S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Turner, Dr George Albert (medicine, anthropology)

Born: September 1874, Portsmouth, England.
Died: 27 October 1916, Johannesburg, South Africa.

George A. Turner, medical officer, was the son of Dr George Turner* and his first wife, Anne Silcock. He qualified as Bachelor of Medicine (MB) and Bachelor of Surgery (ChB) at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1897 and the next year obtained the Diploma in Public Health (DPH) at the same institution. Returning to the Cape Colony he was licensed to practise there on 13 June 1899. In 1905 he moved to the Witwatersrand, was licensed to practise in the Transvaal Colony that same year, and took up an appointment as medical officer to the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association. He held this position until his death in 1916.

Turner's studies of the native labourers that were recruited to work in the gold mines on the Witwatersrand led to a number of publications. He soon compiled a Report on the alleged prevalence of pulmonary tuberculosis and on some of the principal diseases existing in the kraals of the natives in Portuguese East African territory... with a description of the native's mode of life and his principal habits and customs likely to affect his health (Johannesburg, 1907, 46p). A number of his papers appeared in the Transvaal Medical Journal: "Cerebro-spinal meningitis" and "Some causes of gland enlargement in South Africa" (1907/8, Vol. 3); "South African parasites", "Anchylostomiasis in South Africa", "Pulmonary bilharziosis in South Africa", and "The diet of the South African natives in their kraals", the latter in four parts (1908/9, Vol. 4); "Bilharziosis of the appendix" and "A resum? of the literature on blackwater fever" (1909/10, Vol. 5); and "Some of the tribal marks of the South African native races" (1910/1, Vol. 6). A paper by him on "Circumcision amongst South African natives" was published in the Medical Journal of South Africa (1915). With Dr I.W. Brebner he strongly recommended "The serum treatment of cerebrospinal meningitis" (Ibid, 1915), but its efficacy was soon questioned by others.

Turner made stature measurements on over 700 adult male Africans and weight and chest measurements on 500. He added his data to those obtained by Dr W.H. Brodie* on over 3000 workers and analysed the total data set. The results were written up in an unpublished manuscript, "Some anthropological notes on the South African coloured mine labourer" (1911), a copy of which is in the Anatomy Department of the University of the Witwatersrand. The data are valuable as a baseline against which to compare later similar measurements on the same groups of people in order to study possible secular trends in adult mean stature. Some of the results were published by Dr G.D. Maynard* and Turner in "Anthropological notes on Bantu natives from Portuguese East Africa" (Report of the South African Institute for Medical Research, 1914) and in other papers.

Turner was a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science by 1906, but his membership had lapsed by 1910. He was survived by his wife, Ellen Mahomed, and three children.

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

Medical and pharmacy register for the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, 1907.

Medical, dental and pharmacy register for the Transvaal, 1907.

National Archives Repository (TAB), Source MHG, Vol. 0, Ref. 30043: death notice, George Albert Turner.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). . Documents relating to Turner, George Albert / Turner, G.A.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, Vol. NMC 34: List of medical practitioners, dentists, chemists and druggists, midwives, and nurses [registered in the Transvaal, as on 31 December 1914].

South African Association for the Advancement of Science. Report, 1905/6, list of members.

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

Tobias, P.V. History of physical anthropology in southern Africa. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 1985, Vol. 28, pp. 1-52.

Transvaal Medical Journal, 1907-1911, Vol. 3-6, papers by Turner.

Compiled by: C. Plug