Macfie, John William Scott (1879-1948)

Scope and Content

The collection includes a mixture of materials mostly relating to Macfie's research and tours in West Africa across the first half of the twentieth century.

It also includes some material on his studies at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and his work in and for Ethiopia in the 1930s and 1940s.

The collection consists of diaries, notes, correspondence, photographs, official documentation and related ephemera.

Administrative / Biographical History

John William Scott Macfie (1879-1948) was a distinguished doctor in West Africa. He studied Medicine at the University of Edinburgh graduating in 1906. After two initial trips to West Africa between April 1908 and January 1910, Macfie applied to work for the Colonial Office as a Medical Officer.

Before departing on his first tour he undertook study for a diploma at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Macfie left for West Africa in June 1910 and remained there for just under eleven months.

Between 1910 and 1922, Macfie embarked upon a total of eight tours in West Africa, visiting Nigeria and the Gold Coast [Ghana]. While there he studied malaria, yellow fever and other diseases and illnesses carried by parasites in West Africa.

Macfie volunteered his services during the First World War and was placed on temporary commission with the Royal Army Medical Corps based at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He was based with the Malaria Investigation Appointment at the School between 1917 and 1919.

In 1922 he retired from the West African Medical Service for health reasons and became engaged in teaching and research on tropical medicine until 1935.

At the age of 56 John Macfie volunteered to join the British Ambulance Service in Ethiopia (B.A.S.E.), which was being organised by Dr John Melly, who had paid two visits to Ethiopia before the Italian invasion with the aim of establishing a hospital there. Macfie was appointed second in command to Melly.

The B.A.S.E. arrived at Berbera, British Somaliland, at the beginning of December 1935, and after a few days crossed the Ethiopian border. A camp at Addis Ababa was pitched in the British Legation grounds on the 19th.

The unit moved on to Dessie in the north, where it was visited by the Emperor Haile Selassie. In mid-January the Unit moved to Waldiato tend those wounded by bombing, but in addition many cases of illness were treated. On 28 February it made its way over to Kobbo, then to Ashangi Plain, where camp was pitched in the neighbour hood of Koram on 2 March. Macfie had led a small exploratory party on the same route early in February.

On 4 March the camp was bombed and the unit moved to a ravine by the Chechelo Mado River. Better accommodation was found in a cave overlooking the Ashanghi Plain. On 17 March two Ethiopian Red Cross planes were destroyed by Italian bombing. The following day Macfie, whose health was deteriorating, was sent to Addis Ababa to report. By early April the Ethiopian army was in retreat, and Dr Melly and the unit returned to Addis Ababa. On 24th, Macfie was invalided. The Emperor left Addis Ababa on 1 May, and in the ensuing disorder Melly was fatally wounded by a looter. He died on 5 May, the day the Italians entered Addis Ababa.

Macfie's 'An Ethiopian Diary' (London, 1936) provides a published account of his experiences in Ethiopia with the British Ambulance Service.

In 1940 he offered assistance to E. Sylvia Pankhurst of the New Times and Ethiopia News, in her quest to get a Red Cross Ambulance force out to Ethiopia. Macfie declined the offer of going out to Ethiopia himself due to his age.

However, despite being in his early 60s, between 1941 and 1943 he served at the Malaria Field Laboratories in the Middle East with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

He died on October 11 1948.


Original order preserved

Access Information

This collection is open for consultation. Some parts of the collection are access restricted in line with the Data Protection Act. Please contact the Archivist to arrange an appointment. All researchers must complete and sign a user registration form which signifies their agreement to abide by the archive rules. All researchers are required to provide proof of identity bearing your signature (for example, a passport or debit card) when registering. Please see website for further information at

Acquisition Information

The majority of this collection was donated to the school by J.W.S. Macfie's nephew, Mr R.L. Paton, in 1984. Individual catalogue entries identify items from earlier individual donations.

Archivist's Note

Descriptions prepared at LSHTM

Related Material

Related material held at the Royal Commonwealth Society Library at Cambridge University Library., The Natural History Museum and the University of Liverpool Special Collections and Archives.