In January 1921, Sawyer met with Dr. Victor Heiser, the director of RF operations in the East. Heiser asked him to come along
on a three-month tour of the RF public health sites in southeast Asia, and Sawyer agreed, though it meant missing the birth
of his son (who arrived on March 23). His letters to his wife describe in detail the rigors of traveling and his reactions
to other cultures, as well as the activities of the hookworm control campaigns.
Number of Image Pages:
2 (241,105 Bytes)
1921-03-29 (March 29, 1921)
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
From Hookworm to Yellow Fever: Rockefeller Foundation, 1919-1927
Yesterday we went ashore at Colombo and found your cable at the consulate. I am delighted to know that the event is safely
over, and that the much-desired boy has arrived. Your telegram was of necessity brief, but I hope that there are no reservations
in the little word "well", and that you and the baby and the children are all well and happy. As I expect to sail
from Colombo for Freemantle about the eleventh, I can hardly expect any letters written after the event.
I do hope that you suffered little, and that the discomforts afterward were not severe, and that the baby is big and fat and
entirely satisfactory. We must try from the beginning to avoid dietary errors, so as to avoid any developmental handicaps
from that source.
Doubtless you received my cable of yesterday congratulating you and incidentally letting you know that I had received the
message in Colombo. I should have tried to write to you, but we took no room in the hotel for the hours we were there, and
I was not alone a minute.
I am writing to Mother about Father's death in January. I presume you have a letter of particulars which I can answer
on my return to Brisbane. Father rounded out a life of four-score years in a most remarkable way, considering his sicknesses.
I wonder what Mother intends to do. I suppose she will first visit around and get thoroughly rested after the years of caring
for an invalid and the special strain of the last illness.
Your good letter of March 2nd was at the consulate in Colombo. Also the letters from Gertrude and Ruth. I am glad that the
rose crop in the Botanic Gardens is so large this year. I am also pleased to note that Ruth is becoming proficient in the
difficult feat of writing backwards. Tell them both that I liked their letters very much, and hope they are having a very
good time. I can understand that Peggy is having her time filled with dentistry and school and can hardly be expected to
And so the Elkingtons are off on their long trip at last. I can imagine the excitement, and I can also imagine you taking
care of the chickens intermittently, unless they disposed of them finally.
It is encouraging to know that Dr. Burnell made a favorable impression on you. I cannot help wondering whether he has the
vision to do big things. It will be very disappointing if we cannot develop a few real good health men out of the staff of
the Hookworm Campaign.
It is a relief to know that Dr. Lambert was to sail for Raboul on March 5th, as there were so many things that might have
interfered with the plans.
I am not sorry that I missed the End of the Road, and I am glad that it was successful. I wonder if you met the man who brought
it over and who wrote to me several times about it.
By this time you have doubtless completed the reform of the Women's College and are looking for new fields to conquer.
I shall be interested to hear how the conservatives took to your plan, whatever it was.
I am glad that the annual report seemed to be in fair shape and met with your approval. I am even more glad to know that
it is on its way at last.
Isn't it nice that Mrs. Palmer is doing well. She is of a type that I should expect would brood a great deal after a
misfortune, but I may be wrong.
We arrived off Colombo about eleven o'clock on the evening of March 27. With the help of the beautiful moonlight and
the shore lights, the pilot took us inside the breakwater, where we were moored to buoys at the end of a long row of vessels.
Colombo does not possess docks, strange as it may seem, and everything has to be carried on lighters. We were waked up in
the small hours of the morning to show our passports, and we were up again at six to get ready to go ashore. We were taken
ashore in a rowboat, and had to go a long distance between long rows of steamers decorated in honor of the Japanese Crown
Prince. While the oarsmen were moving our boat along toward the pier we could see the Japanese war ships that had anchored
outside the breakwater and could hear the guns booming salutes. The pier was all decorated with palms and plants and carpeted
with rugs, and uncomfortable-looking people were hurrying hither and thither in frock coats and top hats. Some wore frock
coats and helmets, and it was suggested that the top hats were too few to go round and that they would be worn in relays,-
but this was merely surmise.
I could not get Dr. Heiser interested in standing about to see the Crown Prince ride by, and so I missed him.
Dr. Jacocks, who has charge of the Board's work in Ceylon, found us at Cook's when we were getting our tickets for
India. He is a pleasing type of southerner with characteristic accent.
In Colombo the traveler is besieged with small traders, who would seize and drag him into their shops if they could. As it
is one would like to look at these wares, but they make it so unpleasant that you hardly dare show the slightest interest.
You should have seen them go after the Japanese sailors when they came ashore in their natty white uniforms. I saw a native
seize one embarrassed officer by the hand and pull him over to his shop. The Indians look so wretched and miserable, and
they base their appeal for money largely on exciting pity. The rickshaw men are somber and unlike the grinning Chinese cooly
We took the train at 7:30 for India. We had a good sleeper and dining car in Ceylon. At 5:30 A.M. we were routed out and
given tea, and about an hour later we took the ferry for India. The train we are now in will be our home until we reach Madras
tomorrow morning. We had breakfast in a little railway restaurant, where we had a six-course table-d'hote meal, while
a punkah was being agitated over us by a rope that passed through the wall.
We have passed many sand dunes and are now among some rice fields. Lots of love to you, my dear, brave Sweetheart,