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Contract and Civil Surgeons Dr Rolph Bidwell Lesslie

PostPosted: 25 Aug 2017 23:06
by John Gilinsky
Hello everyone! This is my first posting on Victorian Wars Forum. I am a Canadian in Toronto, Ontario. Dr. Rolph Bidwell Lesslie was a contract surgeon (listed in the Zulu War Medals Register published in the c. 1980s) and I am extremely interested in this particular doctor and generally all the other contract surgeons (and to some extent local civil surgeons but the main emphasis are the contract surgeons who in the main I believe had to travel to South Africa rather than being in it). Can anyone please tell me about any references, correspondence, citations, photographs, sketches, diaries, notebooks, sketchbooks, plans, maps, ledgers, orders, etc... that a) specifically mention or refer to Dr. R. B. Lesslie [ alternate spelling of last name Leslie ]; b) specifically encompass, list, describe, authorize, order etc.... any of the civil contract surgeons? I only know that in 2010 Bonham's in London auctioned off his medals including his Zulu War Medal 1879 and the listing in the above South African War Medal Register.

When, where, what, how and why did Dr. Lesslie do when he was in South Africa?

Why did he decide to leave and not stay in South Africa AFTER the war?

Who were his fellow contract surgeons and indeed any other medical personnel such as Army Medical Department (AMD); Royal Navy medical personnel (RN), local doctors, etc... that he reported to, supervised him or worked with him?

Did Dr. Lesslie ever work with or for any of the bearer sections of the Army Hospital Corps, Native Bearer Corps?

I believe from consulting so far what I have found online via the digitized Colonial Office South African correspondence files etc... that a Colonial Office department that liaised with the War Office might be the best best to find the request from the War Office for these contract surgeons.

Has anyone ever seen or know the whereabouts of ANY of the actual contracts including conditions/terms described for ANY of these contract surgeons?

I would appreciate any assistance, contacts, information anywhere dealing with these contract Zulu War 1879 surgeons and in particular those that relate to Dr. R B Lesslie.

Thank you,

Re: Contract and Civil Surgeons Dr Rolph Bidwell Lesslie

PostPosted: 26 Aug 2017 01:29
by Mark A. Reid
Hello John;

Welcome to The Forum!

I'm afraid I can't help much with your research into a rather forgotten Canadian, Dr. R.B. Leslie/Lesslie but perhaps I can add a little bit more related information? As I'm sure you know, before Leslie went to South Africa he served in the Ottoman Army during the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-78. A protege of his was Charles Ryan, an Australian-born doctor who had just completed his medical qualifications and found himself nearly penniless whilst travelling through the Continent. He spotted an advertisement in " The Times " in which the Ottoman government was seeking to hire twenty qualified surgeons for the upcoming conflict and requested written applications. Ryan returned to London and, armed with a letter of introduction from one of his professors, presented himself at the Sublime Porte's embassy. After a brief interview he was accepted and given £25 travelling money and told to report to Constaninople post haste. He was promised £200 per annum, to be paid monthly in gold, and eventually granted the honourary rank of Major in the Sultan's Army. His subsequent experiences are told in lively fashion in his book " Under The Red Crescent " which can be read free on-line.

By the way, Leslie's South Africa General Service Medal with clasp " 1879 " when sold with the rest of his medals at Bonham's on 27 March 2013, was named " Civil Surgn. R.B. Lesslie. " According to the auction catalogue the medals were sold with " assorted research. " It further states that after the Zulu War he spent a year in Trinidad before accepting a position with the Interntional African Association with whom he spent three years in the Congo. I'm sure you're aware of his further travels and eventual demise in 1893.

With any luck some other members will be able to provide better assistance than I but, in the meantime, may I wish you every success with your research into a rather forgotten surgeon of the Victorian era.


( In Ottawa )

Re: Contract and Civil Surgeons Dr Rolph Bidwell Lesslie

PostPosted: 27 Aug 2017 02:10
by Maureene
There is a reference on the National Archives website to a record held by the Royal Geographic Society 1871-80, Correspondence for "Lesslie, R" which perhaps could relate to him ... df25449282

There are also three records at the National Archives relating to Trinidad which mention his name including ... /C10720199
Reports and remarks on the resignation of Dr Rolph Lesslie, a Government Medical Officer. CO 295/289/50
No. 94, folios 479-488 1881 Mar 25. (See my recent post viewtopic.php?f=82&t=4270&p=63337#p63303 about obtaining files from TNA)

I can't comment on surgeons in the Zulu War, but perhaps the Wellcome Library may have something in its catalogue. or a Librarian may be able to offer some assistance as to sources.

Another source of advice could perhaps be the Museum of Military Medicine (British Army)
I think I have read they have some non British Army material such as material relating to the East India Company medical services, so perhaps may be able to assist you.

He probably belonged to a professional association, either one in Canada, or an organisation such as the British Medical Association, or I think there was also one based in Scotland which he may have belonged to if he did any of this training there. Professional Associations frequently possess archives where it is possible to trace a member, perhaps there may have been obituary details at the time of death.


Re: Contract and Civil Surgeons Dr Rolph Bidwell Lesslie

PostPosted: 11 Sep 2017 13:21
by Isandlwana
From The Graphic of 18th May 1878, from a report relating to the Russo-Turkish War.


John Y,

Re: Contract and Civil Surgeons Dr Rolph Bidwell Lesslie

PostPosted: 12 Sep 2017 11:02
by Isandlwana

For an idea of the duties and responsibilities of the Civilian Surgeons have looked at Geoffrey Reynolds' The Diary of a Civil Surgeon serving with the British Army in South Africa during the Zulu War. First published 1997.

John Y.