Few can be as fortunate as Dr Norman Jewell (1885-1973) in having
grandchildren prepared to put hard work into preserving a
grandfather's life for posterity. Jewell's hitherto unpublished memoirs,
written fifty years ago or more, form the greater part of this book.
Investigations by his family and friends provide numerous, often quirky,
explanatory notes. Jewell served in Seychelles 1910 -14, saw active
service in the East African campaign, and continued in the Colonial
Medical Service in Kenya until 1932.
Under British control since the 1790s, Seychelles, like Mauritius, the New
Hebrides (Vanuatu) and some Caribbean territories, combined a French
and British heritage. With government medical officers from the 1820s
and a substantial hospital in Mahe from 1875, Seychelles obviously
predated British colonial activity in most of Africa. Jewell's Seychelles
chapter has interesting anecdotes about ordinary life, but little on the nittygritty
of practising medicine or being a magistrate on Praslin and other islands. Thin pickings here for that medical history of the Seychelles
which waits to be written.
Jewell's return to Seychelles in 1917 on sick leave coincided with the
repatriation of the remnants of the Seychelles Labour Corps from East
Africa. During the war 42% of the Corps died of malaria, dysentery and
what was described as 'beriberi'. Jewell was able to free a local medical
officer to look after returnees. Other writers such as William McAteer have
described Jewell's contribution in more detail.
This review commends but passes over the parts of the book dealing with
Jewell's service in the East African campaign, including transcripts of
military diaries held in the the National Archives. They give a rare glimpse
into the immense Indian medical contribution to East Africa, recently
highlighted by historians Anna Greenwood and Harshad Topiwala. In this
book, look out for Sub-Assistant Surgeon Zorawar Singh!
Kisumu, Nakuru and Mombasa, where Jewell worked as a District and
Provincial Medical Officer from 1918 to 1925, will be familiar to many. His
final appointment was Surgical Specialist at the European Hospital in
Nairobi. Jewell relates many interesting anecdotes about game-hunting,
local characters and day to day living but there is surprisingly little on his
medical work. Jewell's medical publications, hardly more than listed in the
book, give more light. The editors could have interpreted some of them for
the general reader. Jewell lived in a heroic age when a doctor could be
both surgeon and authority on infectious diseases. His publication on
surgical work in Nairobi shows an impressively low mortality, but more
intriguing is that a third of his patients were 'natives', Seychelles or
Somalis. How did they come to be in the European Hospital operating
theatre? His book on tropical fevers, written with Dr WH Kauntze,
demonstrated what could be done from 'other than accepted centres of
civilisation'. Writing in 1932, Jewell was up to date with the emerging
understanding of the difference between viruses and bacteria.
On Call in Africa succeeds well as a family memoir. Including many
excellent photographs, it is fascinating for the general reader but says
disappointingly little about what a colonial doctor actually did when 'on
call' became 'called in'.