Lives of the fellows

John Brian Christopherson

b.30 April 1868 d.21 July 1955
CBE(1919) BA Cantab(1890) MB ChB Cantab(1893) MA Cantab(1898) MD Cantab(1898) FRCS(1897) MRCP(1905) FRCP(1913)

Christopherson was best known for his work on tropical diseases, but his interests were not confined to them; he began his professional life as a surgeon and ended it as a chest physician. He was born at Bathy, Yorkshire, the son of Canon Brian Christopherson, rector of Falmouth, and Caroline Denton. He was educated at Clifton College, Caius College, Cambridge, and St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, at which he held the posts of house physician and house surgeon, and that of demonstrator in anatomy following his graduation. In 1897 he took the F.R.C.S, and in the following year his M.D. (Cantab.).

On the outbreak of the South African War he left the surgical staff of the Albert Dock Hospital, on which he had served for six years, to become surgeon to the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein, and thereafter began a long and useful career in tropical medicine. In 1904, after two years as physician to the Governor General, he became director-general of medical services in the Sudan, and in 1909 director of Civil Hospitals at Khartoum and Omdurman, where his investigations into relapsing fever had confirmed the findings of spirochaetes in the blood in this louse-borne disease.

By now his interest was general clinical medicine. In 1905 he had taken his Membership and in 1913 was elected to the Fellowship of the College, but he continued his researches into tropical diseases as shown by his discovery of the effective treatment of kala-azar and schistosomiasis (cf. papers in The Lancet, 1918, 2, 325-7, Brit. med. J., 1918, 2, 652-3, and J. trop. Med. Hyg., 1919, 22, 113, 129-44, 197).

In World War I he was taken prisoner by the Austrians while serving with a Red Cross unit in Serbia, but was soon released and until the end of the war was secretary to the War Office Commission of Medical Establishments in France. In 1919 he became director of the bilharzia clinic of the Ministry of Pensions, and during the next ten years combined this post with those of physician in tropical diseases to the Royal Masonic Hospital, of examiner to the College and to the University of London, and medical adviser to the Universities Mission to Central Africa. Evidently these duties were not sufficient to occupy him for he served on the staff of the London Chest Hospital until his retirement.

For his distinguished services to medicine he was created C.B.E, in 1919, when he already held the Order of the Nile (3rd Class) and the Order of St. Sava of Serbia. In 1919 he married Joyce Eleanor, daughter of Dr J. A. Ormerod, physician to St. Bartholomew’s. He was eighty-seven when he died.

Richard R Trail

[, 1955, 2, 327-8; Lancet, 1955, 2, 255-6 (p); Nature (Lond.), 1955, 176, 377-8; Times, 23 July, 7 Aug. 1955.]

(Volume V, page 72)

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