Dr. Sawyer was in West Africa from December 1926 to mid-June 1927, serving as director of the West African Yellow Fever Commission
while Dr. Henry Beeuwkes was on leave. In this letter, he told Mrs. Sawyer about his first week there.
Item is handwritten.
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7 (465,251 Bytes)
1926-12-14 (December 14, 1926)
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
From Hookworm to Yellow Fever: Rockefeller Foundation, 1919-1927
The sun has set as it rose--a soft red ball in the haze of the harmattan. I am sitting at my desk in the dormitory between
two large screened windows, and it is already too cool to take my coat off. In fact the much maligned harmattan seems to
me a blessing, as it brings cool air. For two nights I have had a blanket over me. But I had better go back to where I left
off in my last letter.
We anchored off Sierra Leone on December 5th. The town was surrounded by low hills and further back was a mountain resembling
a sleeping lion with a prominent hip bone and an empty stomach. The town is pretty, with red roofs, red roads of laterite,
and luxuriant green foliage. On the hill close behind the town is the Sir Alfred Lewis Jones Research Laboratory of the Liverpool
School of Tropical Medicine.
A letter was brought on board from Dr. R.M. Gordon
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of the Institute saying that the Director, Professor Blacklock was "up country" but that he would be glad if I would
dine with him at the institute. I went ashore and looked up Dr. Gordon and had a pleasant chat with him and his assistant.
Dr. Gordon had succeeded Dr. Mapleston, whom I knew at Townsville. Both have done research in hookworm disease. I went back
laden with reprints, and the ship sailed at about 9.30 a.m.
The next day we anchored at Monrovia, but there was not time to go ashore and return. We put a few men ashore who were going
to work for the Firestone Co. We took on Mr. Cheek, a former U.C. track man of the class of 1900(?) Perhaps you will remember
him or his younger brother who was the famous U.C. hurdler. Mr. Cheek represents the Firestone Co. Monrovia is a small town
beside a low river which shone in the morning sun. The black-faced officials came out in a boat rowed by
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men in uniform and flying a flag like ours with the exception that it had only one star.
There were many interesting people on board, and several were Australian mining men or geologists. A Dr. Lloyd, entomologist
of the Tsetse Investigation Laboratory in Northern Nigeria told me many interesting things about his work. The flies lay
their larvae on the ground in the shade near streams and the campaign against sleeping sickness consists, in part, of the
felling of trees along the streams.
On Dec. 8, 1926, we anchored off Sekondi ?, Gold Coast. I had received a telegram at Sierra Leone (Freetown) asking me to
go ashore at Sekondi with Dr. Walcott of the Yellow Fever Commission and motor across to Accra, where I could board the ship
again. So I was hoisted up in the "mammy chair" by the derrick and dropped into a row boat and taken ashore. The
ship was a half mile out, at least, and the oursmen sang native chanties and clicked their tongues as they worked. A tall
Negro in the stern also tapped a metal affair to keep the time.
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It turned out the Dr. Walcott was also a U.C. man. He had two years in college there and went through the medical school.
We had many mutual friends. He had been camping with Sterling Bunnell and he knew Mr. Cheek (on the boat) intimately.
We drove in the car 175 miles from Secondi [sic] to Accra. In the town I had my first good look at an African negro town
under British control. My first surprise was to find that the natives do not run to extreme colors as in the U.S.A. They
had printed clothes slightly resembling Javanese batik in coloring--mostly browns with a little blue.
The women had their babies riding low on their backs, usually tightly bound against them. The babies were nearly always asleep
and often their heads were hanging over the edge of the cloth. A few were seen working to one edge until they could get at
their milk supply without interfering with the rapid progress of their mother.
Our road was near the sea at first and went through high jungle.
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There were hornbills about and also large crows with white breasts. Occasionally we came to a white fort on the coast, Portuguese,
Dutch, or English. Cannon lie about rusting, and the forts themselves are used as rest houses or office buildings. They
are relics of the times when European countries wanted protected landing places for their traders. We passed through Salt
Pond, famous for yellow fever, and went within 17 miles of Asamankese, where this years epidemic took place. We reached Accra
at eight o'clock, and I spent the night with Dr. Walcott in his bungalow. A white man had died of yellow fever in Accra
on Nov. 30, only 10 days earlier.
The next morning I was carried on the shoulders of two black men to the whale boat and was taken about a mile to our ship.
I was the only passenger, and the crew of eight sang and rolled their tongues as they plied their peculiar three-pronged paddles.
On December 10, I reached Lagos. We went up the waterways to the docks, where I was
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met by Dr. Beeuwkes and the other members of the staff. We drove in an auto to Yaba, which is reached by crossing from the
island to the Mainland on a bridge. There is a large group of buildings here, most of them portable. I have two pleasant
rooms in one of the dormitories. In the evening Dr. and Mrs. Beeuwkes gave a dinner in my honor and invited several of the
local doctors and their wives. The next day I signed the various books of the notables, and I have already received an invitation
to an "At home" at Government House on Dec. 23. I have accepted also an invitation to luncheon to-morrow and dinner
to-morrow evening, in honor of Dr. and Mrs. Beeuwkes, and to luncheon and to dinner on Christmas Day.
They have recently had lots of plague among natives and a small group of fatal pneumonic plague cases including one of the
doctors. There have also been one or two recent yellow fever cases here.
Dr. Beeuwkes looks tired and he and Mrs. B. will sail on the Appam day after to-morrow. The leptospira has not been found
and there is little
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prospect of any immediate startling developments. I have just come in time to do the heavy work on an annual report and also
start the construction of three buildings to cost over $40,000. I would rather play in the laboratory or nose about in the
I am hoping to get news from you by the next boat. It is a long time to wait without hearing a word. I hope it is not very
cold and that the furnace is behaving well. It is hard to believe that it is really winter anywhere. How is the radio working?
I have drawn no checks since my last letter.
Give my best love to Peggy and Gertrude and Ruth and Billy, also to Grandmother and Auntie Gertrude. As for you, I love you
all the time and wish you were here. You would enjoy a few of the meals they serve. I have pawpaw and fresh pineapple alternately