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A Tribute to Two Pharmacists Who Made Medical History in Sudan

This is a tribute to two pharmacists whose contribution to medical science in Sudan has been remarkable. They deserve to be recognized and their work appreciated. The two pharmacists are the naturalized British American industrialist, chemist, bacteriologist, medical philanthropist and pharmaceutical tycoon, Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936), and the Irish pharmacist Professor Patrick FD D’Arcy.Following the appeal of Lord Kitchener for the establishment of Gordon Memorial College (GMC) in 1899, Wellcome wrote to him with a cheque of 100 guineas from Burroughs Wellcome & Co and also ‘offering to contribute as soon as the institution is ready a complete medical equipment and stock for the dispensary in connection with the College.’

Wellcome was among the first few European civilians to visit the country in the winter of 1900/1901. He cruised on the Upper Nile and studied the people and land. The picture he drew for the Sudan of the time was gloomy. “Famine and pestilence were everywhere … not only human life, but animal and plant life and all sources of food supply were infected by disease of some kind. Nearly everything was wrecked and in a state of chaos and demoralization.”

That inspection tour left a deep impression on Wellcome and made him think seriously of devising a plan to establish research laboratories in GMC in Khartoum. The laboratories, which came to be known as Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratories in Khartoum (WTRLK) were established and were truly masterpiece of colonial architecture. The laboratories, he said, would be designed:

  • To promote technical education.
  • To undertake the testing and assaying of agricultural, mineral and other substances of practical interest in the industrial development of the Sudan.
  • To carry out such tests in connection with waters, foodstuffs and sanitary matters as may be found desirable.
  • To aid criminal investigation in poisoning cases (which are so frequent in the Sudan) by the detection and experimental determination of toxic agents, particularly those obscure potent substances employed by the natives.
  • To study bacteriologically and physiologically tropical disorders, especially the infective disease of both man and beast peculiar to the Sudanand to render assistance to the officers of health and to the clinics of the Civil andMilitary Hospitals.

Equipment for the laboratories, museum and library was delivered as promised in 1902 and to the specifications of the latest European standards. The laboratories were housed in the East Wing of GMC buildings, and were officially opened on November 8, 1902.

WTRLK set the foundation of medical research, scientific biomedical services, and medical education in Sudan. Dr. Andrew Balfour (later Sir), the director of those laboratories, was able to wipe malaria out of Khartoum through what he called the Mosquito Brigade. In search for how to handle the issue of sewage collection and disposal of human excreta, he abolished the Crowley cart and replaced it by the ‘latrine buckets’. This sanitation method continued to be in use in Khartoum and many other Sudanese cities and towns till the 1960s and early 1970s when it was finally abolished.

The museum set in those laboratories, which was a useful educational institution, survived under different forms. Its last successor, the Graphic Health Museum contained 3500 artifacts and exhibits when it was dismantled in 1966. Unfortunately, all acquisitions were lost.

Wellcome has also been an ardent archaeologist and collector of antiquities. The excavation work he undertook in Jebel Moya, the outcome of which published later in two books, had been unique. During his archeological diggings, Wellcome pioneered the use of Kite aerial photography for the first time to study the terrain and topography of Sudan.

Patrick Francis D’Arcy

Prof. Patrick F. D’Arcy (1927-2001), OBE, Bpharm, PhD, DSC, DSC (Hon), FRPharmS, Cchem, FRSC, FPSNI. Prof. Emeritus of Pharmacy in The Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, formerly Prof. of Pharmacology and Dean, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Khartoum, Sudan (1962-1967).

Professor D’Arcy was assigned the task of establishing and preparing the faculty to receive its first batch of pharmacy undergraduates who would be selected to spend their first session 1963-64 of the five-year Bachelor of Pharmacy course in the Faculty of Science, University of Khartoum. They would start their second session in 1964 in the new Faculty of Pharmacy. It was a great challenge to Prof. D’Arcy who managed to formulate the 4-year pharmacy curriculum, recruit expatriate academic staff, prepare temporary lecture rooms and laboratories and receive his first batch of eighteen Pharmacy undergraduates in 1964, as planned, after completing their first year course in the Faculty of Science.

Prof. D’Arcy appointed a number of newly graduated Sudanese pharmacists as academic assistants to be trained and eventually qualified as lecturers. He was also able to recruit a number of qualified Sudanese chemists as lecturers in organic chemistry, analytical chemistry and pharmacology. In 1967, Prof. D’Arcy was superseded by Dr Ibrahim Gasim Mokhier, who became the first Sudanese Dean. In 1968, the first batch of eighteen pharmacists graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in pharmacy from FOP, UK.

Based on the Wellcome Research Laboratories Reports,[1] D’Arcy wrote Laboratory on the Nile: A History of the Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratories.[2] The book, which he opened with Surat Al-Fatihah (The Opening) of the Noble Quran, described the inception of WTRLK, their progression to world-renowned centres of excellence of research in tropical diseases, and their demise. D’Arcy’s book, as its name implied, gave a full account of the legendary floating laboratory, which is worthy of reading about.

Concluding remark

The life and work of these two pharmacists, has to be known and taught. Posterity has to perpetuate the creed of philanthropy and scientific excellence that the life of the two scientists demonstrated so clearly.


[1] Balfour, Andrew (Ed.) Wellcome Research Laboratories Reports. Department of Education, Sudan Government,Khartoum; 1904 (First Report); Wellcome Research Laboratories Reports. Department of Education, SudanGovernment, Khartoum; 1906 (Second Report); Wellcome Research Laboratories Reports. Department of Education,Sudan Government, Khartoum; 1908, (Third Report); Wellcome Research Laboratories Reports. Department of Education, Sudan Government, Khartoum; 1911, (Fourth Report). The Wellcome reports were and still are classical documentation of the work carried out in the first two decades of the 20th century.

[2] D’Arcy, Patrick Francis. Laboratory on the Nile: A History of the Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratories. The Haworth Press, Binghamton, New York, 1999: 281 pages.