S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

May, Dr Aylmer William (bacteriology, medicine)

Born: 18 November 1874, Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland.
Died: 2 April 1950, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Aylmer William May (called "Willy" by his friends), son of Dr Walter May and his wife Mary Ann, born Morris, was a medical practitioner and bacteriologist. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin, where he qualified as Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Medicine (MB), Bachelor of Surgery (BCh) and Bachelor of Arts in Obstetrics (BAO) in 1898. During 1900-1902 he served in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) as a civil surgeon with the South African Field Forces. In July 1902, just after the conclusion of the war, he applied for an appointment in the newly created Orange River Colony (now the Free State), but apparently without success. From 1902 to 1904 he worked as medical officer at the Globe and Phoenix Mine at Kwekwe, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). After obtaining the Diploma in Public Health (DPH) in Ireland in 1905 he worked at St Mary's Hospital, London, where he concentrated on bacteriology and immunology.

May took up duty as government bacteriologist at the Transvaal Government Laboratories, Johannesburg, in September 1907, under the direction of Dr John McCrae*. The post had been left vacant by the resignation of Dr W.C.C. Pakes*. May appears to have been a man of exceptional ability and carried out his duties with great credit. Unfortunately he found his annual salary of 600 pounds sterling inadequate (perhaps because Dr Arnold Theiler* earned 1500 pounds) and resigned, leaving at the end of June 1908. By that time he had published a paper on "The manufacture of bacterial vaccines for therapeutic inoculation" in the South African Medical Record (1907, Vol. 5, pp. 165-178). This was soon followed by a further paper on "The ophthalmic reaction to tuberculin" in the Transvaal Medical Journal (1907/8, Vol. 3, pp. 276-279). He was succeeded as government bacteriologist by Dr J.C. Mitchell*.

Upon leaving Johannesburg May became principal medical officer for Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), a post he occupied until 1928. He was stationed in Livingstone. During these years he gave much attention to the investigation and treatment of malaria and sleeping sickness and published various papers on tropical diseases, including "Occurrence of Bilharzian Ova in the stomach wall" (British Medical Journal, 1908); "Isolation of a parathyroid bacillus from a drinking water supply" (Journal of the Royal Institute of Public Hygiene, 1909); "Black water fever" (Journal of Tropical Medicine, 1909); and reports on sleeping sickness. He held the rank of major in the Northern Rhodesia Medical Corps and saw active service in World War I (1914-1918) as principal medical officer of the Northern Rhodesian forces in German East Africa (1914-1915) and with the British Expeditionary Force in France (1916). He was also a member of the Legislative Council of Northern Rhodesia, and was honoured as a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1924. He continued his career in Zimbabwe, as principal medical officer of the Rhodesia Railways, stationed in Bulawayo, from 1928 to 1938. During World War II (1939-1945) he was the medical superintendent of Salisbury Hospital. At his death in 1950 he was survived by his wife Dulcie, born Hughes, and three children.

List of sources:

Gilbert, B. Dr Aylmer William May. Central African Journal of Medicine, July 1976, Vol. 22(7), pp. 139-142. Retrieved from https://journals.co.za/docserver/fulltext/CAJM/22/7/2713.pdf?expires=1538038761&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=92010E73BE5FE0953B77677BD8885285 on 2018-9-27.

Malan, M. In quest of health: The South African Institute for Medical Research, 1912-1973. Johannesburg: Lowry, 1988.

Medical, dental and pharmacy directory of South Africa, 1926/7, p. 243.

National Archives Repository (TAB), Source MHG, Vol. 0, Ref. 2703/50: death notice, Aylmer William May.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to May, Aylmer William/May, Dr A.W.

South African Medical Record, 1907, Vol. 5, paper by May.

Transvaal [Colony], Government Laboratories. Annual Report, 1907/8 (National Archives, Pretoria, Vol. TKP 277); Report for the year 1908-09 (Vol. TKP 196).

Transvaal Medical Journal, 1907/8, Vol. 3, paper by May.

Who was who, Vol. 4, 3rd ed. London: Adam & Black, 1964.

Compiled by: C. Plug