Lives of the fellows

Almroth Edward (Sir) Wright

b.10 August 1861 d.30 April 1947
Kt(1906) CB(1915) KBE(1918) BA Dubl(1882) MB BCh Dubl(1883) MD Dubl(1889) Hon DSc Dubl(1906) Hon DSc Leeds(1919) Hon Doctor Paris(1924) Hon LLD Belf(1927) Hon LLD Edin(1927) FRS(1906) Hon FRCSI(1906) Hon FRCPI(1932) *FRCP(1938)

Almroth Edward Wright was born in the village of Middleton Tyass in North Yorkshire, where his father, the Rev. Charles Hamilton Wright, was rector. His mother, Ebba Johanna Dorothea Almroth, was the daughter of Nils Wilhelm Almroth, professor of chemistry in the Carolinska Medico-Surgical Institute and the Royal Artillery School, Stockholm, and later director of the Swedish Royal Mint.

He was educated privately and then at the Belfast Academical Institution and Trinity College, Dublin. After graduating he was awarded a travelling fellowship which enabled him to visit Leipzig for a year, and then a studentship that enabled him to read law. He then took a clerkship in the Admiralty, spent his leisure at the Brown Institute and then became a demonstrator in pathology, and later in physiology at Cambridge. He returned to Germany with a Grocers’Company scholarship in 1888, and during 1889-91 he was in Australia as demonstrator in physiology at Sydney. Returning to England in 1891, he worked for a time at the laboratories of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons.

His great opportunity came in 1892 when he was appointed professor of pathology at the Royal Army Medical College, Netley. Here he worked out a method for prophylactic immunisation against typhoid fever which has been extensively employed since its first introduction shortly before the Boer War. In 1898 he spent some time in India as a member of the Plague Commission, and in 1902 was appointed pathologist at St. Mary’s Hospital. Here he employed vaccines for the treatment of bacterial infection on an extensive scale, their dosage, etc. being controlled by an in vitro test known as the opsonic index.

In 1908, in collaboration with the Right Hon. A. J. Balfour, Lord Justice Moulton, Lord Iveagh and others, he founded the Inoculation Department (later the Wright-Fleming Institute) at St. Mary’s Hospital, of which he remained principal until 1945. He was given the title of professor of experimental pathology by the University of London. His work on therapeutic immunisation came to an end when the First World War broke out. During it, Wright carried out extensive researches in a laboratory in Boulogne on the physiology of traumatic wounds, their bacteriology and treatment.

On his return to London he began the detailed study of two phenomena he had observed during the War. One was intertraction, and the second the so-called epiphylactic response of human leucocytes to external stimuli. He retired in 1945 to Farnham Common, Bucks.

Wright was an excellent teacher and inspiring leader. Many of his pupils, particularly Alexander Fleming, W. B. Leishman and S. R. Douglas, had distinguished careers. Nevertheless, although he invented many techniques and employed the experimental method in all his researches, Wright fundamentally preferred dialetics and the force of reasoning to investigation and experiment. He therefore spent much of his time on the composition of a book of logic which was not published until after his death (Alethe-tropic logic, 1953).

His contributions to scientific journals were numerous and his books various, marking different phases of his life and aspects of his many activities. His Short treatise on antityphoid inoculation (1904) was the first and perhaps most important, being translated into French and German. His antifeminist outlook was illustrated in The Unexpurgated case against woman suffrage (1913). His only hobby was gardening. In 1889 he married Jane Georgina, the daughter of R. M. Wilson, J.P., of Coolcarrigan, co. Kildare. She died in 1926. They had one son and one daughter.

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..."

[Brit.med.J., 1947, 1, 646-7, 657-60 (p), 699-700, 744; J. roy. Army med. Cps, 1947, 88, 250-52; Lancet, 1947, 1, 642, 654-6 (p), 930; Montreal Daily Star, 30 Apr. 1947; Nature (Lond.), 1947, 159, 731-2; New York Herald Tribune, 1 May 1947; Obit. Not. roy. Soc., 1948-9

(Volume V, page 460)

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