Fylton, Gloucestershire, and his second wife Annie Bennett, he was educated at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, Bristol Medical School, and St Bartholomew’s Hospital. He qualified in 1897, worked for some time at Netley under Sir Almroth Wright; gained the FRCS in 1902, and that same year won first place in the entrance examination for the Indian Medical Service. He began his service as medical officer to the Sir Francis Younghusband Mission to Tibet, in 1903. On his promotion to captain he was appointed assistant director to the newly established Plague Research Laboratory at Parel, Bombay, set up to combat an outbreak of plague which appeared in Bombay in 1896 and spread north and east.

Much of the research work he carried out in Bombay was on plague, but his most noteworthy discovery was the spirillum of relapsing fever, transmitted by bites of body lice. He was a member of the Uganda sleeping sickness commission in 1908, and special research officer on kala-azar in 1911. The Leishman-Donovan parasite had been discovered in 1903 as the causal organism of kala-azar, but it was Mackie who identified the sandfly as its mode of transmission; a finding authenticated fourteen years later by the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine’s team and the Government of India’s special commission on the disease. Mackie was also associated with Hamilton Fairley on the dietetic treatment of sprue.

In 1914 he was promoted to major and during the 1914-1918 war he served in Baluchistan, Persia, Mesopotamia and France. Quickly and efficiently, he established a central bacteriological laboratory in Mesopotamia in 1916 after the breakdown of the original medical organization in that area, and succeeded in isolating a strain of cholera vibrio endemic to the region. He received the OBE for his services in 1918, and was twice mentioned in despatches. In 1920 he was appointed professor of pathology at Calcutta University, but was transferred to the post of director of the Pasteur Institute at Shillong in Assam. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1922 and the following year returned, as director, to the Haffkine Institute for Medical Research in Bombay, where so much of his earlier work had been done. He remained at the Institute until he retired from the IMS in 1932.

He was officiating public health commissioner, Government of India, from 1928 to 1932; served as chairman of the League of Nations expert committee on plague from 1928-1931; was president of the medical and veterinary section of the Indian Science Congress in 1925, and president of the tropical diseases section at the BMA centenary meeting in London. He held appointments as honorary surgeon to HM King George V and to the Viceroy of India. On retirement he was created CSI.

On his return to England Mackie became a lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and also served as pathologist at the Tropical Diseases Hospital, London, from 1933 to 1937. He was then appointed chief medical officer to British Overseas Airways Corporation, journeying by air to tropical colonies in Africa and Asia to supervise the sanitary requirements of the chain of airports then being established. His particular interest was in the prevention of the spread of yellow fever, and he introduced thorough fumigation of aircraft against all bloodsucking and disease carrying insects.

During this period, Mackie lived in his native Bristol at 3 Golding Avenue, and later at Pack Horse Farm, Mark, near Highbridge, Somerset. During the height of the air-raids on Bristol during the second world war he was an active warden and first-aid rescue worker in the streets. He married twice: in 1913 to Gladys May, daughter of WJ Ball. Their son and only child, Laurence Percival, entered medicine and served in the RNVR from 1944 to the close of the war. His second wife, Mary Elizabeth Elwes, a widow and daughter of W Haddon Owen of Louth, Lincolnshire, survived him. They were married in 1926.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
Valérie Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 1944,2,164-5; Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England 1930-1951, pp. 510-12; Lancet, 1944, 2, 263; Times, 18 July, 1 & 19 Aug 1944; Bristol Evening News, 18 July 1944; Nature, 1944,154, 296; Bristol med. -chir. J., 1944, 61, 28]

(Volume VII, page 360)

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