S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Ross, Dr John (public health)

Born: Date not known, Place not known.
Died: 1891, King William's Town, South Africa.

John Ross, son of Dr B. Ross, qualified as Bachelor of Medicine (MB) and Master of Surgery (MC) at Glasgow in 1877. He then came to the Cape Colony, where he was licensed to practice in August 1878. That same year he requested (unsuccessfully it seems) a surgeoncy in the police force. The next year he asked for an appointment in the armed forces. A few years later he resided in King William's Town, where he was surgeon captain to the Kaffrarian Volunteer Artillery and medical officer of the Cape Government Railways, Eastern System. By 1884 he was a member of the colony's Medical Board. In 1886 he founded the first South African branch of the St John Ambulance Association in King William's Town and provided training in first aid to its members. The next year his pupils formed an ambulance detachment in the Kaffrarian Volunteer Artillery and when the Artillery was disbanded in 1888 the detachment continued under Ross as the Volunteer Medical Staff Corps of King William's Town. In 1889 this corps was incorporated in the Colonial Forces with the Cape Medical Staff Corps, under Ross's command.

Meanwhile Ross had published A few chapters on public health, adapted for South Africa (King William's Town, 1887, 87p), the first local booklet on sanitation and public health. It described the sanitation problems of King William's Town and propagated various measures for the prevention of epidemic diseases such as providing latrines for the African population, the appointment of health officers to each African township, and public education in hygiene. In these matters his views were far ahead of his time in South Africa.

Following his death a sermon entitled "In memoriam: Dr John Ross" was preached in St Andrew's Church, King William's Town, on 13 September 1891 by John D. Don. The sermon was published as a pamphlet by "A" Company, Volunteer Medical Staff. Dr John Ross should not be confused with Dr James A. Ross*, who practiced in the Cape Colony during the same years.

List of sources:
Cape of Good Hope Government Gazette, 9 January 1885, pp. 41-45: List of licensed medical practitioners in the Cape Colony...

Laidler, P.W. & Gelfand, M. South Africa: Its medical history, 1652-1898. Cape Town: Struik, 1971.

Mendelssohn, S. South African bibliography. London, 1910.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). . Documents relating to Dr John Ross.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

Compiled by: C. Plug