Dr. Sawyer attended a League of Nations Regional Conference in Cape Town, South Africa in November 1932. This letter described
some of Sawyer's shipboard activities en route, Cape Town accommodations, and his post-conference itinerary. He also mentioned
approaching delegates from other countries about contributing to an international yellow fever immunity survey, made possible
by the mouse protection test he helped develop.
Item is handwritten.
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1932-11-20 (November 20, 1932)
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
The Yellow Fever Laboratory: Rockefeller Foundation, 1928-1937
If you were here, with your eyes shut, you would imagine yourself in that little old hotel off the botanic gardens in Brisbane.
The doves are making an incessant noise and the early-morning air is fresh and delightful. The most conspicuous trees in
the hotel are araucarias, probably Australian hoop pines. General Graham (Indian Med. Service) and I have two adjacent rooms
on the top floor (4th by American rules) of the finest hotel here, the Mount Nelson, and we have a common veranda from which
we can look over the city and the harbor. Behind the hotel is Table Mountain with its abrupt cliffs. I have a photo of it
with its "table-cloth," a thin blanket of thick fog which hangs over the edge, melting as it falls. The weather has
been fine, cool except for a few hours in the afternoon. The food is great! Pawpaws for breakfast (brought from Durbau);
delicious, ripe pawpaws! And all this we are getting as guests of the government. I also had the kick of coming in with
diplomatic privileges. I had wondered how I would convince the customs authorities that three large boxes of vacuum tubes
for collecting blood samples were personal effects.
The voyage from Madeira was occupied in large part in writing a paper! It was inevitable that one should be written and the
ship was the place to do it. Sir Geo. Buchanan, who
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became chairman suggested that I talk at length, and the probability was that what I said would be printed. So I went ahead
with my small library of reprints and my typewriter and wrote a paper. It was fortunate, for on arrival, the paper was taken
from me for mimeographing for distribution, and it was the first item at the first scientific session.
The sea trip was not typical of the tropics, except from Madeira to the equator. From there on we had trade winds and the
boat pitched gently but continuously. I signed up for deck tennis and quoits but played only in the contests and was duly
eliminated, twice on the first round and twice on the second. There were a few very good players (tennis) in the younger
The meeting has been quite satisfactory to me so far, and I have been very busy. Yellow fever was considered in full session
from the beginning instead of in committee, and--
Nov. 24, 1932. 6 a.m.
To-day is mail day--, and the mail closes at mid-day. So I shall resume my interrupted letter. We finished yellow fever
yesterday and to-day the Conference will end. From my point of view the meeting has been very successful. The delegates
represented all the large countries south of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan except French Equatorial Africa and the Belgian Congo, and
I shall be
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visiting them both on the return voyage. All of the delegates whom I have approached have agreed to send blood specimens,
and it looks as if we should be able to make an extensive survey extending from the Cape of Good Hope to the Sudan and from
the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean without further visiting.
We have had the usual banquets and receptions, but the auto-trips were more interesting to me. The finest was the drive to
the Cape of Good Hope and back along False Bay, which they insist is part of the Indian Ocean. We took this drive of over
100 miles on Saturday afternoon. At the cape we had afternoon tea, of course, and took snap-shots and listened to speeches.
Our roadway skirted the shore much of the time, and the proteas (reminiscent of the waratah) and everlasting flowers were
very interesting. On the way back we stopped at the botanical gardens wholly devoted to native flowers. The silver-leaf
tree is a striking native tree with rigid branches covered with long metallic-looking leaves lying along the branches.
This letter should arrive at about Christmas time, and so I wish you all a very merry Christmas! Wish I could be with you!
I am sending no presents, as there seems to be nothing here of special interest. Perhaps I shall be able to pick up native
things in the
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north and in the Congo.
I was invited to return through Tanganyika and told that gov't would probably pay my railway fare, but I decided I would
rather go overland from here, particularly as travel by the long route over the Congo is very wasteful of time. So I shall
buy a bottle of quinine and go via the Victoria Falls (at low water), Elizabethville, Port Franqui, and rivers, to Leopoldville
and Brazzaville. I shall spend Christmas on the lower Congo and shall reach Leopoldville on Dec. 26.
The next few days will be spent in arranging papers and writing belated letters. On Wednesday, Nov. 30, I shall go by train
to Johannesburg. From there I shall make a flying visit to Pretoria. In both places are important laboratories. Then I
shall start for the Congo via Mapeking[?], etc. At Victoria Falls I shall have a couple of days and shall be the guest of
the health officer of Northern Rhodesia. He is arranging also to have me visit a famous copper mine, The Roan Antelope, with
his deputy, in the northern part of his territory. Sounds good, doesn't it?
I am scheduled to sail from Matadi by French boat on Jan. 8 and arrive in Lagos on Jan 15. From there I shall sail on the
same old "Appam" on Jan 21st.
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The Appam should reach Plymouth on Feb. 5 and I should be in London the same day. You may write to me in care of the Victoria
Hotel. I shall probably stay only a few days before sailing for the U.S.A. (not Union of South Africa).
Your good letter has come during the break in this one. It is fine to hear from you. I'm glad Gert is enjoying herself,
and am not worried over her studies. She will probably do what is needed.
It was very good of you to take Bill to the museum. You will make a naturalist of him yet! I think he has the ideal mother.
Why not buy a book on taxidermy for Bill, as a Christmas present from his father. Also please get presents for the others
if you have any ideas. Otherwise tell them that I am hoping to gather up a few things for them from the savages and bring
them home with me.
Well, I must stop and shave and eat so that I shall be ready for our final plenary sessions. There are 23 delegates and we
sit around a table shaped like the letter "C" with no one on the inside. Our meetings are all in Parliament House.
With much, much love to you, Old Sweetheart, and considerable quantities for all the others.