Saturday, September 29, 2012

Boer War: A Doctor during the Siege of Ladysmith

Oswald James Currie was born in 1860 in Greenwich, London, into a life of middle class prosperity and conformity. His parents, Alexander and Jessie, were of Scottish descent but long settled into London suburbia, able to pay for Oswald's education fees at Guy's College from the income of Alexander's career as an insurance underwriter.

At some point Oswald must have decided to reject the idea of medical practice in Britain and perhaps he was inspired by tales of his father's seven brothers who had variously emigrated, enlisted and travelled all over the world. Certainly, after qualifying as a doctor at the University of London with a first class degree in forensic medicine, he did not waste much time before leaving his comfortable life and 4 stay-at-home younger siblings to pursue his love of travel and adventure. After a year in Ceylon and a spell as a ship's doctor, he finally came to South Africa which was to become his home.

Oswald worked as a physician in Pietermaritzburg from 1892 and was also a surgeon at Gray's Hospital there. In 1896 he married Sara Gough Gubbins, born in Limerick in Ireland and a cousin to Sir Charles O'Grady Gubbins*, and they had their first of 4 children in 1898.

By this time, Oswald had become very involved in the Natal Medical Corps and by the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War he was a Captain with the Natal Carbineers. Realising he was living through history, he wrote 3 letters to his sister Rose's 5 year-old daughter back in England, telling her about the Ladysmith Siege where he worked in Intombi Camp with the other medical staff. Little Winifred went on to keep her 'Uncle Oswald' letters all her life and they were often brought out of their little leather case as treasures for her children and later her grandchildren and great grandchildren to see.

Oswald himself went on to survive both the Boer War and the First World War. After 1908, the family left Natal and made their home in the Cape where Oswald became a well-respected GP, kept up his interest in hospital work at the Wynberg Hospital and contributed much to the South African Medical Corps. He died at the age of 72 in 1932.

Dr Currie is among the group of Natal Carbineers shown on this blog at

O J Currie, his wife Sara,
with John Alexander (Jack) b 1898
and Jessie b 1900 (d in infancy)

*Sir Charles O'Grady Gubbins, M.B., J.P.
for Natal, M.L.A. Natal 1901-10, Colonial
Secretary and Minister of Education 1906-10,
Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Native
Affairs 1907, Senator and MinisterWithout
Portfolio in Union of South Africa 1910-11,
Knt 1911, d 1911.

[With thanks to Currie descendant Jo King.]

Note: O J Currie served Sept 1899-31 May 1902 in the Natal Volunteer Medical Corps.
He received the QSA with 3 clasps.
During the Siege of Ladysmith he was in charge of the Natal First Field Hospital
(Volunteers). Later Major commanding the C Battery Natal Royal Artillery;
Surgeon of Grey's Hospital, Maritzburg, and Medical Officer of Health, Maritzburg.

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