S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Wright, Dr Sir Almroth Edward (medical sciences)

Born: 10 August 1861, Middleton Tyas, Yorkshire, United Kingdom.
Died: 30 April 1947, Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom.

Almroth Edward Wright, medical scientist, was educated privately and at the Royal Academical Institution in Belfast. He continued his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, where he obtained a degree in modern literature in 1882 and a medical degree in 1883. After studying pathology and physiological chemistry for a year in Germany he studied law and took a clerkship at the Admiralty. Meanwhile he also conducted medical research and in 1887 became a demonstrator in pathology at the University of Cambridge. After spending two years in Sydney, Australia, he became professor of pathology at the Army Medical School at Netley, Hampshire, from 1892 to 1902. While there he and Sir W. Leishman developed a typhoid vaccine. From 1902 to 1946 he held the post of pathologist at St Mary's Hospital, London, where he did research on vaccine therapy.

In 1911 Wright was invited to visit South Africa by the Bacteriological Institute Committee, which was planning the establishment of the South African Institute for Medical Research in Johannesburg. He was asked to advise on the building and equipment of the institute and to initiate a research programme into pneumonia, which was causing many deaths among mine workers on the Witwatersrand. He arrived in September 1911 and asked to be payed a thousand pounds per month for a six months visit, but does not appear to have made much of a contribution (Malan, 1988). However, he did set research on pneumonia in motion with the assistance of R.W. Dodgson*, W.P. Morgan, R.L. Colebrook, and F.S. Lister* and wrote a Report to the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association on the results of an inquiry into the causation, prophylaxis and treatment of the pneumonia which affects the native, and in particular the tropical native labourers in the Rand mines (London, 1912, 36 p). He started inoculation experiments that were described in On pharmaco-therapy and preventive inoculation applied to pneumonia in the African native (London, 1914, 124 p). Though he concluded that the experiments were successful, the results were not unequivocal and the effect of the inoculation, if any, was short-lived, mainly because the types of pneumococcus involved were still unknown. These experiments were the first effort at immunisation against pneumonia.

After his return to London Wright did war service in France during World War I (1914-1918), including controversial research on the control of wound infection. His war work earned him a gold medal from the Royal Society of Medicine in 1920 and other awards. Back at St Mary's he continued his research on the problems of immunisation. His research was published in some 200 scientific papers. Many of his ingenious techniques were described in his Handbook of the technique of the teat and capillary glass tube and its application in medicine and bacteriology (1912 and 1921). Other books relating to his medical work were Principles of microscopy (1906), Studies on immunisation and their application to the diagnosis and treatment of bacterial infection (1909), Pathology and treatment of war wounds (1942) and Researches in clinical physiology (1943). His writings on human thinking and logic were published posthumously as Alethetropic logic (1953). In The unexpurgated case against woman suffrage (1913) he argued that women were physically, intellectually and morally inferior to men.

Wright was knighted in 1906, was honoured as a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB, 1915) and a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE, 1919), elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1906, and awarded several honorary degrees.

List of sources:

Google scholar. http://scholar.google.co.za Publications by A.E. Wright.

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

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to Almroth Wright.

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

Oxford dictionary of national biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

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

Compiled by: C. Plug