Lives of the fellows

Ambrose Thomas (Sir) Stanton

b.14 November 1875 d.25 January 1938
CMG(1929) KCMG(1934) MD CM Toronto(1899) DTM&H Cantab(1906) DPH Lond(1922) Hon DSc Toronto(1934) MRCS LRCP(1905) MRCP(1920) *FRCP(1926)

Thomas Stanton, son of Thomas and Margaret (née Chestnut) Stanton, was a first-class research worker and a keen entomologist. He was born in Ottawa and graduated from Trinity Medical College, Toronto, in 1899. In 1905 he was house surgeon to Sir Patrick Manson-Bahr at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases; while working as a demonstrator in the London School of Tropical Medicine he was selected by the Secretary of State in 1907 to join Fraser at the Institute of Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur.

As Fraser’s field-lieutenant he lived for nearly a year in a little thatched hut in a remote jungle-clearing, working on what came to be known as the Durian Tipus experiment. The main diet of a large part of Javanese labourers who were building a road in a remote part of the state of Negri Sembilan was ‘white rice’. Some half of them were induced to take Indian ‘cured rice’. The ‘white rice’ party were found to develop beri-beri; the ‘cured rice’ party did not. It was thereby proved that the disease was one of deficiency caused by rice from which the outer layers had been removed by over-milling. From the rice millings Fraser and Stanton obtained substances, soluble in alcohol and minute in quantity, but of high physiological value in nutrition, which were members of a group to which Funk gave the name ‘vitamins’ a few years later.

Stanton did brilliant work in sorting out the early confusions of the classification of mosquitoes and carried out pioneer studies of the culicidae. His discovery of the cause of melioidosis was dramatic. A fatal disease, thought to be a form of toddy poisoning, had broken out among the Tamil labourers on rubber estates in 1917. Stanton showed the cause to be organisms of a glanders-like disease, first described by Whitmore in Rangoon in 1912. This study was described by The Lancet (1938, 1, 350), as ‘a fine piece of pure bacteriological research’.

During the First World War he was left almost alone in the Institute at Kuala Lumpur. In 1920 he became its director and was also in charge of the Malaria Bureau, giving unstinted help to every doctor in clarifying the scientific problems they brought him from their practice, whether private or in Government service. In 1926 he was appointed the first chief medical officer at the Colonial Office.

His responsibilities were heavy. Besides advising the Secretary of State on the medical problems of some fifty Crown Colonies and Protectorates, he served on many committees. He became chairman of the Colonial Advisory Medical Committee and of the managing committee of the Bureau of Hygiene and Tropical Diseases, and a member of the board of management of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, of the council of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and of the council of the British Empire Leprosy Relief Association.

Many honours came to him. He received the Cragg’s research prize in 1911, the Mary Kingsley medal from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in 1929, and the College Bisset Hawkins medal in 1926, the year in which he was elected a Fellow. From C.M.G, in 1929 he became K.C.M.G, in 1934, but, of all distinctions, the one he prized most was the honorary D.Sc, of his own university, conferred on him in 1934. In 1930 he married Dr Elizabeth O’Flynn, a Member of the College.

Richard R Trail

* He 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 or General Science or Literature..."

[, 1938, 1, 312-13 (p); Bull. Off. int. Hyg. publ., 1938, 30, 485-7; Canad. med. Ass. J., 1938, 38, 303; East Afr. med. J., 1938, 14, 376-8; Lancet, 1938, 1, 349-50 (p); Nature (Lond.), 1938, 141, 275-6; Times, 26 Jan. 1938; Trans, roy. Soc. trop. Med. Hyg., 1938, 31, 575-6.]

(Volume V, page 393)

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